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What is customer advocacy and how it can boost sales is a question most businesses ask themselves, but aren't really sure where to begin. As a business owner, there is nothing better than watching your sales soar. All of that hard work has paid off and customers are starting to take a keen interest in your products and/or services; it is a great feeling. But, how do you get to this point? Well, there are a few routes you can take on the road to success, however a great place to begin, and one that sometimes doesn't cost a penny, is customer advocacy. As we have seen in previous articles, word-of-mouth marketing may have been around since the dawn of time, yet it still holds the title of the most effective. Now, it goes without saying, not all customers can be pleased, even if they do have a positive experience, but the majority of customers who check-out with a smile on their faces could become advocates for your brand.
In this article, we will answer 'what is customer advocacy', look at how to implement a customer advocacy program, followed by key personality types for advocates, and finally some examples of businesses who have implemented such strategies.
So, What Is Customer Advocacy?
Basically, customer advocacy is a form of customer service where a business focuses on best practices for the consumer. In other words, the majority of marketing strategies strongly revolve around the customers themselves, their needs, and any support they may require. In this day in age, as there is growing competition between companies, it is critical that the customer experience is a priority. Why? Because as technology has advanced over the years, the word can spread in literally a matter of seconds. A customer may have a fantastic experience while shopping, then she relays her experience to a friend, and the word-of-mouth cycle continues.
At the end of the day, customer advocacy is a marketing strategy which aims at placing customers as the main, surprise, surprise, advocates, for the brand. It is a practice that seeks a combination of happy customers and some influential personnel to help advocate and sell your company. With that in mind, let's now explore how to create a customer advocacy program, and the 4 main personalities you will likely encounter in the process, as developed by Laura Ramos, an analyst from Forrester.
What Is A Customer Advocacy Program?
If you are making sales as normal, that's great, but what if you could up the ante and see those sales multiply 5 or 10 fold? That is why creating a customer advocacy program is so important. Regardless of the industry, one simple thing we hear in any business is that the customer is always right. While sometimes this is far from the truth, it is important to remember that when it comes down to it, customers are what can influence the success of your business. This means less time worrying about preventing a negative experience, and more about providing a memorable, unforgettable experience.. In today's fast-paced world, customers are likely to only document their experience if it is negative or memorable. Having just a 'good' experience generally won't push them to take the time to write a review or advocate in some form. This is where the customer advocacy program comes in.
As the name suggests, a customer advocacy program is a marketing strategy whereby customers are seen as advocates for your business. It usually involves offering incentives to those who help promote your brand and make sales, but don't worry, it often doesn't involve financial reward. As soon as you start to offer money to advocates, you run the risk of attracting random people who may not even be interested in your products or services, and simply want to come on board to make money. With that in mind, it is a good idea to steer clear of offering a monetary reward, instead opting for other incentives such as discounts.
Your brand will gain credibility when potential customers can see authentically positive experiences, as opposed to people who have been paid to market them. This process is called 'social proofing', and it is what separates a true and honest recommendation, from someone who has been monetised, and may not necessarily be interested in the company. An added benefit of a customer advocacy program that you incentivise with things such as discounts, is that you bring existing customers back at the same time they are bringing new customers on board. It is a win for your business, as you gain sales and new customers, and its a win for the advocate, as they can get a discount on a company they enjoy and are passionate about.
Steps You Can Take To Create A Customer Advocacy Program For Your Business
Now that you hopefully have an idea of what customer advocacy is, and how it can be incorporated into a program, let's take a look at the steps your business should take if you are considering a customer advocacy program.
- Prepare - As with anything related to a business strategy, preparation and planning are key. Make sure you set up the backend of the program electronically, such as analytics and tracking links. If you can, it is also a good idea to delegate one employee to manage the program, as it will help streamline the process, and reduce the risk of information going missing or being misinterpreted.
- Identify - Even though you might have a few regular customers, it doesn't necessarily mean that they will be a great advocate. Sure, they might enjoy your products or services, but they may not really think of spreading the word. Identifying a candidate who is active in your particular niche is a great start, and if they are a fan of your business, that is even better!
- Develop Relationships - Once you have finished the preparation phase, and identified possible advocates, it is now time to reach out to those on your list and begin, hopefully, a working relationship. It is important, during this phase, to reach out to advocates at the right moment, in the right place, and with the right message. Start a conversation with candidates, either online or offline, and just have a chat. There is no need to bring up why you contacted them right away, because those who seem disinterested if you haven't immediately brought that up, probably don't have the right intentions. Think of it as more of a friendship than anything else, and always work on your relationships. Even if and when they become well-established, it is important to maintain communication.
- Initiate Communication - To be successful in a customer advocacy program, you must be prepared to facilitate communication, regardless of what direction it takes. Take feedback from customers to your chosen advocates, positive or negative, and pass it on to relevant departments. Use this communication back and forth from clients through advocates to really hone in on what is working and what isn't, and act accordingly.
