Product reviews, what’s the big deal?

If there is one tool in the PR arsenal that we are big fans of at A3 Communications it is independent product and services reviews. Look at the success of feedback sites like Tripadvisor people want to hear from parties who have tried what’s on offer. A description from the seller is no longer enough.

Technology is no different: when IT buyers are researching new enterprise solutions they will often look at reviews to get an idea of how various options compare in terms of performance and price for example. In this respect, technology reviews are every bit as important as reviews of new cars or exotic hotels for example. Who would spend a rather large sum of money without any detailed knowledge of what they are buying? This is the purpose of a review: to help readers make an informed decision.

When it comes to enterprise IT however, we regularly come across the misconception that product reviews are not worth the risk of a negative outcome. But, from the other side of the coin, can you afford *not* to have a product review element within your PR plan? Positive reviews can be more valuable than many other types of endorsement in a vendor’s communications toolbox because they offer more technical detail than a press release or a briefing and they are independent.

Although some product tests are paid for (by the vendors), the kind we’re talking about here is conducted by independent writers who are either paid by the publisher of the site where the review will appear or who will place their write up on their blogs at no cost to the vendor, purely because of their interest in the technology and to offer their readers an interesting post. In both cases the result is an unbiased opinion into the product or service that will provide the kind of insight that no vendor could offer. And because no money exchanges hands between the vendor or its PR agency and the writer, the review is far more influential than paid-for tests.

So who are these writers and how do they work? Publications that carry reviews use established technical specialists whose labs include the latest software and hardware. These writers are usually very technical and have a thorough understanding of the technology in question. They will check that the claims made by the vendor in terms of performance and user-friendliness can be proven. For a storage array for example, they will look at ease of installation, assess the user interface and connectivity, measure read and write speeds and calculate total IOPS, as well as check other claims and figures provided in the product datasheet.

Ideally, a review should be arranged to coincide with a product launch so that the solution gets endorsement as early on as possible after it becomes available. However to maximise the chances of a positive outcome it’s important not to rush the process and to have a few things in place before reaching out to the reviewers, such as:

  1. Is your solution robust, has it been tested and validated enough for you to be pretty confident of its performance, reliability and other specification claims? If these questions can’t be answered with an honest yes then it’s too early for a review.
  2. Have the marketing elements of the product been finalised? The reviewer will want to see a datasheet, be able to tell readers how much the solution costs, where they can buy it from and might need some good images to accompany the copy.
  3. In the case of hardware, can the reviewer’s lab accommodate your product? Most labs are quite small so if the flight case your solution comes in is particularly heavy or large, it might be better to arrange an on-site test at your premises.
  4. When can you ship the unit? There’s not much point pitching a review if the product can’t be shipped for at least six weeks.
  5. Check all necessary components are available and ready to be included with the shipment: this could include drives, controllers or cards. Forgetting to send these, if the reviewer doesn’t have them already, can delay starting date of the test.

Once everything is ready and the writer has agreed to the review you can arrange an initial conversation between them and a technical spokesperson so that you can understand the exact testing process and parameters, you can ensure that all the relevant information and equipment are provided in advance and so that the writer understands what results they can expect. One very important thing we should point out (and you should accept) is that you cannot offer to send an SE or other technical person to oversee the testing process. Reviewers either test or work with these solutions on a daily basis and they know what they are doing. You can ask any questions you may have during the initial call and you can of course (although your PR agency will do this) also follow up via email. However it is a good idea to check with the writer that the consignment has arrived safe and sound on the agreed date and to check progress at regular intervals so that if any issues do arise they can be solved swiftly.

The best reviews happen when the product is true to the claims made in the relevant literature, performs well and there has been an open dialogue between the vendor and the reviewer throughout the process. This is usually facilitated by the PR agency who ensures that the reviewer is only contacted when necessary and that questions are channelled and answered quickly by the vendor.

A positive and insightful review can help sell the solution to online and offline readers and reproduction rights can be purchased so that the copy can be used in its entirety by the vendor on its website, as a marketing tool at events, as part of a mail-shot, etc.

Over the years our clients have had numerous products and services tested and written about and have often used the resulting copy over and over again as marketing material. Like case studies (you can find our post here) independent tests are a way to show your existing and potential customers that people other than those working for your company believe in what you sell. So if you are serious about selling, get hold of a demo unit or some demo licences and make them work as hard as your sales team. It might be your best PR investment yet.

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