Do product reviews penned by beautiful people have an outsized impact on readers? Some new research from lead author and Cornell University Assistant Professor Marie Ozanne suggests that’s exactly the case.1
According to the study, positive reviews written by good-looking people gave brands a benefit that wasn’t seen when less attractive people wrote a good review.
There’s already a deep body of research that shows how good-looking salespeople or product endorsers can confer a positive impression onto a product or brand. It’s known as the halo effect.
Ozanne’s research suggests that the idea of the halo effect also applies to positive online reviews.
(That finding also goes a long way in explaining the power of influencer marketing, which effectively banks on the power of endorsements from celebrities and—let’s face it—beautiful people to drive brand awareness and sales.)
However, the research also revealed that negative reviews had the same impact regardless of how attractive the person writing the review was.
That suggests that there’s not a correlation between reviewer attractiveness and the effect their review might have on a shopper in all circumstances.
Reviews Are A Key Part of the Customer Journey
So why is the new research important? Ozanne and her co-authors spell it out in their paper: “Online reviews are generally regarded as the most trusted source of information during the pre-purchase stage. Therefore, understanding the impact of reviewer characteristics on the audience’s brand evaluations is crucial.”
According to the study, 92% of digital shoppers peruse online reviews before clicking a buy button and are 23 times more likely to put their faith in Customer-Generated Content over traditional marketing materials.
TurnTo’s own research backs up that idea. In our State of Customer-Generated Content research study we surveyed more than 2,000 online shoppers and found that 76% of respondents were less likely to make a purchase from a site that lacked Customer-Generated Content like Ratings & Reviews.
Those figures underscore the idea that product reviews can help your eCommerce strategy, even if they aren’t being written by so-called beautiful customers.
So What’s the Takeaway?
The authors of the study noted that brand managers obviously “cannot control the ‘attractiveness’ of their customers,” but should at least be aware of the potential impact reviews from good-looking customers might have.
They also suggested trying to get people reading reviews to focus more on the text and less on other factors. “You have to teach people to be more mindful of what’s written in the review than the picture next to it,” said Ozanne in an interview with the Cornell Chronicle.2
These suggestions are likely to be more important when brands and retailers are managing reviews on social media, where profile pictures are the norm. The “attractiveness bias” is less likely to be an issue on eCommerce sites, where shopper profiles don’t often feature photos.
But the research is still worth keeping in mind. As Ozanne put it in her interview with the Cornell Chronicle, “We don’t know the impact of all our general offline thinking on our online thinking. Hopefully, understanding it can help us be more conscious about it and find ways to focus more on the information that matters.”
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1 Are Attractive Reviewers More Persuasive? Examining the Role of Physical Attractiveness in Online Reviews; Journal of Consumer Marketing, September 2019.
2 For Online Reviews, Shoppers Believe a Pretty Face; Cornell Chronicle, September 2019.