Brands are looking for more cost-effective ways to advertise themselves online. And the secret is increasingly more obvious – loyal customers often make the best brand promoters at little to no cost.
Customer advocacy focuses less on what the brand has to say and more on what customers have to say about their brand experience. Consensus among buyers in favor of a particular brand lends enormous credibility to that brand.
“You’ve heard about the power of word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing — over 90% of consumers trust WOM marketing recommendations over any other type of marketing. Moreover, customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate, making customer advocacy a particularly strong acquisition play.” – Hubspot
What is Customer Advocacy Marketing?
Customer advocacy marketing publicizes user-generated content from real customers to lend brand credibility among members of a target audience.
This marketing approach may take many forms, including product reviews, influencers, brand ambassadors, client case studies, referral programs, and more. If you know how to publicize authentic customer feedback with the customer’s permission, there’s almost no wrong way to go about customer advocacy marketing.
Why customer advocacy is important
“When people trust someone’s endorsement of your brand, when they can sense the relationship is real, they believe it—and they’ll buy.” – Ohthatsgoodnews, Authentic Influencer Marketing
The absence of customer references says a lot to prospective customers about the trustworthiness of your brand. In fact, no positive reviews or referrals can be almost as damaging as the presence of negative customer reviews.
Image via eMarketer
But a fully-functional customer advocacy program does more than gather positive reviews from happy customers – it integrates actionable feedback from like-minded consumers and then uses those advocates to promote the brand community.
Thriving advocacy programs can significantly reduce a brand’s customer acquisition costs (CAC) and increase retention, both of which have an enormous impact on the company’s bottom line.
Who needs a customer advocacy program?
In theory, every organization ought to have a customer advocacy program of some kind. But in practice, certain brands are better equipped to facilitate these brand communities.
Direct-to-consumer brands do remarkably well when they nurture relationships with their customers and incentivize enthusiastic buyers to become brand spokespersons. That’s because DTC brands bypass the middleman retail approach (distributors) and market directly to their target audience.
Image via Core DNA
Additionally, brands that care deeply about authenticity will spend time promoting their greater purpose and attracting customers that resonate with that purpose. These brands often develop customer advocates organically and lean heavily on those fans for feedback to improve their products and message.
Who can be a customer advocate?
When it comes to customer advocacy, authenticity is essential. If your target audience senses disingenuous praise, you risk damaging your reputation and alienating customers.
The most critical foundation to a good customer advocacy program is a great product and top-notch customer service. Customer advocates rise up organically after they’ve enjoyed an amazing shopping experience. If you want customer advocates, you must take the quality of your deliverables and customer care seriously.
Happy customers are more than willing to promote your brand within their realm of influence. The trick is to pay attention to when a customer is overjoyed and make it simple for that customer to share their experience with the world.
Influencers as customer advocates
The best influencers have created a connection with their audience and have built a community. They respond diligently to thoughtful replies and questions.
As authorities within a particular lifestyle or industry, influencer opinions carry major weight among large, eager audiences. Often referred to as “expert social proof.”
“The idea with expert social proof is ‘people that I want to be – not my peers – I aspire to be them.’ What brands do with influencers, that’s a perfect example of leveraging expert social proof.” – Ohthatsgoodnews Gets Real interview with Kate Bradley Chernis, Founder & CEO of Next Step
Expert social proof is a powerful source of social influence that creates amazing opportunities for customer advocacy marketing. However, influencers as customer advocates strongly implies that those influencers know your products or services well.
Brand ambassadors represent a more brand-loyal category of social influencers. These ambassadors promote only the products and services that they love and frequently do so before the brand ever approaches them for a partnership.
Securing brand-creator collaborations is an example of customer advocacy marketing, so long as your influencer community genuinely loves your products or services.
Non-influencers as customer advocates
Just because a customer lacks thousands of social media followers doesn’t mean that they can’t help you reach your customer advocacy goals.
In fact, the average customer that can clearly express their delight for your products carries enormous influence over other prospective customers. In its simplest form, these customer advocates leave raving reviews on business directories like Google and Yelp.
But there are additional ways to leverage customer advocates on behalf of your brand. The best customer advocates – whether or not they are influencers – can produce authentic content that other buyers will find compelling. Not only can you incentivize this feedback, but you can also promote it across multiple channels.
The 5 stages of customer advocacy
Knowing who can be an advocate and how you find them is a challenge for many brands. One helpful approach to resolving these questions is the five stages of customer advocacy.
Stage 1 – Engaged customer
You’ll know that a customer is engaged by their repeat purchases. In other words, they keep coming back, and they seem to view your brand as a dependable “go-to” for meeting their needs.
Finding these customers is as simple as reviewing POS or sales data within your ecommerce store. You can follow-up with these repeat customers by inviting them to subscribe to emails/texts and sending them “thank you” gifts or discounts for their loyalty.
To graduate an engaged customer to the enthusiast stage, you can encourage them to leave a positive review, complete a satisfaction survey, and/or mention you on social media.
Stage 2 – Enthusiast
Enthusiasts don’t just buy over and over, they brag about you to their friends and family. They’re always eager to leave raving reviews, offer constructive feedback, tag your brand online, and more.
Identifying your enthusiasts often requires assistance from social listening tools. You can motivate your enthusiasts by interacting with their content, posting grateful comments, and/or asking to share their user-generated content on your brand pages.
Stage 3 – Early advocate
Your early advocates are enthusiasts that you’ve formally invited to join your program (for more information on how to start a customer advocacy program from scratch, check out our step-by-step guide here).
You may want to create an application process and a quick onboarding process to help your new advocates understand their benefits and your expectations. It’s important to remember that you are incentivizing them to promote your brand and not expecting them to do it out of the kindness of their hearts.
Stage 4 – Transitioning advocate
Once onboarded, your new advocates can actively participate in various marketing campaigns, such as referral programs, events, contests, and more.
Keeping your transitioning advocates informed of what’s happening with your brand should be a top priority for this stage. Additionally, you can guide your advocates on what kind of content is most likely to produce the best results.
When collaborating with members of your brand community, they should feel like they are a part of your team. That means that your communication is strong and that your advocates feel like they can offer program and product feedback freely.
Stage 5 – Full advocate
Once a customer is a full advocate, it can be tempting to put that relationship on autopilot, but that would be a major mistake. You don’t ever want your advocates to feel that you take them for granted.
Your top-performing advocates deserve more perks and collaboration. If your relationship extends beyond advocacy and into content creation, you may want to partner them with your social media team and compensate them accordingly.
Note: It’s usually not a good idea to pay your advocates. However, some advocates will show potential to become more than an advocate and may deserve a “promotion.”
If you have a formal ambassador, affiliate, or influencer program, many of your influential customers in this stage may be a great fit to join those programs.
But even for those advocates that are content to be a persistent, informal voice on behalf of your brand, it’s important that you nurture that relationship. As new opportunities arise for product collaborations or exclusive campaigns, you can approach these advocates first and increase the effectiveness of your overall program.
Conclusion – Your customer advocates should feel proud to empower future buyers.
At the end of the day, your brand exists to help customers feel empowered – empowered to solve their problems or achieve their goals – because they purchased your product or service. When this happens, your customer advocates will spread brand love as far as they can. They want others to feel as empowered as they do for having worked with your brand.
That’s why a thriving advocacy program can accelerate trust-building among your various audience segments. Customer advocates will generate brand awareness and greatly enhance the impact of each marketing touch point. In other words, you can increase sales while lowering your costs at the same time.
Recruiting influential customers has never been easier. Use Ohthatsgoodnews to find your brand champions.