Imagine for a moment that your company could stop hiring expensive sales reps and start employing people to market your brand for free. Sounds crazy, right? But not only is it possible, these people are in fact already out there vouching for your business. They are simply your most enthusiastic and loyal customers, the ones who tell their friends about your business or recommend it online. But how can you transform these free-range customers into “sales reps”?
Two words: customer advocacy.
To put it simply, customer advocacy involves a straight-forward tactic: outstanding customer service.
But when you go into more detail and see the bigger picture, customer advocacy is when a business consciously puts the customer’s interests at the center of customer service.
It implies an effort to understand and even anticipate the needs and expectations of the customer and meet them before all else. And while this is, indeed, a simple thing it is also a very powerful force. Customer advocacy can transform the relationship between businesses and their customers and, in doing so, convert already existing loyal customers into brand advocates who lead a brand’s advocate marketing campaigns.
The Positive Effects of Customer Advocacy
Customers who not only enjoy your product or brand, but who feel driven to spread the word far and wide, are called “brand advocates”. They are 83% more likely to share information with others, and therefore 50% more likely to influence a purchase decision than a regular customer. We know that word-of-mouth is a leading influence on consumers’ purchase decisions, so having brand advocates out there leaving positive reviews, sharing their positivity about your brand, and generating buzz is worth a lot. In fact, word of mouth generates over two times the sales of paid advertising and fuels $6 trillion of annual consumer spending.
Customer advocacy should be understood as a change in company culture, as opposed to just a change in customer service. By recognizing the value of relationships with customers, you can set the foundation for generating increased revenue. A single statistic published in Harvard Business Review captures this memorably: a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by a whopping 75%.
Create An Inspiring Customer Advocacy Program
Just as with any other aspect of your business, you need to be strategic and intentional as you create your program.
Here are some basic steps you can follow to ensure that you’re on the right path:
Have Clear Objectives
Although it may seem obvious what the goal of your customer advocacy program is—to leverage social proof towards the goal of lowering customer acquisition costs and increasing sales—the truth is that there are many smaller objectives built into this overall goal. If you name each objective and give it individual attention, you are far more likely to succeed.
Do you want to focus on increasing social media engagement or on driving traffic to your website? How many content pieces featuring clients do you want to create each quarter? How many new clients do you want to have in your pool of references each year? You need to think all of the options through and prioritize what you want to achieve most.
Understand Your Advocates
You need to be aware of the fact that, unless you offer customers something that motivates them to participate, they won’t feel moved to become brand advocates. They already love your product, sure. But what can you offer them that will inspire them to build an ongoing relationship with you and put themselves out there as advocates for your brand?
Common perks given to brand advocates include special discounts, gift cards, access to exclusive products, public or private acknowledgment, or simply the company’s ear when they wish to offer feedback. However, you want to avoid creating a transactional relationship. You can incentivize and reward your brand advocates, but don’t try to purchase their participation or influence their feedback—a respectful partnership isn’t transactional.
Ways to Gather Advocates
Here are a few categories that will get you thinking about the different ways you can reach out to potential advocates:
- Existing Channels: Lean into whatever lines of communication you already have open with your customers. This could be social media, your newsletter, or through your customer success department. Put out a call for loyal customers to share their feedback, use a hashtag, or otherwise engage.
- New Channels: Create new opportunities for satisfied customers to engage and leave positive feedback. Does your website have a platform for customer reviews? If not, create one. Do you share case studies on your blog? Do you think your customer base might benefit from a forum? Create the platforms and opportunities that are most appropriate to, and most appealing to, your potential customer advocates.
- Offer Rewards: A rewards or referral program is a great option for motivating customers and creating high-quality leads. According to Social Media Now, 78% of marketers say that referrals produce “good or excellent” leads but, even more importantly, a referral program can attract potential customer advocates.
Personalize Using Advocate Personas
One trick to really fuel relationships with your advocates is to bring greater personalization to how you motivate, reward, or make requests of them. Finding out what each brand advocate wants most, and offering that to him or her, is undoubtedly going to be more powerful than a one-size-fits-all solution. But how can you guess what each person might want the most—and wouldn’t all this personalization be time-consuming? Not necessarily.
Laura Ramos, of Forrester Research, has developed a useful analytic framework that can help you quickly categorize your advocates in order to understand their intrinsic motivations and, by extension, their desires. By giving them precisely what they want and, as Laura Ramos puts it, you’ll be able to “turn customer goodwill into gold.” The four advocate personas are:
- Validators: have likely been with your brand for the long haul, and can therefore praise the virtues of your product with authentic and meaningful authority.
- Educators: love to share knowledge and help others by educating them about your brand or product.
