Q&A with Mike Blumenthal about GatherUp and the State of Reviews
October 28, 2018 | Contributed by: Greg Sterling
The review management company co-founded by Mike Blumenthal, GetFiveStars, recently changed its name to GatherUp. I caught up with Mike to find out what prompted the name change and about his perceptions of major trends in the online reputation segment.
GS: What problem were you trying to solve when you started GetFiveStars?
MB: When I started this project in 2013, two things were clear. Reviews were very important and local businesses were very afraid to engage with them.
Our goal was to create a system that allayed their fears and allowed them to proactively leverage the world of reviews without feeling like victims.
GS: How has the ‘reputation market’ evolved in the past five years?
MB: On the business side, we have seen a shift from fearing reviews, to wanting to get them for ranking to now wanting to fully understand what customers think. As businesses realize that price and delivery are no longer that easy to compete on, many are starting to embrace the idea of customer experience as the differentiator.
On the review platform side, we have and are seeing consolidation and many fewer players in the general review space. The many local sites that used to collect reviews no longer do. Simultaneously, we have seen an explosion of vertically driven directories get into the review space.
GS: Which are the most important review sites by influence or volume or both?
MB: The story is a little different in the US and Europe.
The total volume crown goes to Google. They have made a number of moves from separating reviews from Plus to allowing businesses to ask for reviews so that we have seen both their volume and influence continue to grow. They have managed to bring many mobile users back to the browser and out of apps.
Yelp, while declining in importance, is still number two.
For awhile Facebook was making a strong review play but like many things with Facebook and Local, that seems to have waned. Then there are the more vertical sites pulling up behind Yelp like Trip Advisor, and many small very niche players.
The largely unreported trend is the increase in influence and use of first party reviews. More sites are gathering and leveraging their own reviews. This is a trend that we both embrace and benefit from. Allstate is a good example of that. They get tremendous user and internal value from having their own review stream.
GS: Why did you decide to rebrand the company as GatherUp?
MB: Our name, GetFiveStars, focused attention on “getting reviews.”
While that is still a part of the product, we strongly felt that there was a much bigger story to tell around how a business could do much more than just get reviews. What we have seen is that many businesses started with us to get reviews but stayed because they were getting additional information about their customers.
They could listen to customers, they could respond to customers and most importantly they could use the information to improve their business. Only through improving a business can they move from “getting reviews” to earning reviews.
GatherUp gives a fresh palate from which to tell that bigger story.
GS: What are you doing today that’s different from your original design or mission?
MB: Over the past six months we have rebuilt our product and our company. We have added a new CEO (Aaron Weiche) and upgraded our teams for support and development. This has allowed us to rebuild our product so that it not only works for a single location but it works no matter how many locations a business has. The product is simpler and yet the intelligence it produces is more accessible and actionable.
And we have dramatically improved the ways in which a company can improve their marketing with their review content.
GS: What makes GatherUp different from the other ‘reputation management’ tools out there?
MB: We are strong believers in giving local businesses the ability to capture and utilize their own reviews. One of our maxims is that they should own, not rent their digital content. Google reviews serve the interests of Google. Your own reviews can serve your interests.
Another of our key differentiators is our ability to give a business full control over their review content so that they can use it to better tell their own story. These days the customer’s voice is often more powerful than a brand voice. It is more believable, it contains more details and it is expressed in a way that the business can almost never match.
We have a market-leading ability to integrate that review content into the business website and do so in a way that allows them to create both great content and compelling search results.
Our system allows for a business to auto tag their review content thematically which can then be pushed out to the specific selling pages of their websites putting customer social proof front and center. This shows up in the search results with rich snippets and additional review content in the knowledge Panel.
We are one of the only sites that is allowing businesses to monitor Google Q&A. As the Google Knowledge Panel has moved front and center in terms of brand building, Google Q&A is a feature that can either really help or hurt a location. We have created a full alert and workflow around Q&A; so whether a business has one or 500 locations they can actively and productively engage with this feature.
GS: You’re emphasizing GatherUp as a tool or service to improve the customer experience (CX). What does that mean in practice?
MB: Another of our internal maxims is that listening is a super power. This same auto tagging of review content allows a business to better understand and act upon consumer sentiment trends that they see at the highest corporate level but to also dig into it, down to the region, store or even customer level to deal with it.
We have added not just the auto tagging of review content around themes but powerful filters to allow a business to look across all/parts of their organization and be able to quickly understand where they are succeeding and failing.
For example a business with 300 (or 3) locations can now automatically ferret out these thematic comments (say around given services, products or people) and understand why one location compared to the other was succeeding as well compared to other locations or the whole business. And this can be done with just a few key strokes.
GS: You report you have 20,000 customers. Can you characterize them in any way?
MB: At the highest level about 40% are agencies, 40% are multi-location and 20% are single locations. At a personal level, I would say that they are all near and dear and despite the fact that we have 20,000 we work really hard to have personal relationships and understand what they need to be successful. So, I would characterize them as wonderful.
GS: How much do your customers understand the CX mission of the company vs. simply trying to get more positive reviews to rank higher or sell more stuff to consumers?
MB: We really are committed to the idea that CX is integral to our product. We really believe that it is about building a better business. For example, almost all of our flows require that a customer answer an NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey before leaving a review. NPS, for a simple tool offers incredible insights into a business.
In our early product versions we had review gating as a default to help businesses feel comfortable asking for reviews. But our best and biggest customers came to us and said that they really wanted a full flow of information so they could better understand their businesses and we provided alternative flows and ultimately turned it off. It was very validating.
While we find that some businesses might come just for Google reviews most stick around for their own reviews and the intelligence we provide.
GS: Are there any broad themes or insights you’ve gleaned from your 5 million consumer data points?
MB: In a general sense we see that just the asking for feedback led to large increase in both 3rd party reviews and business direct feedback.
Businesses that ask all of their customers get seven times as many reviews as those that don’t. But we also find that when asked, consumers are even more willing to talk directly to the businesses about their experience, especially when the business starts that conversation with them. In fact, we find that direct consumer to business feedback occurs at 6X to 10X the rate of a consumer’s willingness to leave a public review.
Our goal is to help businesses gather all of the feedback and reviews out there, manage and learn from them and then use them to improve their business and their marketing.
GatherUp CEO Aaron Weiche will be speaking about “Turning Customer Experience into Marketing Excellence” at Localogy in Seattle on November 9.