Influence and advocate marketing, a popular and often contentious topic today, have been around since we first coined word-of-mouth marketing. When social media began to capture significant market share of the consumers’ voice, these strategies became more critical.
As a result, new social media software evolved to identify, engage, and encourage those with a large and active social media following to speak on behalf of a brand. With so much effort and attention being placed on socially popular “influencers,” less and less attention has been focused on the power of existing customers in advocate marketing programs.
I’ve often criticized social media for developing a generation of lazy marketers who are constantly on the lookout for the next “big thing” that will create viral brand awareness with little to no effort. Influence and advocate marketing have become another such area within social media marketing. Social scoring schemes such as Klout have promised to deliver people with the power of influence over an online audience at the click of a button, and marketers have been jumping over themselves to take advantage of the game.
Advocate Marketing Requires Work
Be it in traditional word-of-mouth marketing or more modern social media influence marketing campaigns, there’s one constant that remains true: Consumers with negative brand sentiment, or those who have had negative experiences with a brand, are more likely to share their feelings and experiences than those with happy and positive experiences. Add to this the current mob mentality that social media has encouraged among a brand’s audience and it becomes more likely that negativity will spread faster than positivity online.
Yet, most brands have many more positive and happy customers than upset, negative customers. So the question is how to encourage those happy customers to more actively share positive brand sentiment and product recommendations? The answer: It requires work, not social scoring platforms.
Happy customers – all customers for that matter – must be encouraged to offer feedback and must be provided the mechanisms to share that feedback with their audiences in a simple and efficient manner. A mentor of mine once said, “Asking for the sale is the number one rule of sales.” It’s something most salespeople forget to do because they’re too busy explaining why their company and product is so valuable. The same applies to advocate marketing. If you don’t ask for referrals from happy customers, chances are you won’t get them.
The Anatomy of an Advocate Development Campaign
Below is an excellent case study on how to ask, entice, and facilitate referrals from customers, courtesy of Johnson and Murphy (that also happens to be one of my favorite brands/retailers). During an extended layover at the Minneapolis airport, I stumbled across a Johnson and Murphy store and purchased a few sports shirts, among other items. I posted a Tweet that shared my excitement at finding my favorite store while stuck in transit, but that was it. I didn’t go to the trouble of rating or recommending the items I purchased.
That was about two months ago. Last week, I received this email from the fashion brand encouraging me to write a review of the products I purchased for a chance to win a $500 gift card.
The email hit all the right notes to encourage me to become an advocate: It was personalized, recognized me as a valuable customer, included images of the items I purchased, and included an incentive for offering my review.
The email gave me a simple, step-by-step wizard that not only simplified my work, it allowed the brand to receive information in a consistent manner while learning a little bit more about me as a consumer.
In the sample above, you’ll notice they included the note: “Please focus on product performance and quality. You may also leave a service comment below,” which ensured I gave the information they wanted – the way they wanted it.
The review wizard offered simple to use check-boxes, along with the option to add my own personalized comments. What struck me here is that they were also asking for feedback on how I used the product and asked me to describe myself. As outlined in Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage, and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing, a book I co-wrote with Danny Brown, this practice provides the business with valuable insights on what purchase decisions certain customer profile types make. Beyond the possible recommendation, they’re gaining insights into the factors that may influence purchase decisions so that future marketing efforts can be more targeted to the consumer decision-making process.
Once the form was completed, the site offered the option to automatically add the review to my blog. This next wizard asked for my blog’s URL along with temporary access rights to post the review. With just a few clicks, I had the option to instantly post a blog post sharing the product image, information, and my recommendations.
Be Open to Negative Feedback
It’s important to note that they did not know if I enjoyed the products or if I would give – and share – a positive review. Unlike many companies who actively avoid social media engagement or asking for reviews because they fear online negativity, Johnson and Murphy encourage open feedback. In fact, they go so far as to include a section to for consumers to list any cons about the product and provide a list of what might be wrong with the product (fabric to thin, wrinkles to easily, etc.).
They realize that building advocacy is not only about rewarding positive feedback but encouraging all feedback – period.
Facilitating a dialogue with customers is a key step in building advocates, regardless of what their feedback is.
Further, showing that you’re not afraid to have negative comments shared online demonstrates “brand authenticity” (yes, I know, it’s a buzzword but it’s also accurate) and goes a long way towards building a relationship with customers. And at the end of the day, fostering solid customer relationships is a key success factor in advocate marketing.
Are you encouraging online dialogue with your customers or chasing socially popular “influencers?” Join the conversation; add your thoughts in the comments below.
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego