More is Good: Tips for Creating Triggered Product Reviews That Drive Conversions

When I think of what email marketers really want, I’m tempted to paraphrase Gordon Gekko from the movie “Wall Street,” substituting “greed” for “more.” More is good. Marketers want customers to purchase more and prospects to engage more; they want more email subscribers on their lists; they want more data to work with from more sources; and they want more brand recognition than their competition. This might be somewhat of an oversimplification, but ultimately, the “more” that every marketer wants is revenue, and increasingly revenue is being influenced by user-generated content—especially product reviews.

There is a ton of data to suggest that purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by product reviews. According to a recent survey sponsored by Zendesk, 88% of respondents said their buying decisions were influenced by reading online reviews (both positive and negative), while positive reviews had the most impact. Another study by Search Engine Land showed that, “72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.”

So how can marketers make sure prospects see this revenue generating content? Consider another highly influential marketing tool: triggered messages. There is an equally robust amount of data highlighting the benefits of triggered email messages. A recent Epsilon study found that open rates for triggered messages are 61% higher and click-through rates are 117% higher when compared to “business as usual” messages in the same period (Q1 2013). There’s no better time than now to create a triggered product review campaign and leverage your customers’ feedback. In fact, this will set you ahead of the pack. According to MarketingSherpa’s 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, only 29% of companies (B2B and B2C combined) send triggered product reviews, despite the measurable impact they can have on purchase activity. While this tactic is perhaps best suited for online retailers and travel brands, it can certainly be adopted by other verticals.

What should you consider when creating a triggered product review campaign? I decided to take a look at what some of the top retailers and travel brands are successfully doing with their triggered product review messages. I focused on some great tactics used in campaigns with higher than average read rates (25% and above) across the month of September.

Of the 16 travel and retail brands, all used the word “review” in the subject lines of their product review messages, with 25% including both “review” and “rate.” For example, the subject line of REI’s campaign was “Rate the Gear You Purchased – Write a Review at REI.com.” A few retailers, including Amazon, Expedia and Best Buy, included one of the purchased products in the subject line. This had a positive effect on Expedia’s read rates, with messages personalized with the “product” (i.e., trip details) having a 10.5% higher average read rate than the same type of campaign that didn’t include the product in the subject line. Ticketmaster was another brand that referenced the product that was purchased (in this case an event) in the subject line, helping to contribute to a 28% average read rate for their triggered review campaigns.

As every email marketer knows, timing is just as critical as content. Ticketmaster triggered their messages between 2-3 days following the purchased event. REI took a different approach and waited 2-3 weeks after the purchase to allow the customer time to use the product and form an opinion. This was highlighted in their email creative: “Now that you’ve had a few weeks to test out the goods, we want to invite you to write a product review on REI.com.”

There were also a variety of approaches used to encourage subscribers to submit their reviews. Some brands like Carter’s, Oshkoshbgosh and Vitacost featured incentives, such as a chance to win a $100 gift card. Other brands, like TripAdvisor, highlighted the number of reviews a subscriber had left before they earned a “Passport badge,” although the benefits of receiving one weren’t included in the message. Best Buy included the chance to earn “My Best Buy” points with the submission of a review, reflecting a practice used by other brands that tied the review process to their loyalty programs. For example, Sephora called out the benefits of its Beauty Insider program in relation to the requested review. The triggered message stated: “Your recent purchase was automatically added to My Beauty Bag, an exciting way to shop, collect, organize and pin all your favorite products online.” The image of the purchased item was featured in the body of the message, along with a heart icon (to add the product to the subscriber’s list of favorites), a Pinterest icon to “pin it” and a link to write a review. The message header also featured the subscriber’s Beauty Insider points balance.

In addition to a triggered message requesting a review, TripAdvisor used multiple types of triggered campaigns to encourage subscribers to keep the review content coming by marking various milestones in the review process.  This included messages to subscribers who had just submitted their first review;  a monthly update email to previous reviewers letting them know how many people had read their review (and from what country); and a message letting other users in the subscriber’s network know that they recently earned a “Passport badge” as the result of submitting a review. Hotels.com had a similar approach with a campaign letting subscribers know that their review had been published. TripAdvisor’s subscribers also saw their reviews featured in regular promotional campaigns for popular destinations. For example: “This week’s reviews for Honolulu” and “This week’s reviews for London.”

Another tactic used for encouraging the submission of review content was appealing to subscribers’ altruistic tendencies. Zappos prominently featured this as a call-to-action for their product review campaign to VIP customers with the subject line stating: ““Help Others! Write a VIP.Zappos.com Review!” and a related call-to-action in the body of the message: “Yes. I Want To Help!” Carters also included similar language in their email creative, asking subscribers to “help other moms and dads make better purchasing decisions,” and REI reminded subscribers of the importance of honesty for both helping “your fellow outdoor enthusiasts make their own gear picks” and REI improve their products.

Implementing product review campaigns may be more challenging than other types of triggered messages, which you can mostly set and forget. Complicating factors include  the integration of purchase data; the functionality required to host online review content; the need to moderate the content received; and the touch points associated with asking for and receiving content. However, these messages are likely to have a direct and measurable impact on increasing purchasing activity, especially for customers who are on the fence or are unfamiliar with your brand. In addition, you will also create a valuable subset of customers and subscribers who are vocal, engaged and inclined to give feedback. This tactic may not be simple, but it’s definitely an example of more is more.