Bazaarvoice just wrapped up its annual Social Commerce Summit, its fourth (and largest) client event in its hometown of Austin, Texas. Bazaarvoice helps all types of businesses capture, share, and analyze customer conversations online; more than 1,200 brands use its ratings and reviews platform—including P&G, HP, Dell, Best Buy, Newell Rubbermaid, and Xerox.
At the event, major new product announcements included Bazaarvoice Customer Intelligence, an analytics application that provides real-time information based on customer communications gathered across a realm of branded sites and social networks; and SocialConnect Suite, a tool set that better enables customers to easily share their reviews, stories, and product questions and answers across their personal networks.
Brant Barton, co-founder and chief innovation officer, sat down with me to discuss Bazaarvoice’s own use of social media as well as his view of the landscape for these technologies today.
Q: How does Bazaarvoice use social media?
A: We don’t do much traditional online advertising, such as search. The centerpiece of our marketing strategy has been around our blog, which dates back to early 2006. We have frequent contributors to it. A team in our marketing group keeps content fresh. I still contribute to it. Brett [Hurt, Co-Founder, CEO] still contributes to it. We have various people from within the company there as well as client interviews.
It’s been important for us to market through thought leadership. We think we are in a position to take a thought leadership position in the industry around how you act on customer feedback, what you do with all this content, how you moderate it in a way that is suitable for the public forum and also is going to work for you. Also, we rely on customer case studies … All of our marketing has been customer-driven.
Q: Is it easier to sell your services to the C-level than it was 5 years ago?
A: Yes, compared to then. Five years ago, the challenge was a cultural issue, fear of negative reviews. We had to get people over that hump. Now, everybody recognizes you got to get over that hump; it’s just how the world works. Now, the biggest challenge is not a cultural or philosophical issue, it’s more of an operational issue. Because if you’re going to do this and do it right, be prepared to answer those questions and respond to that feedback.
Q: How do your clients encourage customer feedback, reviews, etc?
A: The top things are messaging that they can implement across their website, their marketing, on order pages, even in offline marketing, such as in catalogs, store signage, receipts. The most effective tactic by far is an email to solicit buyers to come back and rate the product or service. Some of our clients use contests or sweepstakes [to encourage response to such emails]. That’s typically done as a one-time or occasional promotion. But the most important thing is you just ask. The difference between content volume per client that has a programmatic way of seeking feedback and those who don’t is night and day.
Q: About incentives, Steve Fuller of LL Bean just spoke on their company’s initial decision to never use contests, sweepstakes, or other incentives to solicit ratings and reviews and how happy they were in hindsight to have gone that route. So what percentage of your clients use incentives?
A: It’s a split. Some clients don’t need to do. LL Bean is one of those brands that has a highly engaged, highly loyal customer base. So they are less dependent on such tactics.
Q: What are your biggest challenges in your job today?
A: Processing the rate of change and the amount of information generated every day not just about what our clients are doing but what any brand is doing with social technology that can be new and innovative and that can be either the inspiration for a big product or feature idea, or the specter of a competitive issue, or a best practice that we should take and broadcast to our entire customer base. It’s very challenging to be an expert in this industry. I’m doing like what most people are, the best that one can in an industry that no one is an expert in because it is changing so significantly from one moment to the next.
Q: I think of Bazaarvoice circa 2006, when “social media” was barely even a phrase in use, and so in one sense you were early on the idea of harnessing user-generated content. Yet in another way, with the explosion of this arena since then, where do you see Bazaarvoice fitting into this bigger thing that has mushroomed as an industry?
A: There’s a big difference in how consumers embrace technology and how businesses embrace it. The phenomenon of Facebook and Twitter, to use those examples, have been consumer phenomena. As a result of having such a large population of consumer users, they attract business.
On the other hand, businesses adopt technology very differently because there are much larger costs and risk of doing something too soon or too late, etc. Where we fit is that we’ve been the primary interface for many of our clients to social. Over the last five years, our clients have done things directly with Facebook or other social partners, and that’s to be expected. But I think that businesses will always need a partnership like the one we provide because there will always been new platforms, changes in the way in those platforms work. Our mission as a company is to interpret and convert that into something businesses can use and get measurable value out of.
Q: Is it difficult not to chase some of these trends?
Yes. It requires an incredible amount of discipline to stay focused on just the set of things we’re focused on, which is a pretty large set of things. So you’ve got on the margins all of these other interesting things going on. This industry is full of bright and shiny objects that are whizzing by and are capturing attention. We just try to stay focused on where we think we are uniquely capable of generating the most measurable and deepest value for our customers, rather than jump on the latest fad. For example, our investments in Facebook we think are very thoughtfully and are a smart solution for how brands need to bridge an on-site social and off-site social. But it’s not chasing a fad.
Q: Are there any partners in your ecosystem that really “get it” and have done interesting integrations, etc?
A: We have partners that are really doing innovating things with our API. They are basically pulling [User Generated Content]-captured and managed in our platform into applications that they are building. For instance, Sprella, which built the mobile application for Patagonia, and Modern Climate, which built the Digital Blue Shirts kiosks for Best Buy. So, we’re trying to build a new ecosystem of partners around the platform, which differs from our industry and referral partnerships.
Q: As someone who has seen the company grow from you and Brett co-founding it to over 500 full-time employees, what’s the most rewarding aspect to you about Bazaarvoice?
I just think it’s that we are such a respected brand in what I think is the most exciting industry that there is today. I truly think that this “social industry” is the most exciting, dynamic, fastest moving industry and to be a brand that has the type of customer list that we do that we do, the customer case studies, and to be able to hold an event like this, get the speakers we get … That’s it.
I could say it’s how big we’ve gotten or the awards we’ve won or how we’re doing financially, but it’s really just the customer love.