Today’s data-rich marketing technology space is giving companies insights into their customers and their networks at speeds and depths that were unfathomable just a few years ago. Of course, there’s a price to that data and you have to use it responsibly to create personalized customer experiences that delight and foster. Additionally, you want to have a reciprocal feeling with your brand advocates and not make them feel over-watched and tracked.

Delighting, fostering employee advocacy, creating experiences–these are all tenets of relationship building, and nowhere in your marketing mix do you have a better opportunity to build relationships like these than in the inbox.

Email is a goldmine for finding and nurturing advocates

Email marketing and marketing automation tools have come a long way in recent years. These tools offer businesses of all sizes the ability to truly personalize the experience a subscriber has with the company from emails.

At the most basic level, you should have site tracking in place that logs subscriber activity on your website. You should also have a method to tag (or label) subscribers who express interest in certain types of content or for those who exhibit certain behaviors that may qualify as an advocate./

Why you need a ‘brand advocates’ email segment

When you use the tools and techniques discussed above, you’ll have a functional email marketing program that can nurture relationships instead of “blasting” promotional content from unmonitored sender addresses. This will help you piece together data that identifies subscribers as interested, activated and enthusiastic with your brand.

Those are your advocates. The people who read, click, share, reply (yes, it’s okay to have actual dialog with your subscribers), buy, buy again, follow you and mention you are the advocates you want to make sure you recognize by segmenting them in your email list.

Ingredients of a brand advocate segment & why scoring is easier

We just broke down eight different ways to identify someone who is clearly excited about your company, products services, and content. Here they are again:

  1. Email Reads (opens)
  2. Email Clicks
  3. Social Shares
  4. Email Replies
  5. Purchases
  6. Customer Lifetime Value
  7. Social Channel Followers
  8. Mentions (on social, blogs, etc.)

Some combination of activity among these eight attributions of a brand advocate should put them on your radar. As the activity levels increase, you would want to nurture that relationship.

This is why we like to use scoring in emails. Long used for sales teams, lead scoring simply assigns a numeric value to a prospect that designates their depth of interest in becoming a customer, based on specific activity triggered during the buying journey.

We can use the same framework to identify and nurture advocates, and assign points to each type of activity a subscriber might demonstrate as their advocacy for your company grows. At a certain threshold, they’ve accumulated enough points to be considered an advocate, and then, you can put these specific people into your “brand advocate” segment.

We’ll discuss what you can do with that segment in a bit, but for now, here’s a sample engagement scoring formula that uses the first four items on the above list (reads, clicks, shares and replies).

Example brand advocates email segment scoring formula

Since there are dozens of different lifecycle emails that companies can send and track, we need to make an assumption for this particular formula. Keep in mind that you do not need a single scoring formula for your entire subscriber base. Different types of advocacy initiatives can be measured independently and with different scoring.

For the purposes of this example, let’s assume we’re handling a healthy B2B email list (meeting, at minimum, benchmark rates for their industry as described by this Silverpop report) and a weekly email newsletter that contains an average of five links to articles about the company.

To do this as accurately as possible, we need to break our scoring into two parts: email engagement and advocacy engagement–then we can add them together to get our final score.

Email engagement: 11 possible points (per weekly newsletter)

  • 1 point: Email open
  • 10 points: Email reply

Advocacy engagement: 14 possible points (per link in each weekly newsletter)

  • 5 points: Link click (within email)
  • 2 points: Share on Facebook
  • 2 points: Share on Twitter
  • 5 points: Share on LinkedIn

More assumptions: We are measuring advocacy, so while it’s a slightly unrealistic expectation, for simplicity’s sake, we assume that a subscriber who would be considered a brand advocate will share the link to all three social networks (and since the example is B2B, LinkedIn has a higher weight). In order to properly account for the sharing, we have to include the link click here, instead of in the email engagement section. Otherwise it would be possible to score highly for being an avid reader (but not necessarily an advocate).

With our framework in place, we need to calculate a realistic score threshold at which a brand advocate would be identified.

Not all emails will be read, not all links will be clicked on and shared.

Calculate the monthly score at 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% adoption (remember, there are five links in each newsletter, so in the course of a month, you will have four emails and 20 links).

For this example, your chart will look like this:

Tip: You could use other areas to make optimization decisions. For example, if your subscribers top out consistently below 150, you’d know either the content you’re sending them isn’t relevant and therefore isn’t actionable. It could also be that your email design isn’t putting the focus on your primary call to action.The shaded area is where we will focus to determine the most appropriate score for our brand advocates. This is because it represents a subscriber who is consistently sharing the links being sent to them.

The average score of the shaded area is 202 and the third quartile tops out at 263. Let’s meet somewhere in the middle with a score of 232.

Looking at the chart, this score would qualify someone who consistently shares 75% of the content you send them and opens half your email newsletters each month. In real numbers, that’s roughly two emails read per month, and seven to eight total articles shared to all three major social networks. We would call this person a brand advocate–wouldn’t you?

Before you send your email marketing team a request to implement this scoring framework and create a brand advocate segment trigger once a subscriber reaches 232 points, do two more things:

  1. Set the points to expire three months after they’re earned (so you have a rolling score)
  2. Set the threshold to 696 (or round up to 700) to be the actual point total to trigger your brand advocate segment. This represents a three month total of consistent advocacy through your email newsletters versus a new subscriber getting hot on your content for a short period of time and still qualifying for this coveted advocate segment.

You have your brand advocate segment, now what?

Once you’ve identified these advocates, your goal is to nurture the relationship by personalizing their experience as much as possible. Practically speaking, the easiest thing to do is to vary your call to action text within your emails. You already know these people are going to click and share, so experiment with a different ask (while still providing access to the links that made them qualify for this segment in the first place). Use a click-to-Tweet link, provide some pre-written copy, hashtags, or an image to help their shares stand out. Using an advocacy platform like Bambu makes this process easy and manageable.

As time goes on and scores go up, you’ll also need to consider who might qualify for a deeper relationship in your customer advocacy program. In this MarketingProfs article, five stages of customer advocacy are identified and this content would fall under Stage 2: The Enthusiast.

Finally, if you decide to use scoring and other forms of data analysis to segment and nurture brand advocates, please remember that in the end, you are still building relationships with people, not numbers or data points. People who have already built a solid relationship with your brand and those who are advocates because they have positive experiences will want to share with their friends and colleagues. Don’t lose sight of the human element to advocacy, which is really what makes it all work in the first place.