- Status-Seekers: are charismatic, highly networked, and always looking to expand their networks even further. They are honest and excited to put their voice out into the world.
- Collaborators: thrive when invited into collaborative processes that allow them to explore possibilities for the future such as new products, new strategies, or new ways to leverage resources.
Create Content Using Customer Advocacy
Your customer advocates will be creating or providing content that you can leverage in your own in-house marketing materials. But how do you know what types of content to create?
The following are great places to start as you build a repertoire of marketing materials that build on customer advocacy:
- Reviews in which customers give their opinion in their own words.
- Social Media posts that feature or tag actual customers.
- Case Studies that share the story of real customers and how your product helped them.
- Quotes from customers that have something authentic and personal to share about their experience with your brand.
- Courses that use real-life examples from your customers’ journeys with your product to educate.
- Podcasts that may include interviews with your customers or could even be hosted by a customer.
- Videos that teach about your product and feature real customers.
- Events that bring advocates into contact with potential customers.
- Contests that solicit ideas or other contributions from your customers.
- Surveys that can gather the specific types of customer data most relevant to your brand’s goals.
Create Simple Processes
Remember: customer advocacy brings together the native talents of your customers and the marketing goals of your company. Choose simple processes that help you bring information about these two things together, like a spreadsheet in which you can keep a list of customer advocates that you can then correlate with information of relevance to your marketing goals. For example, if you created a way to label customer advocates in your spreadsheet with their “advocate persona,” it would be much simpler in the future to know who you want to reach out to when you have an opportunity.
Are you creating a podcast full of tips for power-users of your product? Sort for the educators. A blog post built around a case-study? Sort for the validators.
Ultimately, you need to create manageable processes that give you actionable information. Don’t end up limited by the software you’ve chosen to use or by an overabundance of useless data.
How to Measure the Success of Your Customer Advocacy Program
You’ve already created some goals and objectives for your advocacy program, but how will you know when they’ve been met?
To bring clarity to this issue, you need to create measurable goals and then build the ability to track and measure relevant data points into your processes. This could mean tracking social media metrics (such as likes, follows, engagement, and referrals) or brand awareness metrics (such as coverage, share of voice, and branded search volume). Focus on the metrics that are going to provide you with the data you need to evaluate and iterate as you perfect your customer advocacy program.
Notably, metrics such as customer lifetime value (CLV) and net promoter score (NPS) may take on more importance in a company that truly buys in to the customer advocacy mindset, because they place long-term customer relationships at the center of focus instead of quarterly profits or cost of acquisition. Both of these metrics can be created with simple surveys and calculations. Just make sure that you always keep the first priority of customer advocacy in mind as you design your program: the needs and expectations of your customers.
7 Tactics to Improve Your Advocacy Results
Having customers essentially sell your product for you may sound wild, but it is an extremely reachable goal. That said, it is far from trivial. Altering existing company culture and creating a customer experience so good that it spurs your customers past satisfaction into evangelizing takes planning and strategy.
Here are six steps you can take today that will improve your advocacy results:
Tactic #1: Collect Data and Feedback
The first step in building any relationship is listening and learning. Solicit feedback from your customers about their preferences, experiences, and concerns. Gather data on as many stages of the customer journey as you can. Invest in a customer analytics platform if feasible. Separate yourself from the pack: 58% of companies don’t even know who their brand advocates are!
But wait, there’s more: you must parse all of this data about your customers and make it useful. Segmenting, or dividing your customers into groups based on their specific behaviors, needs, and advocacy potential is one tried-and-true way to make data more actionable. Or you can solicit very specific types of feedback beyond reviews: feature requests, for example, or beta testing.
Other simple ways to collect data and feedback include sending out an NPS survey, creating hashtags that encourage sharing on social media platforms, or even building an online forum to serve as the home to a community of brand advocates.
Tactic #2: Offer Incentives and Rewards to Your Customers
Once you have built a relationship, you need to continually feed that relationship, or it will wither and die. One way to feed your budding brand advocates is to offer them things that both feel good to them and, hopefully, motivate them to further their advocacy and referrals. In some cases, this can involve incentives like loyalty rewards programs, discounts, access to exclusive products, or even cash payments.
But start with the basics: acknowledge your brand advocates, thank them publicly and privately, engage with their user-generated content, and approach any negative feedback with humility. Your brand advocates need to know that they are being treated as partners in a relationship, not subordinates. For some, that relationship is incentive enough.
Tactic #3: Optimize Onboarding
Many people think that onboarding is basically a tutorial that teaches a customer how to use the software or service they have just purchased. But in reality, if you want your brand to leave a strong positive impression, onboarding needs to be much more than a product tour.
