By adaptive - February 13th, 2013

Personal recommendations have always carried promotional weight, and testimonials have always been a staple of marketing. How do businesses find these advocates - and ensure their public support?

The importance of brand advocacy cannot be over-estimated. Social media has shifted the balance of power in customer relationships, because most people trust the opinion of their peers more than they trust what companies tell them. Facebook, Twitter, online forums, blogs and the rest have given consumers the technology to communicate directly with one another, often without the brands themselves being involved. As a result, customers who become advocates can help to maximise the effectiveness of marketing spend by talking up the benefits of a product or service, and even to the extent of defending a brand against what they may consider to be unfair criticism.

Advocates recommend across a wide and diverse group of industries.
However, building a powerful and enthusiastic group of advocates will not happen by accident. In particular, it’s important to realise that just because someone becomes a Facebook fan or gives positive feedback on a comment page doesn’t necessarily make them a full-blown advocate. Successful businesses are increasingly cultivating only those advocates that make a real and determined effort to build and support communities of customers, and give them a platform from which to air their views. 
Maurice Bonn, eStrategy Manager for the electronics multinational Omron Europe, [link] says: “Mobilising your brand advocates has everything to do with creating an integrated business approach in which the physical world touches the digital. This means setting up programs where your ‘fans’ can interact and start up a dialogue with you as an organization for common goals.”

A culture of responsiveness

There are a number of ways in which companies can start to build groups of advocates. One of the most important is to develop a culture of responsiveness. It sounds blindingly obvious, but customers like to feel that a supplier is listening to what they say, and acting upon it. Advocates value their relationship with a company, even at a distance, so it is vital to listen to what they say and to acknowledge their influence. A core activity of a social media team is responding to Tweets and Facebook posts, even if it is simply to say, “thanks for the interesting comment”. And if a customer raises a real issue, treat it with appropriate seriousness and answer it fully.
Identifying the personality traits of brand advocates can make them more effective.
It’s also essential to deliver what is promised. If you say “we will reply within 48 hours” (which for many customers is too long anyway) then make sure that a reply is sent within that time. One useful approach is to “promise long and deliver short”: in other words, promise to deliver a product within, say, five working days but aim to deliver it in two. If you can’t make it in two days, and still deliver in five, the customer will still be happy. Meeting expectations is vital throughout the sales process: make sure the product or service does what is claimed, that it is delivered on time and in good condition, and that any after-sales issues are dealt with quickly and efficiently. 

Problems are inevitable – deal with them 

Dealing with problems is of fundamental importance. It’s essential to recognise that problems will arise: they do even in the best regulated businesses. The best companies, the ones with the most loyal advocates, are those that have mechanisms in place to deal with them quickly. Remember that the sign of a true advocate is someone who wants your business to succeed, and if they raise an issue it is often because they don’t want you to fall down on it. Never ignore a complaint, and avoid going on the defensive – even if you think the complaint is unjustified. 
Encouraging comment – positive and negative – is part of the process of engaging with customers, which in turn is a key element in creating and growing a group of brand advocates. This sense of engagement between advocate and brand or company fosters loyalty and encourages even more advocacy. Customer loyalty programs are sometimes seen simply as a way of getting information about consumer behaviour. However they can be more effectively used if they become a two-way advocacy channel through which customers can feel both valued and involved. 
And perhaps being “valued and involved” is a helpful pointer to what lies at the core of brand advocacy, which is the sense of being part of something special. Brand advocates need to feel that the people share their enthusiasm they respect, and that the brand that they support and promote has core values which reflect their own.
Indeed, a report from NM Incite [] clearly shows that advocacy and customer service – what NM Incite call ‘social care’ is now a critical component of every business. “Seventy-one percent (71%) of those experiencing great social care are likely to recommend a brand based on their most recent experience, compared to 17% of customers that have a somewhat negative experience. Seventy percent (70%) of social care users are likely to use social care again if served satisfactorily, accelerating the influence and engagement in social care among consumers. If a company responds quickly but does not solve the issue, only 41% are apt to try social care again.”
The likelihood a user would recommend a brand to others based on their most recent social care experience.

A sense of belonging 

Brand advocates also need to feel that their “belonging” brings some benefit, even if it is just recognition as a genuine individual. Experts differ about the advisability or effectiveness of rewarding people for their advocacy: some say it merely creates an army of mercenaries, whereas others think it is part of the recognition process. 
Most experts agree that if rewards are given, they need to be “earned” in some way: hotels giving upgraded rooms to returning customers, equipment suppliers offering good trade-ins for replacement products and so on. It’s also important to make the rewards real. Omron’s Maurice Blom says that you can be “assured that no fan or advocate will fall for a marketing trap…You need genuinely rewarding programs in place that are believable and have impact.”
Brand advocacy is sometimes likened to the process of falling in love, and there is some truth in this: the process begins with flirting (or seduction, if you like), continues with building a relationship, and can – in the best of circumstances – become a lifelong love affair. But it is also worth bearing in mind that love affairs can sometimes end in split-ups and divorce: to prevent that, companies must continually nurture the relationship, and make sure it is valued.

Next Reads

The Corporate Social Media Summit New York 2014

June 2014, New York

Become a social business: For superior marketing response, sharper corporate decision-making, enhanced innovation and a happier, more loyal customer

Brochure Programme
comments powered by Disqus