10 Decisive Tactics That Win Product Reviews: The Best Publicity Money Can’t Buy!

Words To The Wise™ By Agnes Lamont

There is little question that “Two Thumbs Up” sells movies and a “5-star” rating sells hotel rooms. Prospective customers turn to the media to learn about solutions and to help choose between potential offerings. Many never look beyond these endorsements and buy on the basis of their credibility. It’s not just consumer products that benefit from product reviews. Business-to-business products also benefit.

Product Reviews as Part of a PR Strategy

We’ve yet to meet the marketer that does not want product reviews as part of their PR strategy. The issue is not whether to participate, it’s how to participate.
Reviews are often started 3 to 6 months ahead of their publication so to participate you need:

1.Regular contact with likely reviewers so they remember to invite you.

2.A calendar of potential opportunities.


Regular consistent contact with editors is by far the most important tactic for getting included in reviews because many reviews are not published in editorial calendars. You can even persuade editors to review your product on its own without any of your competition participating. Once you find a review to participate in you need to have he available skills and bandwidth to manage the process. Reviews are too important to be managed as an afterthought. How does advertising change the odds of winning a review? I’ve never seen a case where you can overtly buy a favorable review against your competitors. Nor do I want to. However, because Marketingsage manages advertising as well as PR we have seen many reviews influenced by spending. Here are some examples of how this happens: The publication or analyst firm may cover an advertiser’s product on its own, without commenting on your competitors. A publication or analyst firm might narrow the review category to favor an advertiser and exclude competitors. An advertiser’s competitors may not be invited to participate. Spenders often get introduced to the editors and therefore get more exposure and additional opportunities to make their case. You’ll win an award, but the media or analyst company will require you to purchase a “Promotional Package” to publicize it. One large analyst firm attempts to charge “award recipients” $20,000 to $60,000. Or course, you can purchase an advertorial (an advertisement that looks like editorial) and write what you want about your product. While advertorials are not true editorial reviews, and they are usually labeled as advertisements, they can be very effective.


How does advertising change the odds of winning a review?
I’ve never seen a case where you can overtly buy a favorable review against your competitors. Nor do I want to.

However, because Marketingsage manages advertising as well as PR we have seen many reviews influenced by spending.

Here are some examples of how this happens:

The publication or analyst firm may cover an advertiser’s product on its own, without commenting on your competitors.

A publication or analyst firm might narrow the review category to favor an advertiser and exclude competitors.

An advertiser’s competitors may not be invited to participate.

Spenders often get introduced to the editors and therefore get more exposure and additional opportunities to make their case.

You’ll win an award, but the media or analyst company will require you to purchase a “Promotional Package” to publicize it. One large analyst firm attempts to charge “award recipients” $20,000 to $60,000.

Or course, you can purchase an advertorial (an advertisement that looks like editorial) and write what you want about your product.

While advertorials are not true editorial reviews, and they are usually labeled as advertisements, they can be very effective.


In particular, new products, complex products and expensive products can see substantial benefits from being included in product reviews. One personal computer manufacturer claimed privately that their PC Magazine Editor’s Choice Award added about $5-million to their bottom line. Another software developer we know saw their sales leads jump 60% after placing well, but not winning, in a product review.

The Rewards

A positive media review can dramatically boost your sales and marketing results in two significant ways:

  1. You get publicity that you would otherwise have to purchase. This publicity increases the awareness of your offering in the marketplace and exposes you to more potential customers.
  2. A third-party endorsement adds credibility to your offering in a way that no self-serving advertisement can. This endorsement adds to the value of your brand and builds your prestige, giving you a competitive advantage. This prestige may also justify a price premium, increasing your profits.

There are many ways you can win from a review, even if you are not the editor’s first choice.

  • You can win if you can extract a favorable quote from the review. You may use these quotes to strengthen the credibility of your advertising.You also win by virtue of the fact that your product and brand have been exposed to a wider audience. Name recognition plays a big part in product selection and prospects often cannot recall where they came across the brand they recognize.
  • An initial review will trigger ratings and comments by readers. Amplifying the review through social media outlets such as LinkedIn, twitter, and Facebook, for example, can extend the reach and influence of the review to a wide yet relevant audience of influencers and prospects.
  • You can even “turn lemons into lemonade” if you know how to respond to a negative review.

The Risk

To some extent you take a risk when you submit your product or service for review. You risk an unfavorable review and unfavorable publicity. If you do badly, there is the possibility of lost sales. Also a competitor may proactively use a negative review against you. However, unless your product is obviously a poor fit for a review or is inherently very weak, a really negative review is unlikely. Most reviews are positive and neutral, not patently negative. And most competitors will not want to lend credibility to your offering by even mentioning you.

10 Tactics for Winning Product Reviews (without changing your offering or cheating)

Once you decide to pursue a review-based strategy, here are 10 tactics that can increase your changes of winning and being able to capitalize on the win.

1. Be selective about the publications and reviews you choose to enter. While the term “free publicity” is often used to describe editorial coverage, this term is a little misleading. Preparing and tracking product used for review purposes is often quite time consuming. Also, if you have an expensive product, you may not be able to afford to have units circulating for review. This is especially the case where reviewers do not return the product or damage it. So before you get started, consider your ability to do the job right. Sometimes no review is better than a poor review. Some reviews give you publicity but not an endorsement. Many publications do not express an opinion, so their reviews tend to be bland, listing product features and a few pros and cons. Consider also the medium’s ability to generate sales of your offering. If you have to choose which media to work with, evaluate them in much the same way you would if you were about to advertise with them. For example, a full feature in a small-audience newsletter may not be as valuable as a paragraph in a major publication. Additionally, people buy only when they have an interest in your product, so a small circulation publication that directly addresses your target audience may produce more sales than a large circulation publication that does not.

