Dr Raffaele Filieri, a senior lecturer in the marketing department of the school, part of Northumbria University, has found that the customer’s voice often takes precedence over branded communication.
His study, published in the Journal of Business Research, says consumers are interested in finding "information shortcuts" – a quick recommendation or validation – that bypasses the brand’s existing reputation.
However, it also shows that the credibility of these online sources – TripAdvisor is given as an example – is rarely taken into account, with Filieri saying: "Only a very limited number of people check the credibility of a reviewer and so my results show that credibility is not important for consumer decisions, rather the overall ranking and a product’s features rating."
The study also shows that many people ignore the actual content and source of the review. Instead, the relative ease of comparing star ratings is often a crucial factor in the customer’s decision-making process.
Filieri said: "More and more restaurant owners are asking customers to review them on TripAdvisor. They have adopted a strategy that is very effective and rewarding for their business. Hotels or restaurants have been known to offer vouchers or refunds if the customer is willing to remove a negative review from the likes of TripAdvisor."
As a result, Filieri's study recommends that companies incorporate customer response into brand comms. He writes: "The integration of reviews and ratings into the marketing communications mix could reduce the lack of trust towards brand communications and persuade consumers about the quality of products using the customer voice."
The power of online reviews and opinion is also shown in a separate report by social media analysis software firm Crimson Hexagon, which looked at how social media drives customer perceptions of five airlines.
It found that Ryanair received the highest negative percentage of overall social media conversation at 46 per cent. Liliana Osorio, EMEA marketing manager at Crimson Hexagon, said: "As social media continues to grow, it is becoming more important for brands with a high number of customer touchpoints, such as airlines, to maintain a strong social presence and engage with their audience and customers."