Most organizations depend on their marketing departments to be the voice of their business and act as a direct channel to their customers. This is usually done with strategies that focus on social media, search engine optimization and marketing, content marketing and email marketing. These strategies are successful ways to get your brand message out there. However, many businesses are now tapping into a form of marketing growing in popularity–advocacy marketing.

There are two forms of advocacy marketing businesses can utilize employee advocacy and customer advocacy. Although closely related, there are some fundamental differences in both employee advocacy and customer advocacy. As the names imply, employee advocacy deals strictly with your employees. Customer advocacy focuses only on your customers. In the following article, we’ll be exploring the “customer” side of advocacy. We’ll cover what it is, why it’s important, the overall benefits and how to start your customer advocacy program.

What Is Customer Advocacy?

Customer advocacy is a specialized form of customer service that focuses solely on what’s best for the customer. It encompasses all aspects of contact that your company has with its consumers. This includes services, sales, products, support and even complaints. Customer advocacy provides businesses an excellent way to leverage their most loyal and passionate customers.

Advocacy takes place when you have customers that love your brand so much that they are willing to sing your praises to anyone. They become loyal brand ambassadors. You can leverage them to increase brand awareness, sales and ultimately your bottom line.

Taking Advocacy More Seriously

Customer advocates take part in more than just speaking positively on behalf of your brand. Take the computer hardware retailer, Newegg. To stay competitive with Amazon (a huge competitor), they leveraged a software called Needle. Needle allowed them to connect customers with their most passionate, loyal and tech-savvy advocates. This improved the buying experience for active shoppers. Now Newegg customers who were shopping get real-time advice from passionate fans and consumers who’ve had experience with those products.

Using customer advocacy can be an excellent way to engage with other consumers and market your business at little-to-no cost. Your advocates are communicating with people who will be more trusting of what they have to say. According to research by Edelman’s trust barometer, customers trust each other more than content from business-owned digital real estate, such as a Facebook Page or a corporate website.

By spreading your brand message through customer advocates, you reach the right people at the right time with the perfect message. This helps increase your credibility, brand engagement and it also demonstrates your commitment to your customers. This also impacts sales in a positive way. Research shows that customer advocates are 50% more likely to influence a purchasing decision.

Why Is Customer Advocacy Important?

Similar to your employees, your customers are one of your most valuable marketing assets. A growing number of organizations have started to figure this out. They are now taking steps to integrate customer advocacy into their marketing strategy. But if you’re just getting started in the world of customer advocacy, you may be wondering how it can benefit your business. To gain better insight into this, we’ve put together six reasons why customer advocacy is important to your business:

1. People Trust People, Not Brands

In addition to the Edelman Trust Barometer, consumer trust research by Nielsen found 92% of people trusted recommendations from people they know. They trusted these recommendations over all other forms of marketing. In addition to this, 47% of people trusted ads on television while only 33% of people trusted online banner ads.

Marketers have known for some time that the average consumer is getting much smarter. No longer can they just continually throw marketing messages out and expect results. Because of this, it’s recommended that organizations take a look at their marketing budget. How much is appropriated to TV, radio or banner ads and compare that to how much is being spent on customer advocacy.

2. Word of Mouth Marketing Plays an Essential Role in Purchasing Decisions

Based on the numerous studies on consumer purchasing habits, it’s no surprise word of mouth marketing is the primary factor behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions. With the explosive growth of digital media channels like social media and blogs, it is easier than ever to check out reviews of products and services.

Customer advocates who have first-hand experience with your products can be your digital sales force. This sales force can help give you referral leads and sell products or services through word of mouth marketing.

3. Writing Positive Reviews of Your Products or Services

Like it or not, your business is talked about online and rated by consumers. With a simple Google search, you can find a rating for everything. From an employee advocacy platform such as Bambu to the new Harry Potter book you’ve been waiting for, nearly everything has reviews.

Customers increasingly rely on these reviews to help them make their purchasing decision. Reviews also increase your brand’s chances of being discovered online. Reviews can help you beat out a competitor and increase your on-site conversion rates. What’s great is that your customer advocates will be more than happy to leave you a great review or come to the rescue when a poorly-written review is made about you.

