Brand Advocates Can Be Your New Sales Team

To find new consumers, companies often forget to think of ways to engage with existing consumers. Acquiring a new consumer or vendor in the subprime space is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.

To succeed in the modern market, companies need to do more than produce an excellent product or provide reliable service: They need to turn their faithful consumers into advocates.

In this article, I’m going to discuss:

  • who are product advocates?
  • actionable ways to turn your consumers into brand advocates
  • what to consider when creating a strategy for advocacy

Who Are Product Advocates?

Brand advocates are people who feel so positively about a brand that they want to recommend it to others. They’re often called volunteer marketers because they pass on positive word-of-mouth messages about the brand to other people (both offline and online). Advocates do it organically — money is not the primary reason why they promote a brand or product; they promote it because they truly believe in the brand.  When dealing with sub-prime lending this can be especially taxing and have a whole new set of problems and circumstances.

Why Advocacy Is Great

Who uses your products or services? You might think it the sole responsibility of the sales and marketing team. For a long time, sales and marketing was the team responsible for product growth, but the situation has changed. In subprime lending the consumers have quickly become the most critical people to post on Yelp, Facebook and LinkedIn. More specifically, these consumers that post are usually the upstarts, the people who feel negatively and are not the advocates for your product.  So how do you turn this around? Advocates and ultimately the stores that use your subprime lending can be a key part of growing your consumer base:

  • Organic promotion
    Brand advocacy is the modern form of traditional word-of-mouth marketing. And word of mouth about a product or service is one of the most powerful forms of advertising; when regular people recommend a product, their message carries more weight than a paid advertisement. According to a McKinsey study, word of mouth can generate more than double the sales of paid advertising.
  • Authentic reviews and testimonials
    Social proof plays a vital part in the process of product selection. Reading reviews and testimonials is the first step potential consumers make when researching a product; reviews and testimonials play a role in the wisdom of the crowd. And advocates can be excellent sources of reviews and testimonials. According to Google, 19% of brand advocates share their experiences online in their networks — twice as many as non-brand advocates.  So by addressing the negative reviews and soothing any ruffled feathers on your social media channels is the best way to keep a positive corporate identity and not scare away those that would use your services.
  • Brand awareness
    Advocates use the power of social channels to amplify a brand’s exposure. As a result, they can reach out to people you might not have considered.  Let’s face it, business owners talk to each other and if they have a seamless and positive experience they will tell other business owners who will then engage with your company.
  • Valuable consumer feedback loops
    Advocates can provide valuable consumer insights. Their insights can help you formulate more focused, consumer-concentric product road maps. 

Loyalty And Advocacy Are Not The Same Thing

Many people confuse loyalists and brand advocates. Brand loyalists and advocates aren’t the same groups of consumers. Loyal consumers are people who stay with your brand. For example, if you run an e-commerce store, loyal consumers will be your return buyers. But they might not actively promote your brand to others (i.e. they might not be comfortable with sharing information about your brand publicly).

Advocates, on the other hand, are people who not only are loyal to your brand, but also proactively talk up and advocate for your company to their own networks. The word “proactive” is key here. Advocates invest in the success of your brand heavily. The goal is to turn brand loyalists into brand advocates.

Who Has The Potential To Become A Brand Advocate?

Your existing consumers are the most apparent advocates for your brand. Let’s define the groups of existing consumers who likely to be interested in a brand advocacy program:

  • Promoters
    Promoters are people who participate in an NPS survey, a single-question survey that sounds like, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to your friends, family, or colleagues?”, and who answers 9 or 10.
  • Referrers
    These are existing consumers who refer new consumers to your product.
  • Social sharers
    These are people who share your content on social media on a regular basis.
  • Critics
    Critics leave feedback about your product or service.

However, your consumers are not your only advocates. The best brand advocates are people who work with you: your employees. Communications marketing firm Edelman found that 52% of consumers view employees as very credible sources of information about a brand.

How To Encourage Advocacy

Getting consumers to advocate for a brand is a lot different from getting them to buy products or services. Consumers don’t become advocates without reason. To acquire a brand ambassador, companies need to create the conditions that generate not only happy consumers, but true consumer advocates.

Don’t Try To Force It

Pushing people towards an action typically results in them doing the opposite. Don’t try to force advocacy; it should be completely natural.

