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  • Writer's pictureStewart | Eleven International

The Art of Cross-Border Product Review Management

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

From restaurants to smartphones, reviews impact people’s decision making when making a purchase. What used to be mostly word of mouth recommendation, moved on to star ratings and the comments section of Amazon. While today’s world is more about pitching influencers, KOLs and TikTok creatives, the mission for marketing departments is the same - please say good things about our product and our brand.

My experience of working as a marketer in Taiwan has taught me that the job gets that bit more difficult when cultural differences are factored in. As someone who has written dozens of tech device reviews, and managed dozens more from the marketing side of the fence here in East Asia, here’s my tuppence for marketers in Asia looking for positive outcomes from reviewers in the West.

Pitching the Right Reviewer

If you’re a marketer in a small to medium-sized tech company in Asia, you may well find yourself working with a limited budget. Sure, your boss would love Linus Tech Tips to give your flagship product a huge thumbs up. Let’s be honest, that might not happen anytime soon. For smaller, lesser known brands on a tight budget, sometimes it pays off to try and to find a reviewer that needs you.

All reviewers need to start somewhere, which means when they are lesser known and growing their online presence, they are also very much welcome to having review samples sent their way. They might not have the budget to go out and buy the products they want to review or unbox, so when your product arrives on the doorstep, it’s happy days.

Cultivating a close relationship with lesser known, up-and-coming reviewers can pay off massively in the long run. Identify the next-generation of reviewers, and become their biggest supporter. Send some branded t-shirts that can be given away on their channel. Invite them for dinner if they are ever in town.

Always Be the Good Guys

Is a review a transactional action? Even if you’re not paying for their time, purchasing ad space or actively sponsoring them, I think it is. It remains an exchange between two entities, and as with any exchange or interaction, it’s important to value the relationship - a fact that many companies in Asia often overlook.

Ask any seasoned Western reviewer which companies are the best to work with, and which ones that really grind your gears. I guarantee they can quickly reel off a hit list of the good guys, and *hit list of the bad ones. The companies that get more love and better outcomes are more often than not the ones taking care of the little details that make the reviewer’s job as easy as possible.

Sending a review sample? Hhmm… DHL, FedEx, or UPS? The reviewer may have serious reservations about which delivery service works best in their region. Does the review sample ship with the latest firmware/drivers? Is there a multilingual instruction manual, or a comprehensive review guide to reference. Many reviewers prefer to do their own research (I know I did), but having official documentation to reference is always helpful.

A device review should not have to include an investigation to find out what components have been used, or why certain design decisions have been made. Provide the literature they need to do the job. Answer any and all questions swiftly, and even better, maybe introduce them to the people making those key decisions. A quick call with a Product Manager will stroke the ego of any reviewer with questions to ask.

Timing is also crucial. Reviewers have their own schedules to adhere to, and may also have a chief editor to keep happy, not to mention the demands of family life (note: I never reviewed anything while living in my mom's basement). Internal marketing schedules and KPIs are not the reviewers concern, so being pushy and demanding can reduce the relationship to ashes before it even begins. Make the reviewer’s job as easy as possible, perhaps even a pleasurable experience.

Even if your company's product doesn’t reinvent the wheel, if it performs as advertised and puts a smile on your face, it'll be difficult not to recommend.

Embrace Productive Criticism

Finally, for many Asian technology brands, dealing with criticism can be tough, and I get that. Some Western reviewers can indeed be tougher to work with than others. Some reviewers in particular see themselves as being the gatekeepers of truth. They feel compelled to poke and to pry, and perhaps even go out of their way to find fault with a product. That’s not how it works in Asia.

I recall circumstances in Taiwan where my senior manager was appalled with a review that I was responsible for managing.What? Has a massively negative comment slipped past my radar? In reality it was a small design critique regarding USB port placement, and to be fair, the reviewer was making a perfectly valid point, so in this case better spacing between ports would make it easier to connect larger WiFi modules and storage devices.

Treating product assessment and feedback as outright criticism isn’t going to help. It’s far better to respond positively to the feedback. Perhaps offer a technical or logical reason for the design decision if feasible. Thank the reviewer for their input and opinion, and maybe even mention that the design team has been made aware of their feedback.

Remember that reviewers, more than anyone, get to use, and test and play around with numerous products from a broad range of companies and brands. All of which puts them in a very unique position in the world.

Cultural differences can be a challenge from both sides of the review management process (and indeed, in life in general). Set reasonable outcome expectations. Find a reviewer that fits your product and your brand, and give them as much guidance and help as possible. And remember not to lose your cool if they have critical opinions to share - it’s possible that they have something to say that’s actually worth listening to.

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