4. They Can Answer Prospects’ Questions

Your most loyal brand advocates are intimately familiar with your products. They can answer prospects’ questions and help potential customers overcome buyer’s objections. This helps reduce shopping cart abandonments and increases on-site conversion rates. This is exactly what Newegg did in the example we mentioned earlier. The company allowed their tech-savvy advocates who had first-hand experience with products to connect with prospects in real time to help improve the buying experience of their active shoppers.

Think about your cost per acquisition of a customer. This cost can range based on the industry you’re in, but it typically costs you something to get a new client or sell a product. A new customer acquired through word of mouth marketing via a customer advocate costs you nothing.

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

This is one of the most attractive features of this type of advocacy program.

5. Referred Customers Are Typically Less Sensitive to Price

Because referred customers are brought in by someone they know, they’re less likely to negotiate over the price. This is because referred customers trust you by way of the individual who referred them to you.

They also have higher lifetime values than customers acquired through other means. A 10,000 person study done by Goeth University found referred customers not only had higher margins and churned less, but also higher lifetime value than other customers.

6. They’re Repeat Customers Who Spend More Money

Besides all the benefits listed above, your customer advocates are also valuable monetarily. Not only will they come back and buy from you on a regular basis, but they’ll also choose to add-on, upgrade and renew subscriptions without thinking twice. By showing customer advocates you care about them, they’re more inclined to keep coming back. This makes customer advocates a significant revenue source.

Steps to Develop a Customer Advocacy Program

Now that you know how a customer advocacy program can positively impact your business, it’s time to think about putting it into practice. Being one of the most talked about brands in your industry helps you connect with other customers in a meaningful way. It also helps you outpace the competition. When you create a sustainable customer advocacy program, you need to:

Define Your Objectives

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish with your program. Without setting a plan, you’re flying blind. If you know exactly what you want to accomplish, you can better direct your advocates to reach your overall objectives.

Identify Your Audience

Once you build your community, it’s time to determine who’s the best fit for your program. Understand there are two types of audiences you will come across. The first type is the true loyalists. They are the truly interested and engaged people with your brand.

The second is the opportunists. Their motivation for engagement is usually incentive-based. Pay close attention to your community. It’s important to observe audience behaviors such as consistency and contributions to the brand. Once you have a list of potential candidates, you should segment the list further to prioritize individuals would be a good fit for your program.

Cultivate Your Relationships

Once you identify who’s participating in your program, you need to think about how to keep them engaged. This will help cultivate the relationship between the brand and the brand advocate.

Be open to feedback and pay close attention to it. This helps strengthen the bond between you and your advocates and give them a sense of ownership. Additionally, you can allow members to engage with one another or provide them with a tool that makes content sharing simple.

Focus on Amplification

You have to think of ways to increase the reach of what advocates share. This is accomplished by sharing their content on your own social media business pages or publicly identifying them in posts on social media. This will amplifies the reach of their content and also helps keep them engaged.

Through Bambu’s content sharing tools, you can amplify your brand advocates posts. With a team strictly made up of your advocates, you can curate their content and allow other advocates to share it on their social feeds. Bambu provides an easy way for your advocates to share advocate-created content on their Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook pages.

Reward Your Advocates

Recognize and reward your advocates to keep them engaged with your program for the long-term. Creating leaderboards on Facebook or your websites for who shares the most content can be a great way to keep people engaged. Send the winners free swag or small items of appreciation for the loyalty and shares.

You can reward your advocates by delivering exclusivity. This makes your advocates feel like they are part of a special group that no one else has access to. It creates a certain atmosphere that is rewarding to your advocates and will help keep them thrilled about participating. Give them access to special events, early product launch info and exclusive sneak peeks. These are great ways to reward them for helping you spread the word about your brand.

Measure Your Impact

One you’ve given your advocacy program some time to run, it’s important that you measure its effectiveness. By doing this, you can optimize your program, measure its effectiveness and ensure that you are meeting your objectives you set in your first step. Some metrics you can look at are:

  • Actions made by your advocates such as reviews, recommendations and social sharing.
  • Who are the advocates that contribute the most?
  • What are your top social channels?
  • Sales number generated via social channels.
  • Reduction in customer acquisition costs.

By understanding the benefits of customer advocacy and incorporating it into your overall marketing strategies, you can reap the rewards on multiple fronts. Sure, you can lower costs and drive sales, but more importantly, you can truly build a relationship with your customers. And a relationship built on trust and credibility shows your community you care about your customers.