There is no stronger marketing than consumer reviews and word of mouth. Sadly, where there’s an opportunity, there’s an opportunity to scam the system. Enter fake reviews, rigged search results, and skewed price recommendations.

Mark How and Shopswell are turning the tables on these cynical practices, and bringing the integrity back to review marketing. In this conversation, Mark and I explore the essence of the Shopswell idea, how consumers are incentivized to tell the truth, and why it works.

Check out our lively conversation below. I hope you’ll rediscover your love for word of mouth – the original (and still the best!) marketing tool.

big ideas

As a startup, you need to turn your brand into a philosophy, something you live by. It also needs to resonate with your customer – it needs to be a value they cherish and can’t live without. This needs to happen right from day one. Integrity can’t be implanted when it’s convenient.

Truth is a slippery slope in the world of marketing. Advertising is famous for taking a small sliver of the truth and amplifying it into a major selling point. It hasn’t won advertisers any points for integrity. Brands need to realize that a white lie today can become a bought and biased review tomorrow. And if consumers catch on, they won’t forget your sidestep.

At Shopswell, our opportunity is to provide the antidote to these cynical practices –  the fake reviews, price search results that don’t recommend best prices, rigged search results. We’re doing it by incentivizing consumer reviewers in a fundamentally different way.

Shopswell reviews are algorithmically measured by positive or negative feedback from consumers. In short, did the review provide real value? Did it help me make a better decision? Our ‘best’ content is not the content that sells product. It’s the content that’s most appreciated.

We’re trying to hold onto the notion of being simply, purely, and transparently helpful. That’s our brand. And it lives in everything we do. How we word things both internally and with our audience, how we reward people.  We hope that this language and our daily actions become the way people start to describe us.

Sure, things like remarketing work. Otherwise, advertisers wouldn’t do it. But we want to reduce that invasive aspect of the buying experience. We’re a place you can go for honest feedback when and if you want it. We think that’s more enjoyable than having a product remarketed to you with every click – the proverbial shoes following you from site to site, just because you clicked on a shoe ad yesterday.

To make integrity work, you need extremely patient investors. You want dollars today, you need to go for max clicks, and that entails cutting corners. Brands like Patagonia and Taylor Guitars and Pinterest didn’t succeed overnight – but they’re enduring successes.

We see people trying to scam our system by sneaking in biased comments and reviews. We watch it, and try to push it down, and push the good guys up. We’re making a gesture, and putting a line in the sand, every time this happens.

quotable quotes

“It’s hard work. Integrity is hard work.”

“I don’t think we’re going to get ‘integrity’ right. You can never get it absolutely right. But we can get it better.”

“People don’t want perfection. They want honest. They want someone who is willing to admit to screwing up and not being 100%.”

“You need to make gestures of integrity again and again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Airbnb made those gestures, through thick and thin, and people embraced that. When enough people see that gesture, a spark turns into a flicker, and the flicker turns into a flame.”

“Making a damn good product, sticking to a good brand premise, that still moves the bar.”

“Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars sticks to a philosophy of the ‘ruthless quality experience’ that reinforces exactly the things that consumers are embracing. Give them an amazing experience, no matter what.”

“We’ll never get away from ads chasing us, as long as it works. The only way to stop these practices is to show the largest brands that there’s something better out there.”

Honorable Marketing mentions

Agog Labs

Skookum Script

Airbnb

Patagonia

Taylor Guitars

Pinterest

As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.  

Want to try building your own powerful brand to create unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY – available now.