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Customer Loyalty and Advocacy are Not Interchangeable Concepts

Apple LoyaltyI have attended a few conferences lately where I’ve heard both presenters and attendees use the terms “customer loyalty” and “customer advocacy” interchangeably, which frustrates me to no end – especially when it’s done by so-called “marketing experts.” In my experience, customer loyalty and advocacy are not interchangeable concepts.  There’s a significant difference between the two. In fact, one is a prerequisite for the other.  A loyal customer is not necessarily an advocate and an advocate cannot be earned without first solidifying loyalty.

Both loyalty and advocacy are specific stages in the customer life cycle,not isolated, stand-alone concepts. Too often businesses don’t understand the specific stages through which a customer progresses post-purchase, and assume that the path to advocacy is somehow automatic. Or worse, that there’s no difference between loyalty and advocacy at all.

The Post-Purchase Customer Life Cycle

Each business will have its own post-purchase life cycle stages; however, the most common stages applicable to all businesses are satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

1. Satisfaction.  Customers experience a sense of worry or fear when a product is first purchased. “Did I make the right decision?” or “Did I pay too much?” are questions considered immediately after making a purchase decision.  This is not fertile ground for the building of loyal customers. In fact, the next stage cannot be achieved without first proving to customers that they made the right decision.  This stage is not necessarily short-term and is only ended when the customer moves into the loyalty stage. This is where most businesses lose customers.

Business Tips:

– Have a cross-over strategy that provides the account and customer service teams with the expectations that were set by the sales team.
– Contact the customer within X days of the purchase order and/or product delivery to offer assistance with product training, set up, or other support.
– Share additional customer testimonials or connect them to customer advocates or online forums set up for customers and advocates.

2. Loyalty. Once customers are adequately satisfied that they made the right purchase decision, they become open to the concept of loyalty towards that product or brand. At this stage the account team (and other operational teams) must demonstrate how their product or service meets or surpasses the initial expectation or promises made by the marketing collateral or sales team.  A loyal customer ignores hiccups or interruptions in meeting their expectations and rarely seeks alternatives.

Business Tips:

– Ask  customers to participate in the writing of a case study or whitepaper on their use of the product/service and how it has impacted their business.
– Invite the customer to a customer-only wiki or forum to engage with other customers, or to participate in future R&D initiatives.

3. Advocacy. After loyalty has been firmly established, a customer may be moved into the advocacy stage; however this is the most difficult transition to make. Loyal customers will share their affinity for a product when enticed to do so with points, rewards, and other forms of compensation for their patronage.  Advocates, on the other hand, will voluntarily offer their time and resources to share their love of your brand with their peers, without expectation of recognition or reward. but they don’t offer this up easily.

Business Tips:

– Monitor the online conversation created or shared by your loyal customers to determine who is progressing from the loyalty stage to the advocate stage.
– Using those customers identified, create benchmarks and common profiles that can be applied against your database of loyal customers.
– Identify patterns in consumer profiles or engagement styles across different touch points with the brand. Use this information to reallocate resources towards funneling others towards advocacy.

To achieve loyalty or advocacy, at a minimum the business must provide a product(s) that meets users’ needs and deliver or support it in a manner that creates an emotional connection with the customer. Each has the same baseline requirement, yet they’re not interchangeable concepts.

Earning loyalty and advocacy from customers is based on their acceptance of your product and service; it may help to look at each from the customers’ point of view. What do they think and do at each stage?

The “Satisfied Customer”

What he/she thinks: My choice to purchase this product or service was not a mistake.

What he/she does:  Stops weighing the pros and cons of the product and starts focusing on the value it provides his/her business.

The “Loyal Customer”

What he/she thinks: This product has consistently delivered the function that was promised to me in the sales process.

What he/she does: Continues to purchase/use the products or services, even when minor hiccups occur in the product’s quality or the business’s service; does not actively research alternatives even when the cost of purchasing/using the product  or service increases.

The “Advocate”

What he/she thinks: The experience of using this product or working with this business has far surpassed my expectations.

What he/she does: Voluntarily and actively shares their experiences with colleagues without the expectation of reward or recognition; publicly shares photos and/or stories of their experiences with the business in online or offline media.

Unfortunately, too few businesses understand the value of building the customer relationship post-purchase, let alone the specific stages in that post-purchase path. Breaking down these stages – and the touch points within each stage – is critical to growing a powerful advocate army.

Sensei Debates: What is the difference between loyalty and advocacy? Is there a difference in practice? Or is this just a scholastic discussion? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego

Image Credit: Terry Johnston, via Creative Commons


Join the Conversation

chieflemonhead 5pts

Fantastic post, Sam! I have heard these terms tossed around as well. And, though I agree that there are not interchangeable, I would argue that advocacy does not require loyalty. Post-transaction, many things transpire between the consumer and the brand/product/service. Your prescriptions for satisfaction and loyalty are great thought starters. Advocacy can result from those activities... however, it is important to note that advocacy can come from someone who is not a consumer at all!

Think: Ferrari, Ritz Carlton or baby diapers! There are brands you advocate for because you aspire to be a part of those communities, or because they were the brand your parents used on you (even if you don't have children yet). There are brands you advocate for because you believe in their positioning, although you don't necessarily need their product or service (think: MV-1).

You are 100% correct in noting that loyalty does NOT equal advocacy. But I would argue that one is not a succession to the other.



Excellent points Sam, as marketers we cannot carelessly toss around terms; like ROI for example. It's a real challenge for businesses of any size to stay laser focused on the customer experience. I am always been amazed by the fact some clients are willing to spend hundreds of dollars to acquire a customer but balk at spending $10-$20 on retention. I believe a significant influencing factor is a tactical approach we get lost in pursuit of tactics often losing sight of the bigger picture. 

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@SMSJOE So true. Similarly, many brands are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to "influence scoring platforms" to acquire brand influencers, when they have the power to influence loyalty/advocacy directly through improved customer experience across all touch points. 

ampyourgrowth 5pts

I think advocacy and loyalty, although not interchangeable, do not follow the steps you described. I've recommended products and gushed about their quality to friends, only to turn and make a purchase from a different company the next time I needed the product. This usually happens with technology because of how quickly things change. I bought a computer from HP and absolutely loved it. But when time came to buy a new computer, I'm now using a Samsung and find it fantastic. You can have advocacy without loyalty. Also, I've consistently used the same deodorant for six years and yet never tell anyone about how happy I am with my deodorant. But you would be hard pressed to find me purchase anything but Old Spice. 

Advocacy and loyalty are not just scholarly discussions, but in practice they are not nearly as cut and dry as they appear to be in this article.

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@ampyourgrowth Great points - and addition - to this debate. Your case study might be different had @HP  been more proactive in identifying and managing you through the life cycle? If you were truly an advocate, the affinity and emotional connection would most likely have had you rationalizing the purchase of another HP, instead of looking elsewhere. It's why I'm so loyal to Samsung, when so many have tried to convince me that Apple's iPhone is better. I actively searched for a reason to stay with Samsung. That was a few years ago, and I'm so glad I did.

 That being said, I would agree that there are no absolutes in such processes. There's always an exception. However, my experiences has proven that it applies to the majority of customers.

Further, customers can move backwards like I did with @Delta . I was very loyal to the airline for many years. I eventually become an advocate but with a series of issues recently, that's been shaken. I don't recommend them anymore. I'm considerably less loyal - I remain so until the convenience of flying them can be beat by someone else. 


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