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.

The Most Effective Webinar Follow-up Email

“Was it helpful?”

That’s what your webinar should have been. Helpful in an actionable way. If it wasn’t? Sales representatives should gather intelligence and report their findings to the marketing department.

Thus, “Was it helpful?” is a very effective subject line when sending your webinar follow-up email message — I use it with my own business and clients successfully. Try it.

Will Slack Replace Email?“Was it helpful?”

That’s what your webinar should have been. Helpful in an actionable way. If it wasn’t? Sales representatives should gather intelligence and report their findings to the marketing department.

Thus, “Was it helpful?” is a very effective subject line when sending your webinar follow-up email message — I use it with my own business and clients successfully. Try it for yourself.

“I used this technique on a webinar follow-up yesterday and WOW, that really worked,” says Linda Simonsen of DigitalEd.

“I have never got such quick feedback (less than one hour).”

Following up With Attendees

“Did the   [insert title]    class last week help you   [insert goal of your customer]  ?”

Boom. Done. That’s your message. Nothing else.

No long-winded yackity-yack reminding the attendee about content of the webinar. You know they attended, now get to the point. They’re on a mobile device, pressed for time. Your buyers are deleting, deleting, deleting.

Stop them. Provoke them.

Give your customer a reason to hit reply and tell you — yes or no. It was helpful or it was not. In most cases they’ll even tell you why.

And they’ll tell you that crucial why because you asked in a way that provoked a response. Your approach style was brief, blunt and right to the point. In fact, your email really stood out because it was so darned short!

Why it works

Because it’s atypical. It’s not an awful template!

The best inbound lead follow up messages avoid standard templates found on Google.

This tactic helps you get in the discussion with prospects about their world, objectives, pains, fears and pressures. This approach helps them develop and act on the urge to hit reply and start the conversation.

Additionally, avoid calling your webinar a webinar. Make it a class, make it actionable. Classes have homework, did your webinar? Or was it typical — overloading attendees with information, overwhelming them to the point of preventing them from taking action on any of it?

What About Non-Attendees?

Since most webinars offer video replays, the same question applies. “Was it helpful?” Within the copy of your message simply adjust to include proper context. Segment your list and mail non-attendees a slightly different, equally provocative, message.

“Did the video replay of last week’s   [insert title]   class help you   [insert goal of your customer]  ?”

Ask the Question, Bluntly

Even if the goal of your webinar class is to shift a mindset, ask the question.

“Did the content marketing class help you see the challenge of empowering sellers with content differently … in a way you can act on?”

Yes or no.

The bluntness of this approach is why it works. Being direct (and brief!) gives customers freedom to share candid thoughts.

Rather than responding how customers typically do — hitting the delete button — they hit reply and let you know, quickly. That is what unsolicited email demands.

Being effective requires you to use short bursts of communications.

When Companies Lose Customers …

United Parcel Service suffered staggering customer defection as a consequence of its 15-day Teamsters work stoppage in 1997. The result was that, even after their 80,000 drivers were back behind the wheels of their delivery trucks or tractor-trailers, many thousands of UPS workers were laid off. A UPS manager in Arkansas was quoted as saying: “To the degree that our customers come back will dictate whether those jobs come back.”

United Parcel Service suffered staggering customer defection as a consequence of its 15-day Teamsters work stoppage in 1997. The result was that, even after their 80,000 drivers were back behind the wheels of their delivery trucks or tractor-trailers, many thousands of UPS workers were laid off. A UPS manager in Arkansas was quoted as saying: “To the degree that our customers come back will dictate whether those jobs come back.”

The UPS loss was a gain for Federal Express, Airborne, RPS and even the United States Postal Service. They provided services during the strike that made UPS’ customers see the dangers of using a single delivery company to handle their packages and parcels. FedEx, for example, reported expecting to keep as much as 25 percent of the 850,000 additional packages it delivered each day of the strike.

UPS’ customer loss woes and the impact on its employees was a very public display of the consequences of customer turnover. Most customer loss is relatively unseen, but it has been determined that many companies lose between 10 percent and 40 percent of their customers each year. Still more customers fall into a level of dormancy, or reduced “share of customer” with their current supplier, moving their business to other companies, thus decreasing the amount they spend with the original supplier. The economic impact on companies, not to mention the crushing moral effect on employees—downsizing, rightsizing, plant closings, layoffs, etc.—are the real effects of customer loss.

