In the world of social media, we are constantly bombarded with opinions of those around us. The medium doesn’t really matter. Today, everyone has a platform for sharing what they love and hate. Social media allows for word-of-mouth to spread at scale, which is great if you have a popular, admired brand or product. But if you are on the receiving end of widespread criticism, it can feel impossible to change the narrative once it has started.

Yet, there are ways of using that content and feedback, generated by people all over the globe, to discover market opportunities for your own products and services.

When people are passionate enough to complain about a product or its gaps, it means you have a dedicated audience. If you win these people over, they will tell others all about you. They are the ones that notice when you improve the product based on feedback. The objective here is to glean as much as you can from freely available consumer-generated content (CGC) about products.

Step 1: Determine 5 to 10 products you want to investigate

Think about the industry your brand is in — who are your competitors? Who are other brands in your space that are similar but don’t necessarily directly competitive? Think about the products that are sold in your space. These products should not all be your own. It is best to look outside of your own product set for feedback. Often, we get overly focused on our products and miss hearing the broader voice of the market we serve.

To help with this initial product list, you can do a quick search at retailer websites to see what kinds of products are recommended to shoppers. To do this, open up your browser in privacy or incognito mode. This will ensure that the search results are not impacted by your own shopping experience or preference to your own products. Then, search for a product or type of product on any major retailer website, ideally one that might sell products in your space. For example, if you want to find opportunities around bikes for children, search for ‘bike’ at Target. Take a look at the list of brands that are carried at Target, and type the list into a document.

Now, do this at two or three more retailers. Each time you find a repeated brand, add a tally to the document so you know how distributed each particular brand is.

With the list of the top four to five brands in hand, go back to your ideal retailer and start doing a brand-specific search. This should give you a list of their products. Identify one or two products per brand that have the most reviews. Copy those product URLs to your working document, as you will want to reference them in the next step. If they don’t have any reviews, skip them.

Repeat this process until you have a list of 5-10 products with a good number of reviews.

Step 2: Identify problems

Now that you have your list of products and their product detail page links, it’s time to dig in and figure out what people are saying about these products.

For each product, click on the URL and then scroll down to the reviews. Filter down to the 2-star and 1-star reviews. These reviews mean that the customer was so unhappy with something about the product that they were compelled to share with the public. These negative reviews likely contain passionate feedback from real customers, and that’s what we’re looking for.

For each of the negative reviews, look for key topics. Does the customer complain about a particular product feature? About shipping or delivery? Is there something missing from the product that they wanted? Was the product description inaccurate?

As you read, copy each negative review into a spreadsheet and assign it a tag in a separate column. Depending on the content of each review, you may have one or more tags, but you want the tags to highlight the key customer issues. For example, a customer review that mentions the bike they ordered was a different color than pictured online and missing the detachable training wheels could be tagged “inaccurate product description” and “missing item”.

As you establish tags, make sure to keep using the same structure as you read through reviews. This will allow you to accurately group feedback later. Continue this process for each product.

Step 3:  Rank the emotional response

negative reviews
Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion, Source: Wikipedia

Once you’ve tagged all of the negative reviews, look over the content and tags and consider the emotions these customers are expressing. In a separate column, assign one or two emotions per review — use the image above as guidance. The stronger the feeling, the closer to the center of the image.

The purpose of this step is to focus on where customers’ feelings are the strongest.

Step 4: Go fix it!

Look back over your spreadsheet — which tags appear the most often? Which negative reviews are the most emotionally charged? Your spreadsheet should highlight areas of recurring problems for customers. The final step is to brainstorm how your own product or service can address these issues.

  • Does your product solve one or more problems? If so, highlight your product’s strengths and differentiators in your marketing, advertising, product descriptions, and FAQs or product page question and answers.
  • If you don’t currently solve any of the customers’ issues, can you make changes in your own product to address the problems? Listing out ideas here can help you prioritize future product development or iterations. The stronger the negative response and the more wide-spread the message, the greater the opportunity for improving your product and standing out from competition.

This review research process should occur regularly — at least twice a year across your different product categories. If you ever feel out of touch with your own customers, you can always do the same process for your own products. There is always more to learn from customers, even those who are not your own.

Consumer-generated content, especially review content, is a goldmine for consumer insights. The above process is just the beginning of what you can do with CGC. To learn how a diverse set of brands used the power of CGC to increase awareness, improve consideration, and drive sales conversion while turning customers into brand advocates, download our ebook.

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