Building Brand Trust Through Trusted Advocates

Nothing builds trust like a third-party endorsement; especially an endorsement from someone the consumer knows and trusts. Brand advocates extend your brand to their personal networks, generating more inherent trust among prospects. Customer advocacy and brand advocacy programs are interchangeable terms describing when companies cultivate brand advocates in a dedicated effort.

customeradvocacyNothing builds trust like a third-party endorsement — especially an endorsement from someone the consumer knows and trusts. Brand advocates extend your brand to their personal networks, generating more inherent trust among prospects. Customer advocacy, or brand advocacy, occurs when companies cultivate brand advocates in a dedicated effort.

A customer advocacy program aims to build consumer trust by increasing the volume of trusted voices on behalf of the brand. Brand advocates are most likely to be your customers or employees, but they could also be analysts, partners, writers or others involved with your industry, category, company, or products and services.

While advocates can appear naturally and organically, a successful customer advocacy program requires the structure, funding, time and talent to find, recruit and nurture these valued relationships. The program must meet the needs of both new and long-time advocates, from various locations, across target populations, in different channels, with different motivations and different response triggers.

It may seem like a monumental amount of work, but it will be worth it. All evidence suggests that quality personal recommendations and objective reviews highly impact buying decisions. And the results are even more exaggerated in decisions regarding technology, high-ticket items and B-to-B.

As consumers become less reachable through traditional advertising methods, a customer advocacy strategy becomes a necessity. The crux of a consumer advocacy program is finding the right advocates to engage in strategic brand conversations. These advocates may have a lot of followers and influence, or they may serve a niche audience. Most importantly, you want them to have passion and knowledge of your subject area and relevant topics to assure credibility. These advocates are often found on social media, but can also be gleaned from customer email lists and other channels.

Dedicate social listening and other research efforts to look for those with digital influence, quality content and brand affinity. You want them to already have a platform that you can enhance with product trials or betas, special access to company leadership, partnership opportunities and special offers for their followers. But reward their brand participation only through a completely transparent relationship, so as to protect the your public integrity and trust.

A brand with a customer advocacy mindset thinks of their advocates as more than opportunistic sources of content, leads or sales. Smart brands cultivate customer advocates as precious resources that create credibility and positive sentiment, reaching into and influencing populations the brand can’t touch as effectively itself. If a brand is authentic and responsive to these advocates, the relationship can start dialogue that returns immediate value.

The brand derives value from customer advocacy in numerous ways, including:

  • Frank feedback from knowledgeable and objective resources.
  • Reviews and testimonials that ring honestly to broad audiences.
  • Increased referral rates.
  • Humanization of the organization or brand.
  • An empowered staff.
  • Personalization of the customer experience.
  • Development of third-party resources, knowledge bases and assets.
  • Increased positive brand sentiment.
  • Increased overall awareness, share-of-voice and influence in your industry.
  • Increased leads and sales.

Tracking the value of an advocacy program requires the same strategic approach as other marketing program analytics. Start by crafting a goal statement that outlines specific, quantifiable objectives and then benchmark the appropriate KPIs. Regularly track and report against goals to keep the program performance on target, and to understand the relative value of different advocates. Look for impacts on business outcomes, not just measures of activity, to draw a straight line between this critical effort and your strategic business goals.

It is likely that your program analytics will identify some assets and channels that have more activity than others. Share these great stories and numbers with your team to develop key insights about your audiences and inform content planning across the organization.

Many organizations are investing in some of the activities that define a customer advocacy program but have yet to combine the elements into a cohesive plan under dedicated leadership with appropriate goals and funding. Plant the seeds for a true customer advocacy program by following these few key rules for advocacy within your organization:

  1. Earn Trust: Brand trust is essential to advocacy success. Organizations or brands challenged by scandal or disappointed customers should reform their business practices before attempting to encourage word-of-mouth marketing.
  2. Show Empathy: Understanding and communicating an emotional brand message will resonate with audiences in a way that other messaging approaches cannot.
  3. Focus on Quality: You don’t need the biggest network of advocates — you need the most impactful.
  4. Think Long Term: You will need to dedicate resources and incorporate advocacy activity into strategic planning.

