At NAA this year there was a, let’s just say, interesting session on apartment ratings sites that was facilitated by a group of attorneys and featured a mock trial. What was interesting was that while the trial simulated a disgruntled former resident being sued by a wrongfully defamed property, the real indictment was against the rating sites themselves (in particular, ApartmentRatings.com, not-so-cleverly disguised as “ApartmentDestroyer.com” in the mock trial), and, in a larger – and more discouraging – sense, the entire concept of online reviews and ratings.
Last week Google released a free e-book called Winning the Zero Moment of Truth. I haven’t read it yet (I’m a pretty fast reader, but not that fast), but will, and recommend that you do, too. Because the “ZMOT,” a concept that has actually been around for a few years now, and that Google has a commercial interest in educating you on, is one that very much applies to the multifamily housing industry. The basic premise goes something like this: There are three stages in a typical buying process, starting with the Stimulus (e.g. advertising), followed by the First Moment of Truth, and finally making the purchase. In our industry, the First Moment of Truth (or “FMOT,” a term coined by Proctor & Gamble referring to the first time you see the actual product, usually on a “shelf” next to other competing products) takes place when the prospective renter first visits your leasing office and tours your property.
Thanks to the ubiquity of information via the internet, the future-sounding ZMOT has been added as a fourth step in the process, right between Stimulus and FMOT, and represents all the online research, comparing and, yes, review-checking that gets done before a prospect makes any contact, physical or otherwise, with a product or service. I’ll argue this step has always happened, though to a far lesser degree and for a smaller subset of products. Anyone who consulted Consumer Reports before purchasing a car or a refrigerator was doing ZMOT-like research. Word-of-mouth marketing, or simply asking a friend if they liked a product you were considering, also achieved the same goal.
What the book – and numerous big-wig marketers and academics – contends is that ZMOT is now a crucial, irreplaceable and unstoppable part of the consumer’s buying process, and that to resist is futile, perhaps even destructive. Here’s a snippet from author Jim Lecinski’s chapter on ratings and reviews:
CEOs and CMOs tend to get nervous about online ratings and reviews… What if somebody says something negative? What if a whole lot of people do?
My answer to that is, relax. Here’s why:
Most reviews are good. “We’ve found that the worldwide average for product reviews is a 4.3 out of 5.0,” says Brett Hurt. His company provides customer conversation services to corporations ranging from Wal-Mart to Johnson & Johnson. According to Brett, 80% of all reviews online are four to five stars.
Brett Hurt puts it another way: “Fear of the negative is the thing that still really holds back adoption of the Zero Moment of Truth… But the truth is, negative review increase conversion rates for all kinds of businesses, because people see them and know they’re shopping in a truthful environment.”
If you’re building an awful product, that’s one thing. But if your product is good (as it surely is) then you really shouldn’t fear the occasional negative comment.
I’ll go on record stating I don’t like when websites have anonymous reviews. Not only does it invite flaming, but it also seems less effective – reviews associated with a real person feel far more trustworthy to me than an anonymous post. Websites that force property managers to pay to moderate a potentially damaging comment does feel a little extortive. But I applaud those of you who are going with the flow rather than trying desperately, futilely, to paddle up this stream (which, by now, is really more like a raging white-water rapid). In the long-run, it is those who engage prospects and their entire community on this level – through social media, review sites, etc. – who will establish an advantageous position in the market and, ultimately, close more leases. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with the ZMOT.