- Keep It Up - By adding your new customer advocacy program to your daily work plan, you will create the time and resources necessary to achieve your goals. If you are a B2C company, you may choose to open the floor for brand advocates to suggest ideas based on the demand they're seeing on their end. For B2B companies, it may be an idea to invite advocates to act as spokespeople at networking events and conferences.
In order to be truly successful with a customer advocacy program, you will need to offer advocates some reward for their time. These could be incentives such as:
- Recognition and shout-outs on company media
- VIP access (behind the scenes, early access)
- Branded clothing for them to wear whilst promoting your company
- Ask your advocates to post on social media wearing said clothing
- Invitations to exclusive company events
- Involve advocates in the feedback and decision-making process
- Offer discounts to advocates so they keep purchasing products and you gain clientele
There are a plethora of ways to help recognise and reward advocates which don't involve money, and that is the best part about a customer advocacy program, especially for small to medium-sized businesses. The first thing to do when considering such a program is to seek out regular customers who are willing to help your company in exchange for a discount on future purchases, for example. If no existing customers are willing to do so, then jump on the internet and perform a search to see who would be an ideal candidate. See below how to identify and categorise certain personalities seen in advocates.
Key Personality Types
Personality types are a major and vital aspect of creating any well-oiled customer advocacy program. This is because these personalities can help you determine what content and various possibilities can be given to each advocate.
Educators are those customers who enjoy sharing their experiences, knowledge, and tips with the wider community. Ultimately, they enjoy helping others, and are highly enthusiastic about sharing their opinions.
This is a person who knows exactly how to express their opinion and usually has a very honest view of their experiences. Validators understand that their opinions and views may not always be agreed with, but they are not afraid to put their views out there to the world.
People who can be very persuasive in their words and has a harsh but fair mentality. As the name suggests, they are looking to take the next step in their career and have an extensive network that helps in advocating for a brand.
A collaborator is a key influential figure who has a strong presence either on social media, in the community, or both. They will be with you for the long-term and are willing to be at your disposal whenever required. However, this is the only advocate out of the 4 that will require a form of monetary incentive and reward.
If you want to remain authentic and save money (let's be honest, who doesn't!), then seeking a relationship with the first 3 personality types is recommended. These personalities can usually be found in existing customers, and I can almost guarantee if you ask a regular customer to become a brand advocate in exchange for discounts on future purchases, you will have yourself a winner! These people will most likely be Educators or Validators who are active on social media and like to boast about their experiences to their friends, family, and wider online community. This method is virtually free and is the most effective, as it is a word-of-mouth strategy.
However, if you are prepared to hand out some money, getting a Status Seeker or Collaborator/Influencer may be the way to go, even if just for a short period. These people, while not direct customers of your business, will have an active following and interest in the niche your brand is involved in, and will hopefully bring in more sales from a broader audience.
So, there are 2 main strategies of customer advocacy to choose from. Either getting existing, regular customers on board in exchange for say a discount, who will have an authentic opinion, but a smaller audience and it is the cheaper option. Or, you spend some money and bring an influencer in to help create brand awareness on a much larger scale, and lose the authenticity.
Businesses Who Have Implemented Successful Customer Advocacy Programs
To stay relevant in today's ever-changing consumer market, a customer advocacy program is a must. Be it on a small or large scale, the end goal is to increase brand awareness and to boost sales. You will find that the majority of businesses have run at least one advocacy campaign, so let's take a look at a few now.
Patagonia - Over the lifespan of clothing retailer, Patagonia, consumers have come to know that their clothing is made with ethically sourced materials. Not only does Patagonia associate with the activist community, but they have also grown their brand through their loyal contribution to transparency. The main target market for the brand is millennials, who are quickly becoming aware of the sheer amount of waste produced by clothing, and therefore are opting to purchase their apparel from Patagonia.
This is an example of customer advocacy without needing to spend a penny. Their brand is quickly becoming known for being sustainably sourced, which resonates with the company's target market. The word is then spread between consumers, therefore boosting sales.
Marriott Hotels - Like Nordstorm, Marriott Hotels empowers employees across their luxury portfolio, to make decisions based on their own merits, and take ownership for each customer. This humanises customers and as soon as they get this feeling, they are more likely to recommend it to their friends. Furthermore, they have employed social media influencer, Tom Claeren, to promote their hotels and services, to his 550k travel-fanatic followers.
Nordstrom - This luxury American clothing store has achieved perhaps the pinnacle of customer advocacy. By training employees to take every customer query on its own merits and not sticking to a script, the customer experience is enhanced. Being empowered to make their own decisions based on individual queries, the feeling of ownership and satisfaction resonates in the customers. This so successful because many companies these days simply stick to a script and it is somewhat robotic when a customer has a query, so for the customer to be treated like a human, advocacy has been created.
Customer advocacy can really boost sales in your particular industry. By following the steps outlined above, you will be well on your way to executing a perfect advocacy plan. Before anything else, begin with existing, regular customers, who can convey an authentic recommendation. It really won't cost you anything and will help increase sales. If you are in the stage where you wish to broaden your market, then it is time to think about getting an influencer or status seeker on board.
Remember, from small things, big things grow!