CEO Q&A: Stephen Collins, Bazaarvoice

Stephen Collins, CEO of Bazaarvoice, talks to Chris Daniels about the comms challenge of pioneering a social commerce business.

What is the bread and butter of the company's product offering?
We help a brand such as Tide laundry detergent or Crest toothpaste distribute and display authentic consumer reviews that they have collected to consumers when they shop on an e-commerce site.

What we do is very analogous to an online ad network. If you go to Walmart and see reviews about a Tide product collected by P&G, it is all authentic content, but the purpose of it is to influence a purchase decision. That type of content is an ad. By virtue of syndicated content, we are creating an authentic network, an earned media collection and distribution engine.

Publications and groups have singled out Bazaarvoice as the best place to work in Texas (for staff policies such as unrestricted vacations based on trust). Is that culture key to the company's success?
The credit for our culture goes 100% to the company's founders, Brett Hurt and Brant Barton. They were passionate about company culture and how that ties to performance. It was no accident that they put in a system of measurement, education, and recruiting and hiring practices built on top of a culture template. Culture was number one on the list of how everyone and everything would be measured.

My objective is to honor those traditions and build on them, but to do so in an environment where we're now a public company and the performance demands have risen.

How important has IR become since the company went public in 2012?
It's very time consuming. We work with our agency ICR and professionals internally dedicated to the task. In many ways what we are doing is pioneering a business.

We're not a pure-play software services company that sells to the CIO. We are part software company and part Internet and e-commerce company. We sell to the CMO or the head of e-commerce. Also, we're not replacing other products that currently exist. So, just as we have to educate prospective clients about what we do and why we do it, we also have to do the same thing for investors. When you have to educate about what we do and why it's valuable, and educate about the economics of the company, that makes for a more challenging IR deliverable. It is important for leaders within the company, myself included, to make appropriate time for investors. [The Bazaarvoice IPO raised a reported $114 million in February 2012.]

Bazaarvoice has also expanded into social media analysis. Can you talk about the company's broadening scope?
In providing that connection between brands and retailers, we're helping both sides understand how online reviews can be leveraged in different ways.

The learning from it can change a product roadmap, help identify issues before they turn into big problems, and provide insights into the best way to get consumers to talk about products. We're learning the same way our clients are, only we learn better and faster because we see the full ecosystem through our network. As we gain insights, we return them to our clients in the form of products - new software and technology.

How has the company been affected by the antitrust lawsuit filed by US Department of Justice against the company in relation to its 2012 acquisition of California-based rival PowerReviews?
That weighs on people internally, particularly when you have a company that has an emotional IQ. We pride ourselves on serving our community and on our authenticity - meaning we do everything to make sure our content is real. Considering our culture, to be impugned by the Department of Justice for malicious intent is difficult for people to process. [The trial started September 23, just before this interview took place.]

How have you communicated to employees (below) on this issue?
You tell people, "Focus on taking care of your clients and teammates. Whatever happens, we're here to create value for clients and that's not going to change."

How does the company plan to compete against other social media tools that marketers can invest in?

Some retailers think ratings and reviews are more important than others, as do brands. We have to convince them that it should be a key part of their marketing strategy.

We're competing in that sense with the entire marketing ecosystem. Long term, we will compete on authentic content, mastering and acquiring a robust inventory, and a strong flow of word-of-mouth content. We see that as the weapon of choice in the battle for brand reputation and brand value.

We call it the battle for digital shelf space. Brands will have to compete with each other to get the best user-generated content. And they will have to amplify that material in a variety of innovative ways to maintain and increase their market share.

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