Successful marketers in 2024 will focus on the balance between the human touch and technology.
As we at Reputation have access to millions of consumer and patient reviews across multi-location industries, we are seeing that the highest ratings and reviews have one thing in common: well-executed in-person interactions. Even as generative AI continues to top the charts on technologies you can’t ignore,
that personal touch makes an impact, and it is extremely important to not over-rotate marketing efforts in an area that is still in its infancy. Here are a few trends worth exploring this year for B2C, multi-location businesses – including which component of AI is worth investing in right now.
1. The consumer-led buying journey is more complex than ever.
Consumers today are leading the purchasing process, and have much more autonomy in their buying journey. They may do research on their work laptop, home computer, or mobile device and utilize a variety of channels, including Google Search, Apple Maps and Bard to understand their options. We also know that 90% of retail consumers look at ratings and reviews and 72% read multiple reviews. And once decisions are made online, businesses need to deliver on their brand promise IRL at each location, from the storefront to service interactions. No matter what, consumers expect a personalized and consistent experience across every conceivable touchpoint.
Understanding every element of this journey and ensuring your reputation (what consumers say about you) matches your brand promise (who you aspire to be) is key to managing the ever-evolving consumer journey. To do this effectively, marketers need access to tools that allow them to manage their reputation at both the corporate and location level, while gathering insights from customer feedback across the buying journey that foster increased growth and improved loyalty.
2. Brand perception eclipses brand promise
A business can no longer win on brand promise and sales execution alone, especially when nearly 95% of people consult reviews before buying anything. Consumers are buying based on reputation, which means that what other consumers are saying about your brand – especially at the location level – will have significant weight on their decision-making in the buying journey.
Traditional brand presence metrics don’t capture this crucial consumer feedback, nor do they measure how well your reputation is performing at the location level. Metrics such as ratings, reviews and social media sentiment do – they are a valuable currency in this consumer-led experience economy, and businesses who embrace them will drive improved business results.
3. AI-powered search will make public ratings and reviews more valuable
Generative AI may still be in its infancy, but this technology learns and moves quickly. With the launch of Chat GPT and Bard, search has become more conversational and pinpointed. AI is turbocharging search by giving it the ability to source more public data, including very specific language and insights from sources such as ratings, reviews and social posts. It then aggregates that data into a more definitive answer based on that content.
Here’s how it works:
When you use a traditional search engine like Google and plug in “What’s the most family-friendly car,” you get a list of third-party research: “US News & World Reports-Best Cars for Family Awards 2023” “Kelley Blue Book 12 Best Family Cars of 2023,” and “Autoweek-Best Family Cars of 2024 & 2025.”
Conversely, when you search “What’s the most family-friendly car” in Google’s Bard, you get a list of characteristics you consider family-friendly and then actually see a list of “a few popular options categorized by type: Sedan: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia K5.”
We know that consumers aren’t using Generative AI search engines for everyday research and buying decisions just yet, but you can see how the difference between these two examples completely changes your potential marketing strategy. Where marketing teams might work tirelessly to win awards and secure media placements like the Kelley Blue Book’s best family cars article, understanding how to show up on Bard’s list of family-friendly cars is less obvious.
Google’s generative search experience (SGE) uses generative AI to make search more of a conversation and less than a find-and-click exploration. As a result, businesses will want to accumulate more publicly available data like positive ratings and reviews. Not because customers will be sifting through reviews, but because AI will scour the web and root out the most representative ratings for each business. This is an area that Reputation is staying very close to as we understand how search engines like Google prioritize content, including consumer reviews.
4. The human touch matters in the age of technology
People are willing to interact with AI-powered chatbots and get smart recommendations from technology. But when going through the purchasing process, the personal touch will always help a brand stand out with consumers.
Yes, consumers are getting hit with a blizzard of technology-enabled brand interactions, ranging from chatbots to online ads and AI-powered emails. As businesses continue to adopt AI technology to be more efficient, many will invest heavily, but consumers will rebel against applications of technology that feel impersonal or fail to put the experience first. We’re already seeing signs of this happening, including the fizzling of the metaverse and widespread rejection of many chatbots. Businesses that figure out how to maintain the human connection as they embrace new technologies will win.
Our own Reputation Reports on industries including automotive, retail, healthcare and property management underscores this reality. For example, the experience with sales and service lanes can make or break an automotive retailer according to our research – interactions with staff remain the top drivers of customer sentiment. Our data shows that when car shoppers mentioned staff behavior, particularly emphasizing attributes such as patience, knowledge, and helpfulness, their overall ratings improved by 0.9 points. Businesses need to double down on areas like soft skills training regardless of industry. Thoughtful management of service will make or break many businesses, from a doctor’s office to a local car dealership.
With consumers dictating their own buying journeys, it might seem like 2024 is the year of trying to evolve faster than ever before. But in reality, this is a time to lean into the basics: delivering on brand promise by investing in understanding your consumer and the gaps in your brand perception. Even though there is a strong reason to leverage technology for personalization and efficiency, continue to prioritize the human touch in customer interactions. This, paired with meaningful technology integrations, will ensure that your marketing strategy fosters growth and creates loyal customers for years to come.
Reputation can help you bridge the gap between brand perception and brand promise. Visit our website to learn more.