Lost jobs and lost profits propelled UPS into an aggressive win-back mode as soon as the strike was settled. Customers began receiving phone calls from UPS officials assuring them that UPS was back in business, apologizing for the inconvenience and pledging that their former reliability had been restored. Drivers dropping by for pick-ups were cheerful and confident, and they reinforced that things were back to normal. UPS issued letters of apology and discount certificates to customers to further help heal the wounds and rebuild trust. And face-to-face meetings with customers large and small were initiated by UPS—all with the goal of getting the business back.

These win-back initiatives formed an important bridge of recovery back to the customer. And it worked. The actions, coupled with the company’s cost-effective services, continuing advances in shipping technology, and the dramatic growth of online shopping, enabled UPS to reinstate many laid off workers while increasing its profits a remarkable 87 percent in the year following the devastating strike.

UPS is hardly an isolated case. Protecting customer relationships in these uncertain times is a fact of life for every business. We’ve entered a new era of customer defection, where customer churn is reaching epidemic proportions and is wrecking businesses and lives along the way. It’s time to truly understand the consequences of customer loss and, in turn, apply proven win-back strategies to regain these valuable customers.

Nowhere are the effects of customer defection more visible than in the world of Internet and mobile commerce, where the opportunities for customer loss occur at warp speed. E-tailers and Web service companies are spending incredible sums of money to draw customers to their sites, and to modify their messages and images so that they are compatible and user-friendly on all devices. Because of this, relatively few of these companies, including many well-established sites, have turned a profit. Customer loss (and lack of recovery) is a key contributor. E-customers have proven to be a high-maintenance lot. They want value, and they want it fast. These customers show little tolerance for poor Web architecture and navigation, difficult to read pages, and outdated information or insufficient customer service. Expectations for user experience are very high, and rising rapidly.

Internet and mobile customers, to be sure, have some of the same value delivery needs as brick-and-mortar customers; but, they are also different from brick-and-mortar customers in many important and loyalty-leveraging respects. They are more demanding and require much more contact. They require multi-layer benefits, in the form of personalization, choice, customized experience, privacy, current information, competitive pricing and feedback. They want partnering and networking opportunities. When site download times are too long, order placement mechanisms too cumbersome, order acknowledgment too slow, or customer service too overwhelmed to respond in a timely fashion, online shoppers will quickly abandon their purchase transactions or not repeat them. Further, they are highly unlikely to return to a site which has caused negative experiences.

What’s more, the new communication channels also serve as a high-speed information pathway for negative customer opinion. If unhappy customers in the brick-and-mortar world usually express their displeasure to between two and 20 people, on the Internet, angry former customers have the opportunity to impact thousands more. There are now scores of sites offering similar negative messages about companies in many industries, and giving customers, and even former employees, a place to express grievances. It’s a new form of angry former customer sabotage, which adds to the economic and cultural effect of customer turnover.

For many of these sites, part of their charter is to help consumers find value; and, like us, they understand that customers will provide loyalty in exchange for value. They also recognize that the absence of value drives customer loss, and that insufficient or ineffective feedback handling processes can create high turnover. As one states: “The Internet is the most consumer-centric medium in history—and we will help consumers use it to their greatest personal advantage. We will increase the influence of individuals through networks of millions. We will raise the stakes for companies to respond. We will require companies to respect consumers’ choice, privacy and time, and will expose those that do not.” This may sound a bit like Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” but it does acknowledge the power of negative, as well as positive, customer feedback.

Some businesses seem minimally concerned about losing a customer; but the only thing worse than the loss of high value customers is neglecting the opportunity to win them back. When customer lifetime value is interrupted, it often makes both economic and cultural sense for the company to make an active, serious effort to recover them. This is true for both business-to-business and consumer products or services.

So how does a company defend itself against the perils of customer loss? The best plan, of course, is a proactive one that anticipates customer defection and works hard to lessen the risk. Companies need defection-proofing strategies, including intelligent gathering and application of customer data, the use of customer teams, creating employee loyalty, engagement and ambassadorship, and the basic strategy of targeting the right kind of customers in the first place. But in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, no retention or relationship program is complete without a save and win-back component. There is mounting evidence that the probability of win-back success and the benefits surrounding it far outweigh the investment costs. Yet, most companies are largely unprepared to address this opportunity. It’s costing them dearly, and even driving them out of business.

Building and sustaining customer loyalty behavior is harder than ever before. Now is the time to put in place specific strategies and tools for winning back lost customers, saving customers on the brink of defection and making your company defection-proof.