Create A Delightful UX

Designing for the consumer experience has a lot more to it than making a product usable. It’s also important to generate a certain positive emotional effect while people are using a product. After all, consumer experience is about how consumers feel when they interact with a product. As humans, we establish some sort of an emotional connection with all the products we use. It’s possible to establish a deeper connection with a product by adding elements that generate positive emotions at multiple points along that journey.

Pleasure is at the top of Aaron Walter’s pyramid of emotional design. Designers should have a goal to please their consumers and make them feel happy when they use the product.

The reward for brands that connect with consumers’ emotions in a positive way can be substantial. People love to talk about products that make them happy and are easy to use.

Duolingo is an excellent example of incorporating delight in UX. What makes Duolingo thrive is its smooth functionality wrapped in a friendly design with elements of gamification. Each lesson is presented as a challenge to the consumer. When consumers accomplish a task, Duolingo celebrates this progress with the consumers by rewarding them with a badge. By presenting the learning process as a challenge, the service creates a sense of development and accomplishment. The latter has a significant impact on delight.

Evoking a positive emotional response in consumers is key to creating a delightful UX. Duolingo transforms the task of learning a new language into an inviting experience. This motivates consumers to level up and achieve mastery in the discipline.

Focus On Building Trust

Advocacy is always a risky business. When discussing a company, advocates are putting their reputation on the line. They know that if something goes wrong, people will blame them for it. But one thing can alleviate those fears: trust. The more they trust you, the more easily they will recommend your product.

Below are a few things that play a significant role in building trust.

Stand By What You Offer

Deliver what you promise, and promptly solve problems when something goes wrong. That’s the obvious starting point, but you’d be surprised at how many fail to execute well on this simple principle. 

Make It Easy to Reach You

When consumers interact with a brand, they expect to have a dialog, not a monologue. They want you to listen to them and demonstrate that you care about them as individuals. This is especially important when consumers face problems. Consumers should be able to reach a company through whichever channel is most convenient to them at the time. Whether they prefer face-to-face communication, email, a phone call or a message in a social network, make sure you’re available by all those means.

Ask For Feedback

Asking consumers for feedback not only is one of the best ways to gain insight into your business but is also a great way to build relationships. When you ask consumers for feedback, they understand that you care about them and want to make their experience better.

However, the way you ask for feedback plays a vital role in how consumers react to it. Generic surveys with questions like, “Are you happy with our service? Answer yes or no” won’t deliver many insights. You need to research the consumer problems first, get to know what is bothering them, and only after that ask questions that your consumers will be happy to answer.

DigitalOcean makes consumers feel that their opinions carry weight.

Encourage Your Consumers To Talk About You

Despite the digital world constantly changing, one trend remains the same: When it comes to evaluating a new product or service, potential clients trust the advice and expertise of existing clients. To build trust, you need to encourage consumers to talk about you. Here are a few things to remember when asking consumers for a review:

  • Find the right time to ask for a review. The request for a review should be a natural part of the consumer journey.
  • Focus on quality, not quantity. Stay away from reviews and testimonials that praise the product. “Amazing product, highly recommended” doesn’t say much to potential consumers. Prioritize testimonials that have context and that tell a story.
  • Product reviews can act as social proof and encourage prospects to convert. The best reviews not only describe the pros and cons of a product but tell a story of how the product benefits the consumers and the small businesses using it.

Offer A Loyalty Program

A loyalty program is a tried-and-true technique to show consumers your gratitude. As mentioned above, loyalty and advocacy aren’t the same thing. Still, a loyalty program can be used to increase the number of brand advocates:

  • Beat negative experience.
    A loyalty program might come in handy when consumers face a problem and complain about it. Of course, it’s essential to respond to the consumer request and provide a solution to the problem as fast as you can. But once the issue has been resolved, you can offer the consumer loyalty points as an apology. This might help you to win back frustrated consumers, and maybe they can even advocate for your brand.
  • Encourage social activity.
    Motivate consumers to participate in social activities. For example, reward consumers by awarding loyalty points every time they tweet or post to Facebook, write a review, or refer their friends.
  • You can even use this in the call center asking customers that are happy with the level of service to go post on Yelp and reward call center representatives when they get those consumers to do so!