Want to know more about building an effective customer advocacy program? View our free, one-hour webinar on the topic with audience Q&A, available here until 3/2/2017.

3 Ways Social Communities and Engagement Will Redefine Marketing

The growth of social media provides many new opportunities for brands, including the ability to identify best customers and influencers, and to actively engage those influencers to grow brand advocacy and community. Naturally, it’s this prospect that’s helped fuel the enormous growth in spending across and within key social communities like Facebook, YouTube and more.

The growth of social media provides many new opportunities for brands, including the ability to identify best customers and influencers, and to actively engage those influencers to grow brand advocacy and community. Naturally, it’s this prospect that’s helped fuel the enormous growth in spending across and within key social communities like Facebook, YouTube and more.

But as always, marketers have been pressured to do more with less, particularly in today’s tough economy. That means even more pressure to track and measure marketing program success. For many marketers that success is increasingly defined by engagement and the ability to measure its value and impact on the brand. But what’s the value of engagement?

One of the best studies I’ve seen on this front was conducted by Aite Group. The study looked at the relationship between Generation Y and their banks. It dove into how the level of engagement impacted loyalty, influence, advocacy and sales. Specifically, Aite Group found that highly engaged Gen Yers are significantly more likely to use their debit cards, pay their bills online and receive email.

These users were also more than 3.4 times more likely to use their bank’s website and social networks to research products. Additionally, highly engaged Gen Yers were found to be high-value customers. Specifically, they were 86 percent more likely to open new accounts, 73 percent more likely to recommend their bank and 62 percent more likely to trust their bank.

While the value of engagement is likely to vary by industry and brand, one thing is certain: Social engagement is an important component to add to your integrated marketing tracking and it will have a profound effect on the way you plan, target, execute and measure marketing for many years to come. Here are some of the most important changes you’ll see as a result of realizing the enormous value of catering to highly engaged consumers who use social media and influence others:

1. Media mix allocation tools and research will include social channels. Social will take its rightful place in the marketing toolbox as media mix allocation tools and research include social media platforms and networks as viable options. Business goals, target audience, product type and targeting approach (e.g., geographic, behavioral, contextual) will be re-examined to help marketers prioritize and allocate budgets to appropriate channels, including social — e.g., when a new product launches.

More ambitious marketers will embark on customer research projects to customize these findings for their specific products and targets — i.e., prospects and customers — as social formally joins the budget and planning process.

2. Engagement filtering and targeting capabilities will emerge. The emergence and importance of engagement combined with the growth and increasing activity across social networks and communities will redefine how, who and when you target. You’ll see the emergence of next generation query tools that will allow brands to select and target consumers by applying channel and engagement weightings and filters based on the program or campaign objectives and goals. Highly engaged users will be tapped more aggressively to help launch new products and drive product adoption and sales across the social web.

3. Marketing plans and roll-out strategies will be reinvented. Product launch cycles will continue to be impacted by social channels and emerging technologies. Marketers will become better at not only identifying key influencers and highly engaged users across their respective communities, but also crafting more targeted messages to these audiences to encourage the desired behavior.

As a result, new product launches will be supported by a more formalized and sophisticated roll-out plan. Imagine a world where a new product launch will include a phased rollout. Phase one would include a roll out to key influencers where ideas are exchanged, feedback is collected and enhancements/revisions are made. Phase two would include a soft launch to loyalty or highly engaged users as advocacy and product education continues. Lastly, phase three would include a general or mass market-supported rollout. Communications and tactics within each of these audiences will also be customized to include various communication stages such as education, trial and feedback, and, hopefully, purchasing followed by advocacy.

There’s little doubt the emergence of social media and growth of social brand communities has impacted marketing as we know it. However, bigger changes are in store for marketers as communities occupy an increasing role and influence in the success of brands. This radical sea change requires new thinking and processes.

Marketers who can connect the dots by embracing these new channels and tying social interactions (i.e., engagement) to traditional CRM systems will be a step ahead. However, the real winners will be those that can leverage that data by implementing new strategies and tactics to support the social web and grow brand advocacy and marketing success.