March 28, 2018

Why Brand Perception Matters — and How Customer Reviews Can Influence It

We know a few things to be true about popular brands. They exist. They tend to offer a product or service. They have a physical space or online presence. They have identifiable brand attributes. And they are vetted over time through consumer experiences and perception.

Based on these truths, it seems safe to assume that in order for you to establish credibility and trust with your target audience, customers must have some exposure or real-world experience with your brand, right? Well, think again.

A freelance writer for Vice UK, Oobah Butler, thought up and executed a fake restaurant in the Dulwich area of South London. The restaurant appeared on TripAdvisor as “The Shed at Dulwich” and became one of the most exclusive restaurants in London in a few short months, thanks to a multitude of phony reviews. According to Butler, every foodie, celebrity and blogger in the city tried to get a table. The irony is that The Shed never served a single meal or hosted a single patron to obtain their five-star rating.

So, how did Butler manage to fool TripAdvisor and its foodies, you ask? He used fake customer reviews and user-generated content to build trust with consumers and influence the brand perception of his restaurant.

Obviously, I’m not encouraging you to deceive your customers by falsifying content or reviews of your product or service. However, I do believe we could all learn a thing or two from Butler and his wildly successful restaurant.

Here are a few things that I believe made The Shed at Dulwich a sought-after brand:

1. They established a mission.

The mission of The Shed at Dulwich was to become TripAdvisor’s top-rated restaurant in London. Sure, it seems like a pretty simple and singular mission, but in reality it was the driving force behind Butler’s decisions and desire to reach the top spot.

2. They established a brand identity.

The brand identity of The Shed at Dulwich was that it was an exclusive eatery in South London. This brand identity was formed by the perception that tables were available only by reservation — the “appointment-only restaurant” would be booked for weeks in advance. The menu consisted solely of “moods,” and the descriptions of a cozy atmosphere added to its allure.

3. They supported and validated their identity.

The Shed at Dulwich used their website, Facebook and TripAdvisor to support and validate their brand. Customer reviews were key to building their authenticity. Some reviews even included unsavory details meant to enhance the restaurant’s credibility — one reviewer wrote about being offered a blanket with a stain, but still gave the restaurant a five-star rating. On their website, they also displayed the trademarks of their identity, including their logo and tagline, “All You’re Allowed to Know About London’s Best Kept Secret.”

4. They vetted their brand through real-world experiences.

Butler decided to open The Shed at Dulwich for one night — and one night only — once it had reached No. 1 on TripAdvisor (he later revealed the prank to the travel site). The tables were populated with a mixture of actors and unsuspecting patrons. Butler and a friend prepared inexpensive meals, serving instant soup and frozen dinners to diners (without charging them). At least one patron — a non-actor — even asked to book the restaurant again.

This ruse serves as an important reminder to marketers that customer reviews and user-generated content are some of the most trusted sources of information when it comes to purchasing decisions and, ultimately, the success of your brand.