According to a Wyzowl report from 2020, over 63% of customers consider the level of support they will receive post-sale to be “an important consideration” in whether they will purchase in the first place. Additionally, 90% of customers feel that the companies they buy from “could do better” with onboarding. So, what is missing?
Companies need to understand that onboarding not only teaches a customer how to use the product, but also about the value the product offers, and about the brand or company itself. Now, some skeptics out there may be thinking, “they’ve already purchased my product, why should I be selling them on it after the transaction has already taken place?” But that point of view doesn’t line up with a customer advocacy approach at all. From a customer-focused perspective, the reasons are many: building positive relationships, improving product adoption and customer retention, and amplifying the value that your product can bring to a customer.
Tactic #4: Improve Your Customer Service
Customer service is a powerful lever of control on customer behavior. In one study, 97% of customers who had a bad customer service experience changed their future buying decisions. 58% stopped buying from the company, 52% told others not to buy that product or service, and 46% continued to change their buying behavior two years after a bad customer service experience. What’s more, almost a third (27%) of online sellers view customer support as a challenge still in 2022. Wow. Customer service is clearly not something you want to get wrong.
It is also important to understand the implications that a customer advocacy mindset has for customer service. Customer advocates put the customers’ needs first by, for example, offering support on the channels customers prefer and on the timeline they prefer. What timeline is that? A speedy one, of course! 90% of customers consider an immediate customer service response to be “important” or “very important,” and 50% of customers won’t wait more than an hour to receive help. Fortunately, a rising preference for self-service means that businesses can reduce customer frustration through simple and affordable self-service options like FAQs and knowledge bases.
Tactic #5: Offer a Customer Experience that They Won’t Forget
“Customer experience,” declares the CEO of Mercedes Benz, “is the new marketing.”
“Customer experience,” Forbes echoes, “is the new brand.”
In other words: the importance of customer experience has been increasing and is expected to continue growing.
A recent study from Walker found that customer experience has overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiator. Yet all too often companies “misread” their customers: in statistics, “80% of companies surveyed said that they offer superior customer service, but only 8% of their customers agreed with them.” This frightening finding should light a fire under every business to bring customer advocacy into their customer experience program.
The importance of finetuning the customer experience is that much greater in eCommerce, where the journey often takes place in full self-service mode. Ensuring that the shopping experience is consumer-focused – whether we’re talking about product pages, checkout flows or payment experiences – is paramount to leaving a positive impression on the customer, and, ultimately growing brand advocates.
Tactic #6: Use Nurture Campaigns
It may surprise you to learn that email marketing is almost 5 times as likely to drive sales as social media marketing is. With an average ROI of $36 for every $1 spent, email is simply a great investment. Not to mention, it is nearly universal and used across the globe—and therefore naturally a great fit for global eCommerce businesses.
But how to leverage email in a customer-focused manner? Try a nurture campaign. In a nurture campaign, you invest in the relationship with a customer up-front by offering them content before you ever make a sales pitch. Notably, the emails in a nurture campaign are triggered by the customer’s actual behavior on your site (for example, reading blog posts or subscribing to newsletters). This puts the development of a relationship between a brand and potential customer on the customer’s timeline, serves their needs first, and builds trust before a sale is ever expected. This may sound like a longer path to sales, but it pays to be patient: a 2022 study showed that nurtured leads make purchases that are 47% larger than other leads.
Tactic #7: Thank Even the Detractors
Recall how we said before that “customer advocacy can transform the relationship between businesses and their customers”? It’s true even for detractors. It may seem counterintuitive, but your detractors today just may be your next brand advocates. If you reach out in a way that values their opinion (even a negative one), they might stick with you longer.
According to a Salesforce report, 68% of customers expect empathy from brands but only 37% of customers feel that they get it. Offer it to your customers, and you’re going to make a powerful and lasting impression.
Whether or not you convert a detractor into a loyal customer, though, by responding to negative feedback with empathy and positivity you not only do the right thing, you also stand to gain valuable information. Customers can point out bugs, flaws, pain points, or offer perspective on design decisions that were invisible to you until now. This information is crucial to improving your business and addressing all of your customers’ needs, not just the detractors’.
In placing customer needs at the center of focus, businesses that move towards customer advocacy may look like risk-takers. But those who do not shift their business models and marketing strategies to acknowledge the increasing importance of customer experience are the ones who run the risk of being left behind.
Luckily, if your brand is willing to try some new strategies and tactics like the ones listed in this article, you can expect to enjoy revenue growth 1.4 times faster than your competitors who refuse to go customer-centric. And, more importantly, in building relationships rather than short-term profits, you will be building for the future.
What are your thoughts on customer advocacy? Do you have such a program within your company? We’d love to hear your ideas!