Rural Lifestylers and the Influence of Online Reviews

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Online chatter does influence our purchase decisions. Just how influential are the opinions of strangers? What about experts? How about our peers? Paulsen Marketing surveyed 500 acreage owners to …

Online chatter does influence our purchase decisions. Just how influential are the opinions of strangers? What about experts? How about our peers? Paulsen Marketing surveyed 500 acreage owners to weigh the importance of online testimonials and reviews.

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  • 1. Rural Lifestylers and the Influence of Online Reviews By: Mark Smither and Sara Steever
  • 2. 2 2013 Update: In 2011, Paulsen Marketing conducted a three-month study to better understand how online communities, brand advocates and customer reviews influence the purchase decisions of rural lifestylers. The study involved 13 personal interviews with acreage owners and hobby farmers in the Midwest, as well as 341 completed email surveys of individuals who live in C and D counties throughout the United States. In this study, Paulsen Marketing identified two types of online contributors who have decision-making impact on potential customers: micro and macro influencers. These influencers are often sought out while making purchasing decisions. 2 Background
  • 3. 3 Micro influencers are defined as individuals or peers who share a common interest and are connected in some way through digital media. • Social media friends • Online communities • Shopping sites that contain ratings and reviews Macro influencers are defined as experts or leaders on a particular subject matter. • Industry thought leaders • Veterinarians and nutritionists • Dealers • Educators and research leaders • Member organizations and trade groups • Trusted friends and family One of the key insights from the 2011 study was that 75 percent of rural lifestylers shop for products and make purchases online. Of those who shop online, 99 percent read product reviews. As a follow-up to the 2011 study, Paulsen Marketing decided to revisit the role of micro and macro influencers. If we accept the idea that online reviews are essential to the purchase process—and that micro and macro influencers play an important function in this process— then it would be interesting to learn exactly how important. Because understanding the level of importance helps us as marketers in deciding how much weight to put behind online communities, social media and online reviews.
  • 4. 4 In February and March of 2013, Paulsen Marketing conducted an online survey of 500 rural acreage owners who had recently made a major purchase for their property. A major purchase is typically categorized as tractors, large equipment, outbuildings, etc. The purpose of this survey was to measure how online reviews and testimonials may have influenced their purchase decisions and to measure the actual influence of peer (micro) and expert (macro) opinions. Overview
  • 5. 5 The survey was conducted using Google Consumer Surveys, which reports on the inferred age and gender of anonymous respondents based on the websites users visit and location based on IP addresses. Income and urban density are then approximated using census data for particular geographic regions. Unlike other online survey platforms, which send questionnaires to predetermined panels, Google Consumer Surveys takes a new approach to survey sampling, data collection and post-stratification weighting. This produces a close approximation to a random sample of the U.S. Internet population and results that are as accurate as probability-based panels. Source: Google Insights The qualifying question to participate in this survey was, “Do you live on 10 or more acres of land and have recently made a major purchase for the property?” This screening question was presented to 32,284 potential respondents, of which 2,830 (7.8 percent) answered “yes.” Of those who answered “yes,” 500 people completed the survey. Methodology
  • 6. 6 Key Findings Q1. To what degree did online reviews or testimonials influence your purchase decision? Rank 1 to 7, with 1 representing least influential and 7 representing most influential. Least influential 1 42.3% Average 1 7 2 7.2% 14.1%3 14.3%Somewhat influential 4 8.2%5 9.1%Most influential 7 • 2.9 36.4% 4.8%6
  • 7. 7 Key Findings Q1. To what degree did online reviews or testimonials influence your purchase decision? AGES: Least influential 1 42.9% 38.8% 44.4% 2 6.8% 9.9% 5.6% 3 14.8% 14.2% 11.5% Somewhat influential 4 14.6% 16.9% 13.5% 5 8.5% 6.7% 7.1% 6 1.9% 5.1% 6.4% Most influential 7 10.5% 8.4% 11.4% 18 – 34 35 – 54 55 +
  • 8. 8 Online reviews are important, but not to everyone. Of those who participated, 42.3 percent ranked online reviews or testimonials as least influential to their purchase decision, 14.3 percent ranked online reviews as somewhat influential and 9.1 percent indicated online reviews as most influential. It would be very easy to look at these percentages and determine that online reviews are not important. However, it would be more accurate to say that online reviews may not be important to some people—especially as it relates to a major purchase for a rural property. But when we take an even closer look at these numbers, we see that online reviews actually fall within a wide range of influence across all ages. The cumulative positive ranking (4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = CPR) is 36.4 percent. Observation
  • 9. 9 Do I trust online reviews? I think so because people are going to let you know honestly what they think…if they had a bad experience or if it was good. Depending on what the reviews say or how they say it, I think they could be planted. I do pay attention, but if there’s just one or two I don’t necessarily place 100 percent credibility in that. But if there’s an overwhelming number of positives or negatives, I do pay attention to that. South Dakota Horse Owner Kansas Cattle Rancher “ “ ” ” Agri-marketers who want to influence the purchase decisions of rural lifestylers should consider that 36.4 percent of this audience is, to some degree, impacted by online reviews.
