I recently came across a LinkedIn group conversation about utilizing a third-party website’s product review in the company’s marketing, and whether it was kosher to do so. The main question was whether the company producing the product could rightly use the site’s review text in their own marketing, although the conversation devolved into the worth of online reviews. It’s no real surprise that there’s skepticism about online reviews, as many times they’re viewed with the same jaundiced eye given LinkedIn endorsements (with apologies to our friends at LI). That is to say, people rarely or ever give poor endorsements, thereby undermining the value of those that are given (which isn’t to say that there’s no truth to the reviews/endorsements, it just means you’re not getting a balanced perspective). The analogy breaks down quickly as well: It’s also untrue to say that no one gives poor reviews, as any brief visit to amazon.com will attest. We love to trash bad products – and we’ll even quibble with those we love, mainly because we expect too much from the brands we care about.
But I’m not here to discuss the validity of online product reviews and personnel endorsements; rather what interests me is the fact that this question came up at all. It seems patently obvious to me in this day and age that any and every piece of earned content, esp. those that are laudatory of one’s product/service offerings, would be sought out and utilized to the Nth degree. To put it another way, we like to say that all companies are content-producers nowadays – whether they recognize it or not – and the value of first-party owned content is steadily diminishing as a result. In turn, third-party references and endorsements continue to increase in value, esp. when they originate from a credible source, and even more so when they can be repurposed to drive not only awareness, but consideration and demand as well.
As it happens, we’ve got a longstanding practice of refashioning third-party content so that it serves multiple purposes, beyond its initially intended life on reviewers’ sites and in search engine results (I stated as much in my response to the LI bulletin board). Equally important, and part of the process that we set out to design at the outset of a program, is that the content live a second life as marketing material, sales tools or channel training courses. Product walk-thrus, unboxing videos, feature demonstrations, competitive comparisons, photo montages and detailed infographics – all of these third-party content pieces are not just worthwhile investments in driving demand directly, but also are extremely valuable indirect assets, in that, with a little imagination, they can be redeployed to help account sales teams overcome objections, to provide testimonials on websites, or to help channel sales reps understand feature parity and competitive advantage.
What’s more, they can be had for free – if you know what you’re doing, that is.
Most of what I’ve explained in the above hinges on adequate preparation and execution, plus a deep understanding of the dynamics of social media. All of it can be learned – I’m proof, I’m not a born marketer. The real magic, if you want to call it that, are the relationships that underpin our entire operation. The only way we’re able to get bloggers, reviewers and site owners to allow unfettered access to their content — without charge – is by having earned their trust over a long period of time. It starts with providing them value at every turn, be it an inbound link from a highly-trafficked corporate property, access to insider experts who can give them a story angle no one else has, a no-cost trip to visit a client’s offices, or merely the tacit endorsement of their own voice that comes along with the use of their content. By having consistently delivered not only for our clients but also for the influential third-party site owners who’re the lifeblood of our business, we’ve helped them immediately (by providing them access, content and authority), but also over the longer term (by helping them build and better engage their audiences, and thereby expand their individual spheres of influence). We don’t just come to them with fully-baked programs – although we do – but we also solicit their input in how a program can accomplish more, both for them as well as for the client. We help them write business plans, execute their marketing, resell their services to others (including our own clients), and generally do whatever we can to help them succeed. We work with hundreds of site owners across the world and in multiple languages, but we make every effort to operate on a first-name basis with each one. Not because it’s the right thing to do (although it is), but also because it creates the proverbial win-win-win situation (forgive the overwrought expression; it’s getting late). If they succeed today and tomorrow, and we find a way for our clients to do so as well, then we succeed. This is a far cry from how other entities engage site owners.
It’s as “simple” as that.
But don’t take my word for it — as I’m sure you won’t. Ask around; look us up. Dig for the scuttlebutt. What we’re doing here is not only providing a service, but also building a brand. The first rule of brand-building is, will your client recommend you? I’m confident that the vast majority of influencers, bloggers and site owners we work with regularly would do so – fervently.