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Customer advocacy strategy guide

What is a customer advocacy program?

A customer advocacy program describes a strategic move to convert a loyal follower into an active spokesperson for their favorite brands.

The term ‘customer advocacy’ is frequently confused with ‘customer loyalty,’ but while the two are naturally interconnected, they are not one and the same thing. Achieving customer loyalty ensures there is a strong likelihood of repeat business while that customer remains satisfied with your range of products or services. Customer advocacy, on the other hand, aims to make modern-day evangelists of your biggest fans. These evangelists, in turn, will spread the word far and wide about your company.

Just take a look at some of the stats:

  • 75% of advocates are likely to share a good experience
  • Brand advocates are 50% more likely to influence a purchase
  • Advocates are x2-3 more effective than non-advocates
  • 90% of advocates write something positive about their purchasing experience
  • A 12% increase in advocacy = 2x increase in revenue growth
What is an advocacy strategy?

To implement a successful customer advocacy program, a company will typically devise an advocacy strategy that puts the customer front and center.

Where does a company feature in all of this? As much as corporate goals may appear to be taking a backseat within an advocacy strategy, the reality is somewhat different. All being well, fulfilling a customers’ needs and satisfaction levels will ultimately lead to the same happy outcome of long-term customers that secures a company’s future.

So, what does a successful strategy look like?

The first step in any advocacy strategy is to define the primary goal — for example, to generate more revenue for a particular product, or to grow the business as a whole.

Next, an individual is typically appointed to oversee the program. This advocacy marketer identifies the qualities needed and the right customer persona for suitable brand advocates to identify likely candidates. Broadly speaking, an ideal spokesperson will demonstrate loyalty to your company and product, possess a friendly or engaging disposition, and a wide online reach.

It’s important to note that displaying such qualities does not make advocacy a given, with research by the Wharton School of Business concluding that while 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer products and services, only 29% actually do so. Instead, the advocacy marketer heading the program needs to identify true advocates via surveys and other feedback garnering methods that can take the conversation much further.

Cultivating a set of loyal advocates is worth the effort, however, with McKinsey research finding that peer-to-peer marketing linked to around 20 to 50% of purchases.

Engagement specialist SocialToaster’s estimate of a brand advocate’s average reach also makes for impressive reading:

  • 10 advocates = A reach of 6,000
  • 100 advocates = A reach of 60,000
  • 1,000 advocates = A reach of 600,000

It’s not hard to see why customer advocacy is seen as the ultimate marketing tool.

What are some examples of advocacy?

Customer advocacy initiatives can take a number of forms and can start with something as basic as a straightforward testimonial or user quote or be as involved as a full-on case study. Advanced customer advocate programs can even incorporate brand evangelists on webinars or appearances at live conferences.

No one is suggesting that customers will sing about your brand from the rooftops for the sake of pure satisfaction — some incentive or reward is typically attached. This can range from something as straightforward as a discount or some freebies, but ultimately, it may cost you little more than a simple “thank you.” It all depends on the individual relationships that companies can cultivate with their respective customers.

What is the importance of advocacy?

Customer advocates don’t just offer a company the comfort of knowing they have guaranteed sales opportunity in the bag, they have the potential to spread the word far and wide about a brand. It’s this marked ability and concerted effort to sell your brand for you that ensures the crossover between loyal follower and true brand advocate.

Add to that a customer’s natural credibility and impressive reach — not just within their own communities, but across a multitude of platforms, and it’s not difficult to see why customer advocacy tops the agenda for so many marketers.

What are the goals of advocacy?

Understanding exactly what it is that tips the balance from loyal follower to fully-fledged customer advocate is the holy grail for any company, but due to the personalization element involved it can appear to be a frustratingly subjective process — in that what might influence one customer may hold little sway over another.

Forrester analyst Laura Ramos believes things are not as random as they might appear, however. She links four personalities and motivations to distinct customer types that companies can use when devising an advocacy strategy.

Let’s take a look at these in more detail:

Educators — Ready to share knowledge and with a good understanding of products/services. These customers are outgoing, enthusiastic and enjoy helping others and have what Ramos terms ‘the teaching gene’ that gives them a sense of satisfaction from seeing others do well.

Validators — These customers are characterised as being well-spoken, credible and fair in their evaluations. What’s more, they are often willing to go on record with a recommendation and make introductions. Keep these honest and authentic customers on-side, says Ramos, and they’ll be your best supporters — or your biggest critics, if things don’t go to plan.

Status seekers — Ambitious but honest, these customers tend to be strong public speakers, so have extensive networks and have the ability to influence others. According to Ramos, status seekers are particularly strong in keynote presentations, executive introductions, referrals, and webinars — and will enjoy using the spotlight to take their careers forward by working with you, having their name associated with your brand and being considered a thought leader or expert.

Collaborators — Ideal for customer advisory boards, strategic business reviews and other joint ventures, collaborators enjoy being part of an exclusive network where people go out of their way to make important introductions in a clear, reciprocal arrangement. These dedicated and influential customers are willing to invest both time and energy in a brand that will enhance their own personal network.

How can customer advocacy be improved?

An advocacy strategy should always assess and reflect the desired outcome for both parties:

  • Advocacy goals — Why do your customers want to be a part of your community?
  • Business goals — What do you want from the relationship?

It’s important to note that these advocacy goals should always be your priority.

Ironically, the main gripe associated with advocacy programs is that their effectiveness is incredibly difficult to measure, which often results in programs being run on an ad hoc basis with minimal resources.

Oftentimes this failure lies in the unique nature of customer advocacy — in that by putting the emphasis on word-of-mouth recommendations, companies naturally limit their ability to measure such conversations in the tangible formats that generate the insights needed to evaluate programs — such as email, phone calls, messaging and the like.

Tools for customer advocacy

Webinars are a key way to build meaningful connections and develop lasting relationships, offering companies the opportunity to identify potential participants in person.

At ON24, we help companies actively track customer engagement through webinars, something that often allows them to fast-track their advocacy programs by bringing products directly to the table for open review. Panel-based discussions are another key way of building on these relationships, with the invitation to participate in this type of event highly desirable for both companies and their employees — who are able to position themselves as experts within their marketplace.

This tends to make webinars incredibly easy to design and run for a customer advocacy marketer. Generally speaking, they are conducted as: single contact sessions — where multiple users from the same company are brought together (something that can afford invaluable insights into overall account health); or employed as part of a wider customer advocacy program designed to identify the best individuals to work with from a selection of key companies.

There are also a number of tactics you can take to build out a customer advocacy program.

Advocate encouragement tools
Influitive and CrowdVocate allow companies to build a dedicated customer community and introduce activities that will resonate with particular individuals the most. RO Innovation also offers the ability to develop customer voices with curated content, as well as tracking to prevent overuse.

Gifting initiatives
Printfection helps you design and manage your SWAG in a memorable (and suitably tailored) way, spanning a number of customer touch points — including onboarding, as well as rewards for long-term loyalty. Loop and Tie works by enabling selected advocates to choose their own gift from a wide collection, while Tango Card sends customers e-gift cards for retail.

Advocate review sites
In case you didn’t get the memo, online recommendations really do count. This is evidenced by the latest Brightlocal survey from the US, which found that 93% of consumers aged between 35-54 always head online to read reviews. (In case you’re wondering, 82% of people said a negative review online would indeed put them off.) G2 Crowd, TrustRadius and Capterra offer potential customers the opportunity to search, compare and read online software buying guides — making them essential tools for nurturing advocacy.