Pho­to­shop has become syn­ony­mous with the entire cat­e­gory of dig­i­tal imag­ing soft­ware. It is not unusual to hear peo­ple say that a photo was “pho­to­shopped,” indi­cat­ing that the image was dig­i­tally enhanced. For exam­ple, this YouTube video par­ody of Foto­shop by Adobé made a tes­ta­ment regard­ing the stan­dard of per­fec­tion in the beauty indus­try, as well as the tech­nol­ogy that makes it all pos­si­ble, using the (pho­netic) prod­uct name.

I can think of only a few other prod­ucts, such as Xerox and Kleenex, where a brand name defines an entire prod­uct cat­e­gory. Work­ing on such a market-leading brand is a marketer’s dream. But even here, cus­tomer reviews can increase con­sumer con­fi­dence and sales con­ver­sions. In fact, dur­ing a one-month trial Adobe ran in 2010, Pho­to­shop sales increased by 21 per­cent and Pho­to­shop Extended sales increased 54 per­cent for those whom reviews were dis­played on prod­uct webpages.

 Many con­sumers have come to depend on cus­tomer reviews to inform their shop­ping deci­sions on every­thing from prod­ucts to expe­ri­ences to ser­vice providers. Adding reviews to your site increases cus­tomer con­fi­dence and dri­ves bottom-line results.

An opin­ion on everything

Ama­zon was one of the first online retail­ers to lever­age cus­tomer reviews to increase con­ver­sion. The com­pany has con­sis­tently inno­vated to increase the value of rec­om­men­da­tions to its cus­tomers. One of Amazon’s first enhance­ments was to inte­grate rec­om­men­da­tions with pur­chase data to deter­mine if a ver­i­fied buyer wrote a prod­uct review. Recently, the com­pany took this a step fur­ther and added an Ask an Owner sec­tion on its prod­uct pages. Con­sumers can post ques­tions that are emailed to own­ers who pur­chased from Ama­zon with a request for feedback.

As peo­ple become more sophis­ti­cated about reviews, they look for rec­om­men­da­tions for more sub­jec­tive prod­ucts and ser­vices, such as a meal at a restau­rant or a stay at a hotel. Mar­ket­places for these expe­ri­ences, such as OpenTable for restau­rants and Tri­pAd­vi­sor for travel reser­va­tions, have incor­po­rated reviews as a core value along­side their reser­va­tion services.

The value of web­sites that pro­vide cus­tomer expe­ri­ence reviews has not been lost on large brands. To increase the value of its reviews, Tri­pAd­vi­sor recently part­nered with Amer­i­can Express. Amer­i­can Express actively encour­ages its card mem­bers to pro­vide reviews on the Tri­pAd­vi­sor site. In return, card mem­bers receive access to exclu­sive lists and trend infor­ma­tion. When card mem­bers tie their Amex and Tri­pAd­vi­sor accounts together, they can post reviews on Tri­pAd­vi­sor as ver­i­fied card mem­bers, which adds the cred­i­bil­ity asso­ci­ated with the Amer­i­can Express brand. Tri­pAd­vi­sor receives new mem­bers and an endorse­ment from Amex, but no card-member data.

Build­ing rep­u­ta­tions one review at a time

Reviews are now read­ily avail­able for indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing pro­fes­sion­als and ser­vice providers. It’s not about hav­ing your resume online but about other people’s expe­ri­ence with you. On LinkedIn, rec­om­men­da­tions add another layer of cred­i­bil­ity for pro­fes­sion­als by let­ting vis­i­tors see what oth­ers have to say about them, in addi­tion to what they’ve stated them­selves. Pro­fes­sion­als with LinkedIn rec­om­men­da­tions get noticed more by recruiters and clients. A com­pleted pro­file with at least three rec­om­men­da­tions will increase net­work­ing suc­cess on LinkedIn by 40 percent.

On Red­bea­con, a home improve­ment ser­vices mar­ket­place that takes project requests from con­sumers and col­lects bids from pre­screened pro­fes­sion­als, clients can pro­vide reviews on work done, allow­ing ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als to develop online rep­u­ta­tions. On TaskRab­bit, a mar­ket­place for house­hold errands and skilled tasks, indi­vid­u­als with a back­ground check can build their rep­u­ta­tions through cus­tomer reviews. Regard­less of the skill level required for a job, reviews are allow­ing indi­vid­u­als to build online reputations.

Authen­tic­ity for the win

Reviews are a pow­er­ful way to make buy­ing and hir­ing deci­sions eas­ier for con­sumers. Their use has spread beyond the orig­i­nal con­text of sim­ple prod­uct reviews to more sub­jec­tive and difficult-to-judge areas of expe­ri­ences and rep­u­ta­tions. In my next arti­cle, I will dis­cuss how reviews have evolved to pro­mote the trust and authen­tic­ity that sophis­ti­cated audi­ences need to go from brows­ing to purchasing.

This post was pre­vi­ously pub­lished on the Adobe Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing blog, May 28, 2014.