Personalize Consumer Experiences

Personalization allows brands to build deeper connections with their consumers. It feels great when a product offers an experience that feels tailored especially to us. A personalized experience is what often drives a consumer to say, “This is the brand for me.”

It’s possible to make the experience more personal by gathering information on consumers and using it to deliver more relevant content. For example, you could have an intuitive interface that adjusts exactly the way the consumer expects. Netflix is an excellent example of earning loyalty based on providing a personalized experience. The service offers content suggestions based on the consumer’s viewing history. Netflix also notifies consumers when new seasons of their favorite TV shows are released.

Netflix does a great job of personalizing its mobile push notifications.

Leverage The Power Of Social Media

The power of word of mouth created by brand advocates is amplified through social media. In fact, if there’s one place your company should look for brand advocates, it’s on your social media channels. Today, 70% of Americans use social media channels to engage with friends, family and the people they know. Thus, it’s essential to practice social listening — listen to what your current consumers and advocates are saying about your brand — and respond to their comments accordingly.

Choose The Social Networks Most Effective To Your Business

It’s extremely important to know where your audience lives on social media and where potential advocates could have the most influence.

Carefully Choose Content To Publish

Before posting anything on social media, ask yourself two simple questions, “Does it benefit our company?” and “Does it meet our audience’s needs?” Ideally, you should post content that both reflects your business’ goals and satisfies the needs of your target audience.

Respond To Consumer Feedback

Recognizing and responding to positive feedback is particularly important over social media. Reward the people who stand out in your community. If you have a consumer who wants to engage with you, engage with them. Give them as much love as they’re giving you.

Consumers giving positive feedback about your brand is by far the best brand promotion. MailChimp responds to positive consumer feedback on Twitter.

Solve Consumer Problems

When consumers have a problem with a product, they often post questions or complaints on social networks in the hope of getting a quick response. It’s tremendously important to address every concern consumers have about your brand. By solving their problems, you clearly demonstrate that your brand is genuinely addressing consumer concerns. Just imagine the effect when you resolve an issue on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and the happy consumer shares the whole conversation with their friends and family.

Encourage Your Followers To Share Content

Social media are great places to run promotional campaigns. Next time you run a promotion, ask your followers to share special moments using the hash tag assigned to the campaign. Track the hash tag and choose the most inspiring contributions. This type of sharing has three significant benefits:

  • It builds brand loyalty
  • It brings a community together
  • It helps you create great content relevant to your brand

Provide Social Reward

Monitor your social media channels to identify people who are frequently mentioning your brand, and reward them with personal messages or gifts.

Reward consumers for connecting and interacting with your brand on social media. Starbucks sent a personalized, reusable Starbucks cup to one of its loyal consumers to thank her for promoting Starbucks’ products in her Instagram posts.

Boost Employee Advocacy

Your employees can help you amplify the brand’s message. According to Weber Shandwick research, 30% of employees are deeply engaged and have a high potential to be employer advocates. Moreover, the leads generated by an employee through social networking convert 7 times more often than other leads.

Your employees know the product inside out; they can provide support and answer detailed questions about the product. It’s possible to boost employee advocacy by following a few simple rules:

  • Train your employees on social sharing activities. Organize seminars to educate your employees on the importance of social sharing and how they can participate in this activity.
  • Incentivize participation in social activities. Provide benefits to frequent sharers and referrers and acknowledge them in company events.
  • Practice co-creating content with your employees. Give your employees more opportunities to be involved with your brand by sharing their own messages that reinforce business goals.
  • Help them build their personal brand. When your employees gain enough credibility to market your company, the impact of promotion will be much higher.

Help Consumers Reach Their Professional Goals

Every brand should help consumers to become more experienced in what they do. One way to help your consumers with their professional advancement is to provide educational opportunities. Today, many big companies are focused on creating content that will help their consumers. For example, Adobe offers a magnificent suite of products for designers, but it isn’t only the products that make the company recognizable; it’s the content it publishes. Adobe runs a blog that offers free in-depth educational content that helps thousands of designers create better products.

Hundreds of thousands of designers return to Adobe’s blog every month to learn more about design. Readers recognize and love the brand because the blog posts help them in what they do.

