Mobilizing Brand Advocates

“Success is when your brand blends with the conversations – with or without you” – Saatchi & Saatchi

It’s one thing when your customers are talking about you, whether good or bad. It’s another when your market no longer gives a rat’s behind about your company and stops talking about you altogether. As long as the market is talking about you or your brand, you have a fighting chance (whether you’re at the bottom of the barrel or standing on top).

Consumers are sharing thoughts, feelings, purchases, what they’re doing and what they’re not doing, seeing and what they’re not seeing, liking and disliking. People want to influence each other, market products themselves, and be heard. Consumers are talking, but are brands listening, interpreting and responding appropriately?

There are, however, different segments on the web and the 90-9-1 Rule illustrates this. Ninety per cent of users are known audiences or lurkers, who observe but do not actively contribute content in networks. Nine per cent are labeled editors that modify, add and/or delete content, yet rarely create their own content from scratch. Finally, there is the 1% of users who represent the creators or initiators who drive large amounts of social group activities, including a vast percentage of sites, new content, threads and activities.

With the 90-9-1 Rule in mind, companies can determine where to find their brand advocates, or those customers who become brand champions and influence the perceptions and behaviours of others (without the expectation of paid media – this is authentic earned media). They are not just fans, followers or loyal customers; they help to promote your brand.

A brand advocate’s work can be seen in several marketing strategies, including street marketing or viral marketing, and their characters vary (whether they are aggressive or non-aggresive in their marketing tactics). All brand advocates, however, represent a unique customer segment and are highly valuable and serve as a company’s virtual salesforce… and there are millions of them.

The most powerful aspect of brand advocates, however, is that they are trusted more than marketers and companies. According to Rob Fuggetta, CEO of Zuberance, brand advocates are 94% more trusted sources than:

  • Search engines (34%)
  • E-mail (28%)
  • Blogs (18%)
  • Company blogs (16%)
  • Banner ads (14%)

Moreover, according to Forrester Research, social media fuels every brand advocate recommendation to reach 150 people within the social web. Within the United States, about 500 million peer impressions are made annually, which now rivals advertising impressions. Even more impressive is the 52% of the U.S. general population are brand champions, and 71% are brand advocates. And the finale: 80% (yes, that’s eighty per cent) or the global population often tell others how good at least one brand is.

A brand advocate’s willingness to help others, understand more information about purchases, make smarter buying decisions, have the ability to make their peers feel more inter-connected, remain extremely loyal and spend more on certain purchases than the average customer offers quite the catch to marketers and advertisers. Thus with such high numbers of brand advocates and their abilities to drive not only revenue growth and spread WOM, how can advertisers mobilize these brand advocates?

The first step is appropriate an Advocate System, where marketers and advertisers identify who brand advocates are through question surveys, Twitter monitors, content management systems, etc. After identifying who your brand advocates are, you need to be able to mobilize them and make it easy for them to recommend, view and review content in social networks, engage in blogs with easy-to-use technology, navigate through websites and provide them with the appropriate offers and answers to their demands. Finally, marketers must track their activities through clicks, conversions, impressions, A/B testing, reviews and comments.

Once you’ve implemented the Advocate System, appropriate the necessary social advertising. Leveraging social networking sites including the obvious Facebook and Twitter links, to maintain continuously engage with your customers through videos, Tweets and the like, so the conversation is never lost and you receive a lot of feedback. Even if the conversation turns negative, companies should respond immediately with an apology or sympathetic understanding to demonstrate that you are in fact listening and do care about their customers (but try to avoid impersonal, canned responses).

Measure recall. Advertising recall, awareness and purchase intention is greater with brand advocacy. Why? Because it’s authentic. It would be like your friend telling you about this great deal at your favourite store. Nobody pushed her to go and tell you specifically about the deal at the store. And, well, according to the statistics, you trust her more than that banner ad online, right?

Lastly, marketers and advertisers need not pay or coach customers for their advocacy. This is where a brand advocate’s authenticity can shine through and make it look like the company has done nothing to promote itself – except for the satisfaction of just being the amazingly special brand that they are… WINK.

So why mobilize brand advocates? Because they are authentic. The real deal. The cream of the crop in advertising. So, you’re safest bet then, is to encourage friends to talk to each other about your brand – not hire a stranger who thinks he/she knows you to do the talking!

*A big thank you to Dr. Henderson, my professor for Customer Insights, who so generously imparted to all of her students this knowledge on brand advocacy, for the benefit of receiving a higher education. (Did that seem authentic enough?)

Photo credit by http://smallbiztrends.com/

If you liked this post, you may also be interested in :

Apple: A Case Study

Knowledge Workers on the Web

Social Conversations: Making Sense out of Chaos

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