The most talked about brands are those that create a special connection with their customers and promote brand advocacy. The best advocacy programs enable customers to hold the image of a brand in their own hands. They empower company's fans, turning a one-way marketing channel into multiple promotional conversations.
That can all sound pretty darn scary for a company used to being in control of their message. But really, are you in control right now? In our social media-rich lives, the voices of customers and clients are amplified - and can have a significant impact on your brand and your bottom line. Why not allow happy customers to speak on your behalf, and use the opportunity to create a dialogue that can improve your customer service, your product, and, ultimately, customer satisfaction?
If you are still asking "why?" consider these statistics:
- In 2011 46% of US executives said that an increase in brand advocates was one of the most important benefits of social media (Source: Jive, 2011)
- Marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth generates more than 2X the sales of paid advertising (source: McKinsey Quarterly, April 2010)
- Customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate. (Source: Deloitte)
- Brand advocates spend 2x more than average customers on favorite brands. (Source: Zuberance)
- Brand advocates are 50% more likely to influence a purchase. (source: Marketing Charts)
YET... just 20% of brands use advocate and experts programs in their marketing (source: Marketing Charts)
Consider the customer-brand relationship model below and 5 Ls of customer's emotional journey. The goal of every brand should be to take their prospective customers from "Lack of awareness" to the top of the pyramid, to "Love", and eventually to the highest form of advocacy and "Loyalty"; and to take current customers from "Like" to "Love" to "Loyalty". The fastest and the most effective way to get there is not through brand's own messages, rather through building a strong network of advocates. Instead of trying to solve how your brand will conquer the new markets and strike the fancy of new customers, let your current customers tell their stories and share the brand love.
Creating an advocacy program is one of the most impactful things a brand can do to start building meaningful relationships with their most dedicated fans, engage their most loyal customers, and empower organic word of mouth both online and offline.
Let's look at the eight things you need to consider while building a successful and sustainable advocacy program.
1. Define your objective: Buzz or Love?
In working with clients from various industries and various sizes, the number one reason for the long-term success of the program we've identified was defining the clear objective from the outset. Sounds simple, right? But a lot of marketers confuse exposure with advocacy.
Short-term Buzz: If your objective is to get a whole lot of people talking about your product launch or latest initiative, then look to 'celebrity' endorsements or influencer coverage that would engineer online conversations to get your message across. This will work to get the word out quickly, but will also die back as quickly once your initial push is over. There is a plethora of services that will allow you to 'rent' those relationships for a short period of time. These short-term endorsement program have a place in the marketing toolbox as long as marketers are clear exactly what they are getting and ROI these programs are driving.
Long term Love: Creating a sustainable network of advocates - customers who support your brand and will talk about it to their friends - will take more effort to build, but will guarantee long-term commitment from your fans. These program can empower super-fans or even your employees or partners to talk on your brands' behalf as ambassadors. They are the ones who will go that extra mile to get the word out about the great work your company is doing.
We know about Google's legendary workplace environment - the company's overarching philosophy, is "to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world" - because their employees are constantly talking about how cool it is to have free food, Broadway-theme conference rooms, and conversation areas designed to look like vintage subway cars. And these are just some of the reasons why they love working for Google. Google's commitment to employee satisfaction reflects well on their wider image: their employees are some of its most vocal brand ambassadors.
2. Define who you invite into your VIP or advocate network
A smart brand puts a heavy emphasis on the recruiting process when building advocate networks. When we work with clients, we operate on a "garbage in, garbage out" philosophy - if you don't invite the right people in your network, you won't achieve the results you are looking for. You need to develop a robust recruiting and screening process to ensure that you are building a solid network of advocates and that they (as well as the communities they reach) are the right fit for your brand. That's why you start with your current communities and their most engaged participants, as well as your CRM databases, to identify the right initial group of people to build relationships with; and expand from there as necessary.
3. Organic vs. paid
We know that the best reason to advocate for a brand is simple - you love a brand. If you don't believe it, ask an Apple fan. You don't even have to ask per-say - just walk into a room full of Apple brand advocate and say: "Hey, I was thinking of buying a PC." Watch as their hair stands on end and they clench their fists as they try to muster the self-control to make their inevitable tirade as civil as possible. Then head over to a unnamed electronics store and see how much passion you can muster from the person who is literally paid to be interested in selling it to you.
When it comes to influencer marketing, organic love is better than paid love. Actually, if you're not sure, it's a safe bet that paid love is never the best option. But while that may seem obvious, it's not easy to find.
Apple fans will wait in line around the block all night (and in the rain!) to get their hands on the latest Apple gadget - even if they don't know what it does yet. You can't buy that kind of love.
And if you think that this brand love is out of reach for you, think again. We are working with a lot of clients who consider their brands "boring" and if there is one thing we learned is that every single brand that has a great product and cares about its customers (no matter how small or large) has an advocate base that wants to engage with the brand and is willing to not only spread the positive word of mouth, but will do so willingly, consistently, and with no monetary reward whatsoever.
