Building brand advocacy from the ground up


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AdvocatesIn a media landscape as fragmented and as noisy as we have now, word-of-mouth (WOM) advertising has become more important than ever. These days, the term for these unlikely spokespeople is brand advocates, and they are the true “killer app” of your marketing efforts. The stats back it up:

With those numbers, it’s no surprise to see companies like SocialChorus (which describes itself as an “advocate marketing solution”) raising funding and adding clients recently, while Speakr raised more funding to develop its network of online influencers. Brand advocates are trustworthy, their messages aren’t ignored and they’re cheap. What’s not to like? Just find some brand advocates and watch the sales roll in!

No shortcuts

If you’re sitting around the conference room table and management is asking, “Shouldn’t we be trying to create some brand advocates?” then you’ve got some hard work ahead of you. Because if your brand doesn’t already have a relationship with its advocates (or at least know who they are), then there is a very good chance you don’t actually have any. It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to cultivate them, but there won’t be any shortcuts.

I’m talking about the brand in the mirror

Almost every brand has the potential to have advocates. In a category as generic as laundry detergent, Tide is so valued there is a black market for it. But you first need to ask the question, Why should my brand have advocates? What does your brand stand for? Why should people buy it over something that might be cheaper? What is your brand doing for them? If your answer doesn’t go any deeper than broad, generic terms like “value” and “quality,” then you need to stop now, and get to work figuring it out. Seriously, stop reading now – there’s nothing more for you here. (I suggest you skip over to my colleague Stefan Mumaw’s excellent blog about why brands need to live their vision to understand why this is so important.)

Can’t buy me love

So, you know what you stand for and the true value your brand offers. But how can you activate the consumers whose passions align with your brand? The worst thing you can do is try to buy them. Brand advocates aren’t in it for the deals or the coupons: only 1% of brand advocates make their recommendations as an incentive to receive freebies. 37% do it out of a desire to help others, and 50% because of a good experience they had with your brand. If you are introducing a product or service to a market, then discounting, coupons and freebies for influencers can at least get people to try it. If the value is there, consumers will come back without needing the incentives, and if they don’t, well…you might need to return to the preceding paragraph.

Better than they know themselves

Now the real work begins. The details of every brand’s audience and lifestyle differ of course, but the template is the same. Meet them where they are. This might mean events and sponsorships for some groups, and non-branded online communities for others. But wherever they are, interact with them as they interact with each other. Show support for them and approval of they things they love. Even more important, tread lightly with overt brand messaging. You are there to make their lives and decisions more fulfilling, and your job is to demonstrate that your product or service will do this, not to simply tell them that it will. Building brand advocacy is like building a fire: a lot of dry fuel lying around isn’t any good by itself. You have to carefully arrange the tinder, twigs, sticks and logs first if you want the spark you introduce to turn into a roaring fire.

Pouring gasoline on it

Now is the point that you can help your best customers help you. They have experienced the value of your brand, and they trust it enough to put their own credibility on the line advocating for it. Open up your marketing toolbox to make it as simple as possible for advocates to share both your messaging and their experiences with your brand. Showcase them in your social channels and make contacts with them as personal and individualized as possible. Don’t let referral or loyalty programs get bogged down with too many hoops to jump through. Your relationship with your advocates should always revolve around enhancing their credibility in the community, not the other way around.

Tend your garden

I love the word “cultivate” when talking about brand advocates. It encompasses everything: preparing the soil, planting the seed, watering and patiently waiting for the plant to break through the dirt, and then fertilizing, weeding, pruning and nurturing the plant as it comes to maturity and bears fruit. It’s a long process, and it isn’t self-sustaining. Once you assume that people know what your brand stands for, or that your value is understood, or that people will just tout your virtues on their own, everything will begin to unravel. Your brand must continuously cycle back through every part of the process or you will lose what you have taken so long to build.

 

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