2. Before you enter a review, know what the reviewers are looking for. Know what excites them and what irritates them about the products they review. While many reviews are highly structured and attempt to be neutral and scientific, reviewers are people and they have perceptions that will affect the review. Learn who the reviewers or product testers are and who the writers are. If the review is technical in nature, it is possible that the tester and the writer will not be the same person. If the reviewer and the writer’s names are not published, the PR manager can ask for this information. The advertising manager may, however, be more successful getting the information from his/her contacts. You should also read both previous reviews in the publication, and previous articles by the writers. This will give you a flavor of what the hot buttons are.

3. Appoint a cross-functional review team. This team typically includes a product manager, a PR manager, and a technical expert. It might also include the product designers. Because reviews can be so valuable and damaging, this team should not only have a plan, but also the ability to execute it. They need to be able to short-circuit any internal bureaucracy that would make the company appear unresponsive to the press.

A word to the wise on managing expectations: Brief key executives in advance of the decision to participate in the review and explain how reviews work. In some cases you’ll need to remind executives that reviews represent the opinions of the reviewer, not your marketing message. Additionally, journalists can and do make mistakes. You’ll want to avoid the Dilbert-like scenario of an executive demanding that you call the publisher to stop the circulation of the magazine and retrospectively edit the article. It happens!


4. Choose the right product for the review criteria. Knowing what the reviewers are looking for helps you choose the product that is most likely to do well in the particular review. For example, a Porsche is not likely to do well in a review of compact cars even though it is a physically small car. It could lose on price, fuel efficiency, and the number of passengers it can carry if these are criteria for the review. It may win on performance, but not many people buy compact cars for performance. Remember to choose a product you wish to sell at the time the review is published. Some reviews can take months from the time you submit your product to the time the story hits the streets. Creating demand for a product that will be obsolete on the publication date will not be very useful.

5. Test the exact product or service you plan to submit before you submit it. Even if your failure rate is one per 10,000, this is not the time for that one faulty unit to show up. If you offer a service, make sure it is being delivered well. You don’t want the reviewer to test your responsiveness at a time when you are short staffed or the rookie is manning the phones. Have a back-up product tested and ready to ship immediately if a problem occurs or if the original test unit gets damaged in transit.

6. Provide all the components the reviewer needs to properly set up your product for testing. Don’t frustrate reviewers by making them hunt for connecting cables, screws and tools. Also, you want to make sure all these components work as expected. If a customer would not normally get all these components, you can package them in an identifiable “Reviewer’s Pack”.

7. Provide all the instructions and benchmark data the reviewer needs to set up and satisfactorily test the product. Many reviews have been lost because the reviewer set up the product incorrectly so it performed poorly. The reviewer did not know what the product was capable of and therefore accepted the results without question. Point out the key features of your product. Provide benchmarks that tell them what they should expect. If they don’t see the expected results they can call for help, or at least make sure they configured the test correctly. If a customer would not normally get all this information, you can package it in an identifiable “Reviewer’s Pack” along with the product and other components. You might also want to include a special reviewer support telephone number so they get fast competent help if they need it.

8. Follow up with the tester shortly after the deadline for receipt of products. Your objectives are to:

  1. Make sure the product is safely delivered and on time.
  2. Ensure the product gets configured correctly.
  3. Highlight key features.
  4. Find out when the product will be written up for the article.

If it is a technical test, have the support expert and the product manager call, rather than the PR manager.

9. Follow up with the writer when he or she is writing the article. Remember the writer is looking for a story, not a set of benchmarks. Offer a list of reference customers whom the writer can interview for the story. Of course, you should pre-screen these references. You can also offer photos and set up executive interviews.

Talking with the writer allows you to put test results into perspective for them and allows you to highlight key features that may not be part of the standard test criteria. You may even suggest a “side bar” article on the technology, customers, or trends.

A word to the wise on pricing tactics: The writer may ask about your price or you may have to provide a price as part of a qualifying questionnaire. A product can have many prices including the manufacturer’s recommended list price, the “street price” (what consumers pay) and discounted/sale prices. Which price should you use in the review?

If your list price is relatively high and you submit this price for review, you could lose the review based on a perception of poor value for money.
If you submit a discounted price or any price at the lowest end of your range, you increase the perception of good value for money. However if the consumer cannot find the product at that price, they may continue to shop around without making a purchase.

The best price to quote is close to street price, but erring on the high side. Customers will either find the price they read about, or a lower price that exceeds their expectations. They will feel they found a bargain.


10. Thank everyone involved. A simple note or phone call is enough. It is inappropriate to send gifts to the reviewers. If you do not win, and no mismanagement was involved by the publication, don’t get mad at the publication and don’t threaten to “pull your advertisements”. Remember there will likely be another review soon. If you have a legitimate beef and the publication wants to make amends, suggest they write an independent story about your offering, not necessarily a retraction. A new, positive story that you can use as a sales tool is far more valuable than a “correction” in the small print of some future issue.

Summary — The Dos and Don’ts of Winning Product Reviews

Positive reviews by the media can dramatically boost your promotion results. There are however, circumstances when they can hurt your business.

Do

  • Do have a marketing plan and strategy. Do understand the resources required and be selective. Do understand the review criteria. Do appoint a cross-functional review team to manage the review. Do choose the right product for review. Do test the exact product or service before you submit it for review. Do provide all the necessary instructions and performance benchmarks. Do follow up with the tester. Do follow up with the writer.
  • Do thank everyone involved.

Don’t

  • Don’t offer products that will not be available at the time of publication. Don’t take unnecessary chances. Reviews must be managed. Don’t undermine your street price. Don’t threaten to “pull your advertising.”
  • Don’t offer gifts to the reviewers.

About Marketingsage

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