  • 10. 10 Key Findings Q2. To what degree did you rely on or trust reviews from individuals like you? Rank 1 to 7, with 1 representing least influential and 7 representing most influential. Least influential 1 24.4% Average 1 7 2 9.1% 8.6%3 26%Somewhat influential 4 12.8%5 12.2%Most influential 7 • 3.6 58% 7%6
  • 11. 11 Key Findings Q2. To what degree did you rely on or trust reviews from individuals like you? AGES: Least influential 1 25.3% 26.2% 22.2% 2 9.5% 9.2% 9.9% 3 6.5% 9.6% 9.6% Somewhat influential 4 21.2% 32.1% 22.2% 5 15.3% 10.5% 12.7% 6 5.7% 5.2% 8.2% Most influential 7 16.5% 7.3% 15.2% 18 – 34 35 – 54 55 +
  • 12. 12 Rural lifestylers trust peers to different degrees. Overall, respondents tend to rely on or trust reviews from people who are like themselves. Of respondents, 24.4 percent ranked online reviews or testimonials from peers as least important to their purchase decision. A larger percentage of the respondents, 26 percent, indicated that online reviews from peers are somewhat important, and 12.2 percent ranked online reviews from peers as the most important. The cumulative positive ranking (4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = CPR) is 58 percent. Where the previous question measured the degree of influence associated with online reviews in general, this question attempts to measure the degree of trust associated with online reviews from peers. This is an important distinction because most people do not like to think or admit they may be influenced by others—even if they are actively seeking out opinions online. This is human nature. But online reviews from “individuals like you” hold a greater degree of trust and, therefore, have the potential to be more influential in the purchase process. Observation A positive review about a specific tractor—or a helpful comment on a particular piece of equipment—can carry more weight if it comes from someone with a similar demographic, property size or experience background.
  • 13. 13 Key Findings Q3. To what degree did you rely on or trust reviews from experts? Rank 1 to 7, with 1 representing least influential and 7 representing most influential. Least influential 1 26.5% Average 1 7 2 7.6% 14.4%3 25.4%Somewhat influential 4 10.7%5 8.4%Most influential 7 • 3.4 51.6% 7.1%6
  • 14. 14 Key Findings Q3. To what degree did you rely on or trust reviews from experts? AGES: Least influential 1 28.3% 25.3% 29.4% 2 5.2% 8.2% 10.2% 3 15.3% 15.3% 10.9% Somewhat influential 4 24.2% 23.9% 23.5% 5 7.6% 12.3% 11.5% 6 8.2% 6.0% 6.2% Most influential 7 11.0% 8.9% 8.4% 18 – 34 35 – 54 55 +
  • 15. 15 Rural lifestylers trust experts to about the same degree as peers. It appears as though rural lifestylers rely on or trust online reviews from experts to about the same degree as they rely on or trust reviews from individuals like themselves. Of survey participants, 26.5 percent ranked online reviews or testimonials from experts as least important. 25.4 percent indicated that online reviews from experts are somewhat important, and 8.4 percent ranked online reviews from experts as the most important. The cumulative positive ranking (4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = CPR) is 51.6 percent. Again, we see that approximately one-quarter of the respondents ranked peers and experts as least important. This might suggest that a certain percentage of rural lifestylers are skeptical of all online reviews—no matter the source. Conversely, over half the respondents indicated that they relied on or trusted online reviews from experts at least to some degree. Observation Again, we see that approximately one-quarter of the respondents ranked peers and experts as least important. This might suggest that a certain percentage of rural lifestylers are skeptical of all online reviews—no matter the source. Conversely, over half the respondents indicated that they relied on or trusted online reviews from experts at least to some degree.
  • 16. 16 For purchasing decisions, the other thing that comes into play for me is the dealer. For example, with lawnmowers, we have a really good dealer and he switched me. I would’ve never done that. But he’s the dealer and I trust him. It means a lot to me to have someone I trust who knows the product and deals it because he’s not going to survive if he sells stuff that people aren’t happy with. Iowa Hobby Farmer “ ” Rural lifestylers are always seeking advice related to the unique needs and demands of living in the country. Experts can play an important role in building trust and credibility for a brand.
