We have been asked this question several times, the last time at an interview by Cigar Journal. Who benefits from cigar ratings, and why? How do they impact consumers? And brands?
Every cigar lover is accustomed to seeing cigars reviewed, discussed and scored by a wide variety of sources. Such sources range from professional journalists in their periodical editions, to online publishers, or consumers expressing their opinions on social media, or influencers promoting brands, to sensory experts. In this article we want to explore what we can learn from cigar ratings.
The benefits of cigar ratings
Rating or scoring cigars serves a number of purposes:
- energize the sales of cigars for the benefit of the whole supply chain. We can’t escape being influenced, therefore, the less discerning consumers, will more easily buy cigars just based on ratings, assuming that, if the cigars are that “good”, they might like them
- provide social proof for merchants (retailers or distributors) in the industry to help them decide whether to carry a product
- help retailers to move a slow stock or those cigars that carry the highest margin
- tell how well a manufacturer manages their relationship with the media. Consistently high scores suggest the manufacturer is managing a very good relationship with their media partners
- are a source for feedback to the manufacturer. For example, assuming ratings were unbiased, a manufacturer who starts to climb the “scoring” world, could consider a lower score (when compared to more established peers) as an incentive to do better in the quality of their cigar and of their ads budgeting
- consumer generated content works very well today. Incentivized reviews (the reviewer receives free cigars or other favors in exchange for their “honest” feedback) are cheaper and work better than traditional advertising. Everybody is kind to each other, the cigar industry is a nice family, therefore negative reviews are not that frequent *
Effects of cigar ratings on consumers
We listed some of the benefits of cigar ratings for brands and supply chain. But what about consumers?
- A high rating typically communicates to consumers that the product has high quality, which might increase subsequent demand and price.
- Some consumers may fall into the trap of joining the “I ain’t smoking nothing rated below 90 Club“, which does not guarantee they will actually only have good quality cigars.
- Assuming overall published cigar ratings were unbiased, it would be useful for consumers if the * rating variance would increase. Today this is pretty low, due to the fact that the typical 100 points scale is virtually used for about 20% only (you can hardly see reviews scoring cigars below 80 points out of 100).
- A low rating does not necessarily mean low quality. Especially in the case of consumer reviews, it may mean high “mismatch cost”. Mismatch represents differences in the consumers’ enjoyment of the cigar. A low mismatch cost, for example, suggests that it is easy for many consumers to enjoy the cigar. In other words, the product is mainstream—it is designed to cater to a broad range of tastes. A high mismatch cost, on the other hand, indicates that a consumer would enjoy the product only if her/his taste matches well with the product. In this case we could talk about a niche product. As manufacturers get access to the right data for this purpose, they will increase the price of cigars considered as niche.
- Access to many ratings also means information overload and lower confidence in the end. This happens especially if, when comparing different reviews, the consumer finds extremely different information from one review to the other.
- For consumers who consider flavor as an important criterion to choose their new cigars, mainstream reviews with ratings are not a reliable predictor of whether they will like the cigar or not.
On some positive notes:
- You may find a reviewer whose taste is similar to your own, in which case you can have more confidence when smoking cigars they score highly. Else, you can look at the work of blind tasting panels
- You may want entertainment rather than advice or education. In such case you may find humorous anecdotes or even lyrical poetry in some reviews.
Does Cigar Sense rate cigars?
We do not publish generic scores for cigars, but rather give each user their own individual score for each cigar, which we call ‘Fit %’. Despite the fact that the industry is inured to ratings, and our manufacturer clients ask us to rate their cigars, we decline to do it for several reasons:
- We stick to our core values and founding principles
- We know that it’s hard for anyone to escape from influence and bias. In spite of that, we invest in methods that strive for objectivity, such as the application of sensory analysis norms, because we believe in their results (90%+ member satisfaction on recommended cigars). This allows us to produce calibrated, reproducible and reliable results. Rather than judging cigars, we describe them. It would not make sense to spoil our work by adding subjective scores and opinions to our analyses.
Most fundamentally, we are among and aim to serve those (87%) cigar lovers that consider flavor important when choosing a cigar. Therefore, we simply find generic scores published for the whole world to be unreliable predictors of whether any particular consumer will enjoy any particular cigar. We see a tremendous variance of personal tastes among our thousands of consumer profiles, suggesting that a cigar I might give 90 points to, might not suit you at all. We constantly hear people saying they have been disappointed by a 90+ point cigar.
In conclusion, if it’s important for you to find cigars you will like, use ratings with caution. Best is to find a reliable source that understands your personal tastes and gives you recommendations free of commercial motivations. We’d be honored to be your source.
Featured image credit: Ryan McGuire