4. Sustainable engagement
When you strategize on how to engage your loyal communities, think creatively. Choose the platform that offers gamification elements and a wide variety of unique engagement tools to keep the relationship with your advocates evergreen and interesting. Allow the members of your network to engage with you, as well as with each other. Give them a variety of tools to create their own unique pieces of content that reflect who they are. Reach out and say thank you, share the content they are creating around your brand, give their content a boost and recognition by featuring it on your online properties.
Fans love a challenge! Nike+ is an involved and committed community of fans built around their love of sport and exercise. Nike keep fans engaged by presenting them with challenges, such as recording how many calories they've burned, miles they've run, or goals they've reached. These milestones can then be shared with their networks through the site or on social media, which helps to share news about the Nike brand and encourages friends to join too. Adding gamification to an advocacy program is a great way of increasing engagement, celebrating success and cultivating loyalty.
5. Create an open feedback loop
Companies often ask for feedback - but actually acting on it is another thing. Brands that ensure that comments, complaints and suggestions becomes part of a loop that actually feeds back into the company's products and services make customers feel more involved and appreciated - and will drive better product development.
Creating levels of advocacy involvement can reward your top fans and create an environment of exclusivity which makes your program even more appealing. It is extremely appealing to your advocates to be the first one to get information about your new products, get access to your events, or get an exclusive peak behind the curtain.
Timex sports watches recently revealed an advocacy programwhich will reward members with points for every story, news item, image or post they share. Collecting points leads to rewards, which get increasingly high-value. The top reward is a trip to Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship. Even though this program includes actual monetary reward, a number of successful advocacy programs focus on other things that are just as valuable for the members of the network such as meet-ups for the top echelons of membership, as well as celebrations of their best fans.
Have you thought about the amplification strategy? Once you've created an amazing community of advocates and engaged with them, why not extend the goodness and the impact of the program beyond just a simple social share? Some of the most influential brands we work with amplify the messages and endorsements created by their community members by either including them into their online and offline advertising or displaying them proudly on their digital properties like websites and forums.
One example of this is DEWALT, the high-end power tool company (disclosure: DEWALT is a client). DEWALT recently launched a series of events showcasing their new line of Extreme Runtime (XR) tools, demoing them at various locations Home Depots, Lowe's and other locations across the country. They wanted to show how cool these tools are through the eyes of their fans. What's more, they are capturing and curating all of the conversations centered around these events into the digital hub attached to the DEWALT main site. This amplification strategy has been so successful in raising the profile of the currents events, the company decided to use this framework to market all of their events moving forward.
Why not show your gratitude - and to help spread the word of what your company is doing through your customers' eyes - by sharing their content through your website and social media accounts and by sometimes simply giving a public shout out to say thank you? An acknowledgement like that goes a long way.
8. Measuring the impact
No matter what platform you choose to build your advocacy network on, make sure that platform offers a solid set of metrics to track the effectiveness and the impact of your campaigns. Some basic metrics to look for and questions you need answered are:
- Who shares your content? Which members of your exclusive network share the content the most and are most engaged?
- Who creates original content? Which members of your network create original content about your brand?
- Who are the most influential members? The platform should have an easy way to display members by their activity and have an ability to assign a unique brand score to each member that defines not only their influence and reach, but includes the level of advocacy (s)he displays. This score should be unique to your brand and be designed based on your marketing objectives.
- What content is being shared the most?
- What's being said when the content is shared? Why some products/concepts are shared more than others? Sentiment is critical to track if you want to improve your marketing strategy. You want to look beyond quantities measures and understand not only what product or concept got shared or talked about the most, but identify why that was the case. Was it because of the size, color, scent, cut, etc.? These insights can help affect product development, marketing strategies, content strategies and more.
- What social networks, forums, or blogs is your content being shared on? Your platform of choice should have the ability to connect with and allow smooth sharing through most social networks: Facebook (both personal pages and professional pages), Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, etc. It should also have the ability to share content on blogs and forums, as well as have an ability to tap into the local networks in the countries such as China where the local social network are more prevalent.
- What is the program's overall impact on purchase intent? You can absolutely track the impact the conversations and shares initiated by the members of your network have on both purchase intent and the actual purchase/sales. The below graph shows the basic concept, but the key here is to engage with the platform that allows for a strong tie into your e-commerce platforms.
The most important thing to remember for a successful advocacy program is that you are in it for the long haul. You need to plan ahead to keep members engaged and interested, go an extra mile to build strong relationships with them and show them that you truly care, and never take them for granted. And when the time comes and you need support (and believe me, it's always the matter of when, not if), they will be there to have your back, every single time. Long-term commitment from you can build long-term loyalty from your customers and fans. So stop managing campaigns and start building movements!