The goal of any marketing strategy is to acquire new customers that will be passionate about your products or services. Customers that, once they discover your brand, come back time after time, talk about your brand online and rush to tell their friends about your products or services.
This type of loyal customer is known as an advocate.
What is an advocate?
An advocate is someone who has a passion for something. It may be football. It may be craft beer. It will hopefully be your brand.
A brand advocate is someone that not only loves your products or services, but they love everything your brand stands for. They get right behind your ethos and your values, and these are typically values that align with their own.
Brand advocates will typically take any and every opportunity to engage with your brand and to share their experience of your brand with their friends and family as well as with complete strangers. These are the customers that like every post you publish on social media. Comment every time they can as well as share your content with their audience.
Facebook started to recognise these brand advocates, making it easier for brands to identify advocates by giving them a “Top Fan” badge on their profile which appears every time they comment on one of your posts.
What is advocacy marketing?
Advocacy marketing is the channelling of your brand advocates into a particularly powerful word of mouth strategy. Whilst an advocate of your brand will promote your brand with very little incentive, if you are better able to channel your advocates, then you can extend your potential reach as well as diverge your marketing strategy to encompass user-generated content, as well as introduce a different tone to your marketing efforts that are typically more authentic and customer focussed.
Advocacy marketing is a form of marketing that turns your most loyal and enthusiastic customers into advocates of your brand. You must first identify and recognise your brand advocates and then channel them to share their positive experiences with others.
As a brand, you need to formalise this strategy. It is not enough to simply “hope” that people will become an advocate. Hope is not a strategy. Instead, formalise the process of identifying and engaging with your brand advocates so you can maximise your potential reach and benefit from the enthusiasm that these customers have for your brand.
Turning customers into advocates
The biggest challenge businesses face is how you take loyal customers and turn them into an advocate. It’s great when customers enjoy your product or service, make repeat purchases and even leave you a review, but how do you get them to do more?
If you truly want to take your advocacy marketing strategy to the next level, then think about deploying some of the following tactics:
Maximise your social media platforms
A lot of brand advocacy takes place on social media platforms and it is important that you both manage your social media platforms correctly and maximise the potential of those platforms by responding to customers in a way that is transparent.
Social media platforms have become an extension of your customer service team with many customers turning to social media for customer service enquiries. It’s important that you manage your social media platforms in the same way as you would deal with a customer service enquiry over the phone or email.
Many brands are using customer service specialists to manage this particular aspect of their social media platforms and whilst we appreciate that this is beyond the scope of most small and medium-sized businesses, whoever is responsible for your social media platforms should be customer service trained.
Interactions with customers on social media are typically publicly visible and it’s important to be transparent and allow prospective customers searching or discovering your business on social platforms to see the way you deal with tricky situations, helping to build a sense of loyalty and trust.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback
For every brand advocate that is active on social media and vocal about your brand, there are probably 10 more that love your brand just as much but don’t necessarily talk about your products or services in public domains.
Don’t be afraid to directly ask customers for feedback, especially if you can see they are repeat customers, loyal to your brand. Encourage people to leave reviews, comments on social media and blog posts as well as proactively send out customer surveys to gather research. If you have a customer database where you can view purchase history, you can target repeat customers with your surveys as you know they are likely to be brand loyal and therefore the feedback you get is more likely to be positive.
Incentivise customer engagement
Whilst asking for feedback might encourage more of your “quieter” customer to speak out, nothing gets people talking more than an incentive. We are not talking about paying for reviews or surveys. We are talking about rewarding customers for their advocacy with exclusive discounts, free merchandise, exclusive access to new product releases and other related prizes that not only encourage engagement with your brand but also help to build loyalty and trust.
Social media is one of the best platforms for this sort of activity and helps to identify brand-loyal customers that can be converted into brand advocates.
Nothing excited brand advocates more than their favourite brand engaging directly with them. How many times have you had a response from a brand or even a celebrity or sportsperson that you admire, and it has made your day?
Try and personalise the experience when you are dealing with loyal customers that you want to convert into brand advocates. They will feel “special” if you personalise your messaging to them and them alone. Look at their purchase patterns and where they are located and personalise your communications to them, so they have a stronger connection. No matter the platform you communicate with them on, make sure the messaging is consistent. Try not to flick between generic comms and personalised comms too much as this will be confusing. Single out your advocates and treat them separately from other customers in your database.
How to utilise brand advocates
The old adage, “It’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire a new customer” still rings true today, however, if you use brand advocates in the right way, you can certainly help to lower the cost of acquiring new customers whilst at the same time, strengthening your existing relationship with loyal customers.
Here are some of the ways you can utilise brand advocates and extend the reach of your brand in a cost-effective way:
One of the best ways to encourage customer loyalty is through a dedicated loyalty programme. For advocates, this needs to go one step further. Advocates need the opportunity to earn additional points in the programme by sharing their experiences with the brand. This can be as simple as reposting Tweets or Instagram posts or tagging the brand into their own Instagram and Facebook stories. Word of mouth marketing is one of the most effective and cheapest ways of driving new customers and it’s important to recognise this in your loyalty programme.
Advocates will soon find that they can earn enough points to secure big discounts with your brand or other incentives simply by sharing their experiences – something they are more than happy to do because they love your brand.
Encourage user-generated content (UGC)
This one is harder than it sounds, however, for those brands that successfully manage to capture and repurpose user-generated content, the sky is the limit. UGC allows a brand to talk in a different voice from their own, adding personalisation, authenticity and often, a more customer-focused approach to content creation – after all, the content has been created by a customer.
The problem for most brands is the quality of UGC. It’s often difficult to control the quality of any video and images that you request, with many being unsuitable or out of touch with the brand messaging. Whilst this can sometimes come across as being “authentic”, more often than not, it simply looks out of touch with the usual content a brand publishes. Having said that, the quality of video production and photography is getting better as smartphones today have in-built editing and guidance and this is still an avenue worth pursuing.
Written content is often easier to incorporate into your brand messaging, helping to add authenticity to your brand voice without compromising the overall tone of your content.
As much as customers love it when you reply to their comments on social media, for example, they really love it when you include their content on your website and then share that content with their followers so stick with your UGC strategy and try to use it as much as you can.
Giving your advocates a place where they can communicate with each other and with the brand is a great way to encourage them to represent the brand in the public domain. This can be as simple as a closed Facebook group for your most loyal customers to something more complicated like a section on the website that includes some sort of forum as well as access to exclusive content before it is made publicly available.
You can also use a closed community to help to steer the messaging around your brand, create a buzz around an upcoming product release as well as help to promote your products and services between members of the community.
Advocacy marketing has been around for a long time and is one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing due to the high conversion rate. Prospective customers that hear about your products and services from brand advocates are much more likely to go on to make a purchase than those who simply discover your brand through organic or paid search.
If you are not already using advocacy marketing, think about adding it to your marketing mix, even in its most simple format and start to maximise the positive sentiment from your most loyal customers.