Three decades ago, the job of a CMO was easy, deliver a compelling message to consumers through the mass media and you will win. Today however, the world has changed. Marketing channels are many and disparate, the public are tuning out to the ‘buy me’ messages bombarding at them from all directions, in survey after survey, consumers are saying that they trust recommendations from friends, colleagues and people they know, as well as online consumer opinions more than the kind of corporate marketing ‘verbal diarrhea’ we are all subjected to. In fact, in a recent report, 90% of those surveyed said they trust people they know when it comes to purchasing advice, 70% said consumer opinions online and 53% said from colleagues or friends. Online banner adverts (at 33%), mobile text adverts (24%), press coverage (23%) and radio advertising (22%) where the lowest ranked.
There is no denying the power of advocacy. Robust advocacy marketing campaigns are achieving 10-20% revenue gains on existing products and services and 100% on new products and services. But can brands control or manage advocacy? Clearly, developing advocates has to be a critical part of deepening customer relationships.
How does advocacy work for brands?
First your brand has to develop the channels to listen and interact with customers. It is surprising how many do not have this facility in the Middle East, Africa and India. You must invest in building a team of people in-house who understand your brand, are up-to-date with the latest developments in your business and who are happy to engage with customers in all shapes and sizes. This does not mean employing the intern to work on your social media channel. Once everything is in place, there are three simple rules to follow - stick to them and your brand will win:
Listen: Recommendations lead to more recommendations - which over time, reduces the cost of customer acquisition. Give your customers a channel to speak to you and respond to them
Respond: Respond intelligently, use friendly, informal and approachable language that helps your customer see you as a real person, not a faceless brand. Develop a tone of voice for all written and verbal communication and stick to it rigidly
Interact: Reward loyalty with special offers and previews, encourage customers to interact with you and tell you about their experience of your product or service
The secret to leveraging advocacy is to find the right people and get them talking about the right things in the right places... and there are no shortcuts to doing this. You need to invest in finding the best, trusted people with strong channels, and they can be all around you. Then pause and think, do these people represent what our brand represents? Advocates can be:
Connectors - people with large social networks
Communities - groups of people with a common purpose
Experts - people with credentials in a particular field
Endorsers - celebrities whose persona enhances your brand
If you are looking to make a quick impact, go for the top three in this list.
Target specific results, track what is working and what is not and always link these to your business, brand and retail strategies.
What to say
Always remember your brand promise, but do not be afraid to shake things up in your messaging approach. Be unexpected, but relevant, and remember, in the digital world we live in, one message can be seen by millions, making your brand - in the moment - as big as any global brand if the messaging is correct and strikes the correct cord with your customers. Try to find ways to link your advocates together, launch parties, webinars, conferences, active online discussions and forums are all great tools for doing this.
Remember that relationships are not made overnight. Keep following the recommendations above, refine and innovate, if something is not working, change it but keep interacting - Listen, Respond and Interact.
Advocates can bring brands and customers closer together, the world has changed, companies have to engage in the new world order to win. For brands to thrive, they have to be transparent, they have to be prepared to communicate openly and freely with their loyal customers in ways that they have never done before... because believe me, if brands do not do this, they will be brought down by the very people that buy their products.