Brant and I back then.

When I left Coremetrics and started Bazaarvoice with Brant on May 2, 2005, it was because we were striving to help the eCommerce industry increase conversion.  According to Shop.org’s annual study, conversion rates were still under 3%, meaning 97% of visitors to eCommerce sites didn’t buy.  Paid search was more expensive, and the pendulum had swung from customer acquisition to conversion to make those expensive acquisitions count.  But we also saw potential in how businesses could benefit from hearing directly from their customers; our thesis was that social commerce could turn into the next frontier for analytics. People had always relied on word of mouth to make buying decisions and were becoming more and more distrustful of “traditional” advertising.  Now word of mouth was becoming a digitally archived medium, enabling analysis of customer conversations that previously did not exist in the world.  The marketing and merchandising textbooks would need to be rewritten to take this authentic and pure data asset – the voice of those paying your bills – into account.

Fast forward to today.  This month marked a major milestone for our business.  We just surpassed our 1,000th brand (press release), proving what Brant and I believed all along: the consumer voice is transformational to brands that listen and act.  Marketing to customers is no longer a guessing game – you now know exactly what customers say to each other.  I blogged about the potential to transform advertising more than three years ago, and it is even truer today now that consumers are generating and consuming “more than 500 billion impressions about products and services a year.” Merchandising is now quantified more than ever before – allowing for precise action to increase sales and reduce returns for those brave and adaptable enough to listen.  And customers are serviced better than ever before, with customer support agents at clients like PETCO reaching out to customers when they leave a one or two-star review to turn a negative experience into a positive one (my Netflix vs. BlockBuster four-part series explores one of the best examples of “bad profits” that I have ever seen, resulting in BlockBuster’s ultimate bankruptcy).

In the past five years, the social web has shifted power into the hands of consumers — and completely transformed the way companies do business in the process. And this goes far beyond retail: we’ve seen manufacturers such as Dell use customer input to design the next generation of products, and they have been dramatically improving their customer reviews as a result. USAA has improved customer service and created new product features based on what customers tell them online (and was featured as a pioneer by Forrester). And — against all expectations – we finally broke down barriers between social and luxury goods.

Our success reflects a bigger shift in the marketplace toward a connected world full of conversations. New trends in technology are creating an always-on world of communication. Today, five of the top ten most trafficked sites on the web are socially focused. When we started Bazaarvoice, Twitter didn’t even exist and Facebook was closed to the public.  Now, as consumers, we are never “alone”: Facebook has over 500 million users, Twitter continues to rise, and we carry our internet-enabled phones with us everywhere. As Wired magazine and the AlwaysOn community would suggest – we are now always wired.

Soon we’ll share our opinions about everything — governments, employers, and people (see my blog post about transparency and leadership). This feedback won’t just help individuals make decisions — it has the power to improve almost everything in our world. It’s going to happen faster than you think — our 1,000 diverse and global brands are proving that.  It will not take us nearly as long to win the next 1,000 brands – social commerce is accelerating now that most everyone knows it works (e.g., improving sales, reducing returns, decreasing call center volume, and increasing customer acquisition).

I believe that the world’s best brands choose us because we always study new trends and innovate, launching new products and features every eight weeks since our inception.  But perhaps most importantly, we embrace that we are a Software as a Service business – providing not just a technology to use but the guidance to use it.  We help our clients continuously prove the real, bottom-line impact customer conversations have on their entire business.

And this milestone comes on the heels of several accolades:

We’re ready for the next 1,000 brands to join us during this incredibly exciting time in the history of commerce, with social, mobile, and eCommerce colliding in a spectacular way.  We are more poised, professional, and confident than ever before, and our clients are counting on us to guide them through this time of amazing change.  We do not take that challenge or our success for granted, and we sincerely thank you for all of your support.

Click on the image below for a visual representation of the rise of social media, the growth of our company, and key milestones along this amazing journey.

Bazaarvoice and Social Growth

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