  • 17. 17 Key Findings Cumulative Positive Rating (CPR) Comparison To what degree did online reviews influence your purchase decision? CPR 36.4 percent To what degree did you rely on or trust reviews from individuals like you? CPR 58.0 percent To what degree did you rely on or trust reviews from experts? CPR 51.6 percent
  • 18. 18 As marketers, we are particularly interested in rural lifestylers who acknowledge the value of online reviews. These are often early adopters who give us the best insight to future communication trends. By comparing the cumulative positive rating (CPR) across all three questions, we see a distinct shift in their responses. Of those surveyed, 36.4 percent were influenced, at least to some degree, by online reviews. This overall rating increases significantly to 58 percent when online reviews are attributed to peers and 51.6 percent when attributed to experts. In other words, rural lifestylers may not think online reviews influence their purchase decision, but they seem to be much more receptive to what peers and experts have to say. Observation
  • 19. 19 I try to read as much as possible, and then I also call and contact friends to find out what their experiences have been with the product or service. At that point I feel that once I’ve read the testimonials and once I’ve read the interviews, I can pretty well make a decision as to what I’m going to buy. Colorado Horse Breeder “ ”
  • 20. 20 The results from this study suggest that not all rural lifestylers think or behave alike. Many do not believe (or admit) that online reviews influence their purchase decision. Others acknowledge, to varying degrees, that online reviews have value. Most current online usage studies report that consumers are actively seeking out and looking at online reviews, and that online reviews are very important to the decision-making process. For example, a 2011 MarketingProfs survey reported that 59 percent of consumers said online consumer reviews and ratings influenced their buying decisions more than any type of online advertising. A 2012 survey conducted by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange indicated that 78 percent of online Americans aged 18-64 agree that online reviews help them decide whether or not to purchase a product. Recently, Forrester Research reported that 46 percent of consumers trust consumer reviews. It should be noted that these surveys typically examine the online behaviors and purchase patterns of consumers in a retail environment—which includes e-commerce and traditional onsite shopping experiences. They do not reflect the unique purchase experiences often associated with rural property owners. Marketing Take Aways
  • 21. 21 So, what can we take away from this study? 1) There may be more skepticism associated with online reviews. As online reviews become more commonplace, and users become more sophisticated, we may be seeing a rising degree of distrust. The key is to break down the barriers of skepticism and connect rural lifestyle customers with trusted peers and thought leaders. The objective is not to make an immediate sale, but to make an enduring connection with those who share a common interest. Agri-marketers that help customers fulfill their ideal of living in the country will be able to build long-term brand loyalty. 2) Personal relationships are important to the purchase process. Although this survey doesn’t address the subject of personal relationships, we can infer from our experience with rural lifestylers that one-on-one interactions are important to the sales process. Relying on online reviews to decide which shoes to buy requires a minimal investment of trust relative to the purchase price. Rural lifestylers looking to buy a new tractor may rely on online reviews to help them during the awareness and consideration phase of the purchase process, but personal contact with a dealer is more likely to influence an actual purchase.
  • 22. 22 3) Online reviews need to be integrated with existing marketing efforts. There isn’t a simple or single answer to the marketing mix equation. All communication channels, including traditional media, online media and personal relationships, contribute to the purchase process—and all to varying degrees. With this in mind, agri-marketers need to cultivate high-value customer reviews across traditional and online media channels. (High-value is defined as trusted peers or thought leaders.) It is important to maintain a consistent digital presence in social communities, blogs and forums, as well as a coordinated pay-per-click strategy to reach prospective customers when they are searching for answers. It’s also important to be aware of what people are saying about a product and pay attention to any negative chatter. Brand reputation management is critical to a company’s success. Monitoring any negative feedback about a product or a customer experience allows that company to improve the experience and build a positive brand reputation.
  • 23. 23 This is clearly an area that needs further review. Perhaps attitudes have changed. Or perhaps we still don’t understand the full weight people place on online chatter when it comes to purchase decisions. What we do know is that a percentage of the audience is paying attention and we need to communicate with them. The data collected for this paper will continue to be examined. New questions have been raised. Paulsen Marketing will continue to gauge the influence and importance of online reviews as it specifically relates to the rural lifestyle market. And we will continue to provide additional insight and recommendations related to online presence and social media participation. What’s Next?