One way to reuse the knowledge and experience acquired within an organization is to turn those into reviews or evaluations of the products you are actively using. By sharing your opinion on a given product, you are adding value to the same experience you are sharing. Such a shared experience also comes with several side-benefits:
- It forces you to structure your experience, making it richer and more manageable
- It enables the forces within your organization to use that experience for its own benefit
- It raises your visibility and your level of expertise, both inside and outside of the organization or team
Reviewing a product can be a great and easy way to generate content for your organization, or else to raise your own visibility as an expert in a given field. Generally speaking, a product review should be like a portrait that is drawn from your own experience and framed in a well defined context. However, there are a few things to consider when choosing what, how and why to review a product. In this article, we’ll go over these questions and provide a basic checklist of items you that you should consider both before and while you are putting a product review together.
Selecting a product for review
Which product should you review? As a rule of thumb, any product that belongs to the general domain of expertise that you are known for, either as an individual or as an organization, qualifies for a published review. Re-using your knowledge and experience to enrich your users’ own experience is what you should be after. However, here’s a few selection criteria you should watch for.
You can select a product for review if
- It belongs to the greater realm of the industry in which you have proven expertise in
- it advertises a purpose that compliments your own offering
- it addresses customer needs that are in the same market segment and/or domain of expertise as your own
- it shows up in your user persona documents
- you have actual practical experience using the product
You should not select a product for review if
- it is owned, distributed or sold by your organization
- your organization has economical or industrial ties with its manufacturer or distribution channels
- it competes with your organization’s own offering
- it does not address the needs of your own customers’ demographics or user persona
Unboxing is a modern term used to describe the experience of removing a physical product from its commercial packaging. For highly designed products such as smartphones and high-end electronics, packaging is a very important part of the acquisition process. To the customer, removing that packaging is, by extension, a discovery experience that can be either rewarding or frustrating. This experience can indeed leave a lasting impression. When positive, it can often compensate for the quality embedded in the product itself. When negative, it will trigger resentment and emotions that may impact the way the customer interacts with the product and the brand in the future.
As an author reviewing a product, be sure to relate personally to the part of the unboxing experience or its equivalent: installing a piece of software, registering for a SaaS tool, unwrapping and assembling a new tool, unsealing a pack of fancy cookies, etc. Describing your own experience can create a great buildup to a review that is articulated as a story. By describing the way you unboxed a product, you instantly make your experience relatable. Additionally, you may end up saving the potential customer time and efforts by resolving in advance the issues you might have encountered during the process.
Part of the unboxing experience relates to how quickly the user can put the product to use.
- Is the product usable out of the box?
- Is there sufficient documentation?
- Is the documentation easy to find and understand?
- How many steps are necessary before the product can be used?
- Is the packaging minimal or bloated?
- Is assembly required? If so, how difficult or error-prone is it? (e.g., IKEA vs. Apple)
- Is there an activation process required? If so, how easy or cumbersome is it?
- Can any assembly or activation step be bypassed?
- Is the packaging material recyclable or re-usable for other purposes?
- Is a network connection necessary to operate the product for the first time?
- Is there a waiting period necessary for the product to be usable?
- Do you need to give up personal information and/or sign an agreement in order for the activation to take place?
Unless you’re running a technical laboratory and you are able to provide plenty of numbers, tables and test results, your evaluation is but a personal opinion. You should assume that your reader is looking for information that will enable him/her to make the right choice, and that your review is only a small part of what that user will ultimately consider when making that decision. Part of your review needs to convey your own emotional relationship with the product. Most acquisition decisions are based on criteria that do not necessarily reflect directly on the practical aspects of the object. Take a look at the following emotional properties:
Research not only the product itself, but also your competition as a reviewer:
- the big suppliers’ websites
- other blogs
Your published review needs to add value to the stream of information that flows through the Internet. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and that of your readers. Whether the information you are adding comes in the shape of a detailed, step-by-step guide, or a humoristic recount of an “adventure” you had while using the product, you ultimately need to provide context and some data which are not already available from common sources.
If anything, the exercise of researching existing reviews will help you focus on what is important. If your intent is to publish a lengthy review of a book that already has 1500 reviews on Amazon, then make sure that your opinion is worth reading in full, one way or another. If not, then save yourself time and effort and post the 1501th review on the online retailer’s site.
Unless you’re a recognized expert in the subject matter, your chances of making an impact or steering your reader or viewer’s opinion in any direction depend mostly on the amount of personality you can inject in the review itself. You could add such personality by:
- adding a lot of original photos
- wrapping the review around a personal story
- adding humour to your review
- providing a video with context
- podcast the review by talking freely, not reading off a script
If you intend to convey information that will help the reader/viewer make an acquisition decision, then make sure that the review itself identifies your review criteria clearly. One of the best ways to do so is to divide the review in sections. Here’s a list of possible segmentation criteria you can use to keep the whole organized and easy to navigate:
- technical specifications
- full description
- purpose and intent
- list of features
- use case
- pros and cons
A question of balance
A few words of caution to finish off this article. If you are working within a niche domain or using products that are seldom advertised, known or even reviewed, you need to be careful about balancing the conclusions. Unless you are 100% certain that your own expertise cannot be challenged, you need to take into account that the way a product is used will vary a lot depending on contexts that you cannot possibly know. Make sure to fully disclose your own context when you come to your conclusion or overall evaluation.
You should also be aware of the legal and business implications of your decisions to publish a review targeting a specific product. While feedback is important to all businesses, overly negative reviews which don’t provide a way to correct a situation can have significant effects on your organization. In general, it is best to publish a review as an individual. There’s a general assumption that individuals are protected by an amount of freedom of speech, no matter where you operate or live. Organizations, on the other hand, are more likely to be liable for their published material. Assume that what you publish on the Internet will remain accessible virtually forever and that it will never be totally forgotten. Obviously, such caution shouldn’t make you censor the review to the point where it turns into a bland piece of content that doesn’t convey anything meaningful.
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