A Popping-Good Look at Brand Engagement

Jared Spool

December 18th, 2008

Cuisinart Popcorn Maker

If we want to see how brand engagement works, we don’t have to look any further than the Cuisinart Popcorn Maker.

Williams-Sonoma listing for a Cuisinart Popcorn Maker

Williams-Sonoma is featuring this intriguingly designed popper on their site. It’s received 3.6 stars from the 25 reviewers. Only 9 (36%) of those reviewers gave it one, two, or three stars.

Amazon is selling the exact same popper. Yet their reviewers have a very different take:

Reviews on Amazon.com

In the case of Amazon’s site, 18 out of 27 (67%) reviewers rated the device with one or two stars.

The distribution of reviews on Amazon.com

Why did twice as many people rate the product positively on Williams-Sonoma’s site than on Amazon’s? The answer is clear from these two reviews:

Review on Williams-Sonoma site

On the Williams-Sonoma site, this reviewer had a bad experience, yet gave it three stars:

makes great popcorn when it works

I got this as a Christmas gift and my whole family all fell in love with it. We used it several times a week. After a few months the hot plate stopped heating. So back to the store it went with no questions asked and I brought another one home and it too broke after the 3rd use. Back to the store I went for an exchange. This popcorn popper is so good I don’t mind exchanging it for a new one. The customer service is so awesome at Williams-Sonoma!

On the Amazon site, this customer gave the device only one star, having had essentially the same experience:

Review on Amazon.com

Makes good (not great) popcorn – but I’ve been through 2 now and Customer Support STINKS

I gave this unit 1 star because in the course of a few of months I’ve had two now that have broken. Here’s how it works when it breaks: you call customer support, they give you attitude, grill you as if you’ve done something wrong, they charge you $10 to ship the replacement unit and then you have to ship the broken unit back – so ~$20 to get a replacement for something under warranty. What breaks? There are 3 main pieces to the unit: the plug-in base, the heating element, and the bowl. The heating element detaches from the base, a very nice feature, but after about a month on the first unit the handles and clip that attach to the base broke. After another couple of months on the replacement the heating element stopped heating.

That’s two people reporting essentially the same experience. Yet one felt is was substantially better than the other, because of the customer support of Williams-Sonoma.

From the folks at Gallup, we learn that one of the key components of brand engagement is integrity. Does the brand always treat me fairly? If a problem arises, can I count on the brand to reach a fair and satisfactory resolution?

In this case, the first customer felt that Williams-Sonoma took care of them and the Amazon customer felt that Cuisinart was doing a crappy job by charging $20 to get a replacement and having a poorly constructed unit.

When there’s high brand engagement, customers are willing to overlook problems and still feel good about the product or service. Williams-Sonoma takes good care of their customers, even the product is defectively designed, leading to higher engagement and the customer’s willingness to overlook problems.

9 Responses to “A Popping-Good Look at Brand Engagement”

  1. kirabug’s idea files » Blog Archive » A Popping-Good Look at Brand Engagement » UIE Brain Sparks Says:

    […] A Popping-Good Look at Brand Engagement talks about a popcorn popper and the ratings it gets on two different websites. […]

  2. Ross Olson Says:

    Another plausible explanation: W-S has a vested interest in getting you to buy *this* product. Amz only needs you to buy *any* popcorn maker.

    I would not be at all surprised if W-S was ‘pruning’ their comments like any self-respecting corporation would do. I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do, but it is well within their rights to modify their own web site.


  3. Steven Clark Says:

    There is also the issue of authentic story… on their own website the product is marketed in a certain way and people are buying into the story of that specific popcorn maker. When it doesn’t work they are still bought into the story. However, on Amazon they didn’t buy into that story and it was just another dodgey popcorn maker from the get-go – no major marketing. So when they got crap they realised and said so much earlier.

    The first example required the user to admit that their post purchase justification was wrong (the story they brought into was wrong). They were wrong. This is where authentic or integrity come into play.

    The second example had no such story (probably) going on in the user’s head. They didn’t have to untell that story to themselves. They probably had far less inner belief in the products integrity so the failure was recognised and more honestly reviewed.

    But you’re right. What’s the most valuable thing to a business? Trust. Integrity. Authenticity. Even more important than product. If people don’t trust you then you’re out of business. Great post, thanks.

  4. nortypig » Blog Archive » Brand Engagement Says:

    […] Spool looks at the role of brand engagement and integrity when it comes to user reviews of a product. The most valuable thing your business is […]

  5. Jared Spool Says:


    Your question about pruning is a good one. It would stand to reason that Williams-Sonoma might prune out the bad reviews, since it doesn’t help them sell the product.

    However, it doesn’t seem to be the case. This Cuisinart Coffee Maker, for example, only has a rating of 2.8 out of 5 stars, with 13 out of 20 (65%) reviews being a three-, two-, or one-star review. If they were pruning out the unsatisfactory reviews, it wouldn’t have nearly as high a percentage, I would think.

    When we conducted e-commerce tests of Target.com, we saw users encounter products that only had negative reviews. Those users consistently asked, “Why does Target sell these if nobody likes them?” It’s a good question that we didn’t have an answer for.

  6. REthink Wine Blog » Blog Archive » Improving Your WIne with Customer Service Says:

    […] recently read a great story about the importance of customer service by e-tailers. If you don’t feel like following the […]

  7. zephyr Says:

    When the company starts to “prune” the comments, selecting which ones it wants to show and which ones to hide, they are effectively creating a testimonials page disguised as a customer reviews page. Customer reviews are valuable because they are independent, coming from “people-like-me”. Removing this independence will eventually decrease trust and hurt the brand.

  8. Ross Olson Says:

    @Zephyr: I agree with you entirely. I would hope that W-S would be more even-handed in their web site, but they have little reason to do so. I’m glad that Jared found a review that was less positive, but that was on a page with two full-five-stars reviews when I looked at it, and there were a total of 23 reviews (all over the map of course) averaging 3 stars and 43% ‘would recommend’.

    I’m playing it a bit cynical here, but the job of a company’s own web site is to support the sale of their products. A company that promotes/publishes about what’s wrong with their product, isn’t long for this world. The corporate web site can do one thing easily: present the company’s message. It is far more expensive to have what we’re really craving: an honest, open discussion about the pros and cons of a product. But that requires dialogue and interaction that’s far beyond the budget of companies the size of W-S. (Would you spend $50,000/yr to hire an articulate community manager, or $50,000/yr to advertise your product around the web?)

    In a free market we can’t expect the company itself to promote the failings of a product. That’s what third-parties are for. Epinions.com comes to mind (in concept if not execution) as an example. Any consumer that’s looking for something they’ve never seen in person had better look beyond the manufacture’s own web site for a more balanced look.

    If that’s the case then the company needs to look at how their brand is represented on other web sites in addition to their own. I hope W-S is watching the reviews on Amazon and using that to either contact the users to help them resolve issues, or else working with Amazon to provide additional information that will negate the review, or scale back the claims of how the product performs.

    Brand engagement on the web must extend beyond the company’s own web site and out to other web sites, in addition to the customer service aspect that Jared originally noted. (Whew, I hope I brought the thread back on topic…!)

  9. Link: Strike up the brand: How to design for branding : the user experience Says:

    […] Freelancing Business Understanding Users through Brand Research: an Interview with Mitch McCasland A Popping-Good Look at Brand Engagement Published: July 12, 2010 Filed Under: user experience Tags: brand : jared spool Leave […]

Add a Comment