PERSONALIZED CIGAR RECOMMENDATIONS – SALES MOTIVE

 

We continue our series of articles about personalized cigar recommendations and what we consider to be the key factors for a personalized service. Today we’ll focus on sales motive aspects and will also share with you some of the results of our latest customer satisfaction survey…

Science vs. Pragmatism

If you have read us before, you know that we operate as a lean-agile team. In alignment with our continuous improvement remit, we recently conducted a non-scientific survey among our members. The survey was meant to understand where we’re doing well and where we can further improve our service. The areas we selected are the ones that we consider to be key success factors for our personalized service:

We thank our members for the terrific feedback we received on all these fronts.

Today, we’ll focus on the sales motive aspect.

On sales motive

According to the study “Recommendations as personalized marketing”, “the customer will be satisfied if the company makes recommendations based on her/his preferences, rather than only out of self-interested motives (e.g. to get sales, to manage inventories)”. Dissatisfaction arising from such incidents ranks pretty high in the study, where an example of complaint can be “… they make recommendations that are obviously based on what they have been paid to promote…”.

As we haven’t seen (yet) another service offering personalized recommendations of cigars matched to individual consumers’ tastes, we will discuss recommendations in general. These are mostly the reviews with a generic “one-(size)-fits-all” score.

Cigar consumers seek recommendations. Not only because it’s easy to get them, but especially because cigars are experience products, meaning we do not know until we smoke them (unless we use an advisory service like Cigar Sense).

In our industry, we have many sources for generic cigar recommendations to consumers, which we can group into:

  • retailers – their sales motive is explicit and clear to consumers, which is great
  • mainstream publishers – they typically work on a subscription and/or an ad revenue model. Consumers like them because they publish numerous reviews that represent more alternatives to choose from. Journalism competencies are important here, as publishers provide professionally written reports and articles for which the sources are verified, and this is important for consumer trust
  • bloggers and volunteers endorsing cigars – certain websites disclose their relationships to the companies producing the cigars they review, but where ads don’t necessarily look like ads, a different kind of consumer deception can be at issue.

Non-ad-like ads arguably straddle the line between commercial and noncommercial speech, noncommercial speech typically being much more tolerated and protected by constitutional laws. Consumer generated content is not unusual in our industry. The difference between traditional advertising and volunteers posting on social media is that the latter can generally make false claims about products, and this today is ok because they are usually not defamatory and do not otherwise present a clear danger of harm.

On the importance of independence

The deception about the independence of a source is important: consumers might give a message a different measure of credibility if they know its actual sponsorship. Endorsers are perceived as biased if the consumer infers that a review can be attributed to personal gain, which, in our attention economy, is not necessarily money or cigars.

Attention can be a way to define relationships between manufacturers and media (and volunteers). Such relationships are not always translating in advertiser ROI or publisher income flow. But one thing is certain: depending on the media outlet objectives, certain cigars appear on certain year end lists and some don’t make it.

On top lists

The processes applied to create year end lists differ from media to media. Notwithstanding the professionalism with which they are made, I think the key difference among them is in whether the top lists are based on reviewers’ choices or based on consumers’ choices.

Contrarily to reviewers’ choices, which, as explained above, are supply driven, consumers’ choices are demand driven: cigars and marketers have an equal chance to their share of glory, regardless of manufacturers’ marketing spend. It also helps gain a more true picture of where cigars and manufacturers stand in this highly competitive landscape. See an example of demand driven list.

Some manufacturers give a huge attention to year end lists, some seem to find them not impactful to their business. However, regardless of their cigars quality, the latter are considered as struggling by some bloggers or cartels, who even debate about and publicly judge their marketing spend decisions. It seems that, after all, such relationship ROI is the supply driver and that it constitutes the rules of the game.

On the game

That is the power game vs. the quality game, as psychologist dr. Giulia Remorino Ibry explained to me. The attention economy makes both, seller and buyer, extremely fragile. To the point that everyone is on the eyeballs market to offer anything, at the cost of tricking, of making people believe something. It’s true we are talking about our voluptuous luxury products industry, but quality and ethics are still not an option, even in our “show off” type of business. In the end, many in the industry act as if we were dealing with the most conspicuous consumption product. And all of this is diligently measured in terms of followers, viewers, likes and comments. All this, to me, is often window dressing, it does  not necessarily represent the real value a company produces.

Along the lines of what I described above, for personalized recommendations in general, there are many more papers focusing on sales growth thanks to recommender systems than there are that focus on ethical aspects. The latter typically relate to data privacy, about which we will write in a future article.

How do we deal with “sales motive” at Cigar Sense?

I think this one is quite simple. We cannot possibly tweak our algorithm to display recommendations that favor a sponsor. In fact, it’s even more straight forward: we don’t have any sponsor.

Our manifesto, since launch, has read as follows:

We don’t sell ads
We don’t sell cigars
We don’t sell members’ personal data
We only test blind
We test multiple samples for each cigar
Our international tasters are trained
We don’t crowd-source
We don’t rate cigars
We measure ourselves by how much our Members like our recommended cigars.

How do our members rate us on sales motive?

We asked our members:

Does Cigar Sense recommend cigars solely based on my preferences, not out of self-interested motives such as sale of recommended cigars or of ads/sponsorships?

We are very grateful to our members for recognizing what we strive for. Their overall score is 9.7 out of 10 for sales motive.

 

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