Create “Wow” Moments For Your Consumers

One of the most effective ways to make your consumers happy (and turn them into brand advocates) is to surprise them — for example, with an unexpected gift. A gift doesn’t mean something expensive. It could be as simple as a handwritten note. Most consumers would be delighted to receive such a gift because they understand that it takes time to write a personal message. Give your consumers such a surprise and they’ll want to talk about it and about, more importantly, its sender.

In today’s world of digital communication, a handwritten note stands out. Sending thank-you notes is a fantastic, and very personal, way to surprise your consumers. (Image source)

Things To Remember When Creating A Brand Advocacy Program

We’ve just reviewed a great list of methods to boost brand advocacy. But which methods should be applied in your case? Unfortunately, when it comes to creating a brand advocacy program, there’s no silver bullet that turns consumers into enthusiastic advocates. Each company has its own unique set of requirements, and it’s impossible to provide a one-size-fits-all solution. But it is still possible to provide a few general recommendations on how to create an advocacy program.

Set A Goal

Without clear goals, your chances to engage advocates decrease significantly. Before you get started, know what you want to achieve from your advocate marketing program. What do you want advocates to do?

Choose advocacy goals that align with your overall business objectives. For example, if your top business goal is to increase conversions, then one of your top advocacy goals could be to get more high-quality referrals.

Here are a few common goals:

  • Higher brand engagement
    The number of comments, likes and mentions on your channels is a signifier of success.
  • Higher conversion rates
    Get more high-quality referrals that result in increased sales.
  • Better brand awareness
    By tracking keywords associated with your brand, you’ll know how often people mention your brand and in what context.

Quick tip: Use the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting program to set the most effective goals possible. The goals you define should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Measure The Outcome

When it comes to measuring the outcome of an advocacy program, many teams use NPS (Net Promoter Score) as a key metric. NPS is computed by asking consumers to answer, “How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or relative? Rate it on a scale from 0 to 10.” The answers are then grouped into three categories:

  • Detractors: responses of 0 to 6, which indicate dissatisfaction.
  • Passives: responses of 7 or 8, which indicate moderate satisfaction.
  • Promoters: responses of 9 or 10, which indicate high satisfaction and a strong likelihood of recommendation.

The NPS is then calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. The NPS can range from -100% (only detractors) to +100% (only promoters).

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of consumers to recommend a company’s products to others.

While NPS is an excellent base level for measuring consumer satisfaction and loyalty, don’t use NPS as a key performance indicator. Jared Spool provides a few valid arguments on why NPS can be considered harmful to business. Figure out the more reliable and actionable ways to measure how consumers feel about your brand and its offerings.

Also, when it comes to evaluating your advocacy program, focus on measuring retention, not conversion. Consumer retention refers to a business’ ability to keep a consumer over a specified period. Your retention rate can tell you a lot about your consumer base.

Here are three metrics that can help you measure it:

  • Consumer retention rate
    The consumer retention rate indicates what percentage of consumers have stayed with you over a given period. While there’s no standard formula for calculating a consumer retention rate, Jeff Haden shares a simple way to measure it. Consumer retention rate = ((CE – CN) / CS)) x 100, where CE is the number of consumers at the end of a period, CN is the number of new consumers acquired during a period, and CS is the number of consumers at the start of a period of time. A business with a low consumer retention rate is like a bucket of water with holes in it.
  • Consumer lifetime value
    The consumer lifetime value is a projection of revenue a business can expect from a consumer relationship. Knowing the lifetime value of a consumer will help you determine how much money you can spend on consumer acquisition; it also enables you to calculate your return on investment (ROI). A consumer’s acquisition costs being higher than their lifetime value will often cause problems.

Consumer lifetime value (Image source)

  • Referral rate
    If a business runs a referral program, consumer referrals are the ultimate proof of your advocacy program. Referral rate = number of coupons redeemed / number of coupons issued. If any consumer has a personal coupon they can share with friends and family, the formula can be even more straightforward: referral rate = number of coupons redeemed / total number of consumers.

Conclusion

Think of brand advocates as your new sales team. They have tremendous brand value, they drive awareness, and they are capable of persuading people to consider your product. By focusing your efforts on developing brand advocates, you will see an increase in your company’s growth.