What’s your top goal as a brand manager? Growing brand awareness? Increasing brand usage? Maintaining a positive brand image?
While all of these goals are excellent, there’s one additional goal — the final level in a typical brand funnel — that many people don’t talk about: brand advocacy.
As it’s a bit tricky to come by, not many brand managers see it as a top-tier goal. However, when 90% of consumers report that word-of-mouth recommendation is the leading influence in their purchase decision, we think you might want to reconsider.
But what is brand advocacy, exactly? And how will it help take your brand to the next level? This article will address both questions, as well as provide some tips on how you can encourage loyal customers to become brand advocates.
What is Brand Advocacy?
Brand advocacy is what happens when, of their own free will, happy customers promote your brand’s products and services to other consumers.
Be it in person or via online reviews, brand advocates spread the word about how great your brand is to family, friends, and even strangers — which ends up making a big difference.
Why? Because brand advocates are 50% more likely than regular customers to influence other’s purchase decisions. Keeping that statistic in mind, it follows that having brand advocates will be a boon for business.
However, make sure you don’t confuse brand advocates with brand ambassadors — while advocates are acquired organically and just genuinely love your brand, ambassadors are paid to promote and advertise for your brand.
For example, say you’re the brand manager of a company that sells organic stuffed animals, called “EcoStuffies”. Over the last few weeks, you’ve noticed that you’re getting more online mentions from various “Mommy & Me”-type blogs.
When you start to dig into it, you find that a respectable number of your newest customers have arrived on your website from said blogs. And when you compare these customers to your other target audiences, you find that, on average, they spend about $15 more per purchase.
As they’re still a newer audience, you can’t say for sure that their CLV will outperform your established audiences in the long run. However, you decide to test out a Brand Advocacy Program to nurture relationships with potential brand advocates and, subsequently, grow your new audience.
Yay for brand advocates!
Now that we’re all on the same page about what brand advocacy is, let’s discuss how having brand advocates will take your brand to the next level.
How Will Brand Advocacy Take You To the Next Level?
When you really think about it, brand advocates essentially provide free marketing for your brand through the creation of user-generated content.
Be it product reviews, blog articles, or social media posts — there are many ways that brand advocates can become an integral part of your brand strategy.
In a day and age when only one-third of consumers say they trust the brands they use, brands need to work harder than ever to earn the confidence of consumers. But what encourages consumers to trust brands?
In a recent 2021 study, 53% of respondents cited reviews and 43% cited brand values as reasons to trust brands. While you can harp on about your brand values all day long, unless they are backed up by customer reviews, people aren’t likely to trust you.
That’s where your brand advocates come in.
But to gain brand advocates, first, you’ll have to nurture a loyal customer base. From top-notch products to consistently excellent customer service, there are many methods you can use to encourage brand loyalty.
And from your pool of loyal, well-nurtured customers will emerge some of your greatest assets: your brand advocates.
But how, exactly, do brand advocates level up your brand strategy? Working hand-in-hand with brand awareness campaigns, they play a pivotal role in making your brand a trusted household name. After all, it’s one thing to hear about a brand from an ad on TV, it’s another thing altogether to have a friend, family member, or trusted influencer sing a brand’s praises.
3 Tips To Encourage Brand Advocacy
Now that you understand why brand advocacy is such a vital part of a successful brand strategy, let’s discuss three ways you can encourage brand advocacy.
1. Gather Regular Customer Feedback
While this might seem like a given for any brand that wants to provide stellar customer service, asking for feedback from customers is an incredibly important step towards gaining brand advocates.
By asking for feedback, you show customers that their thoughts and opinions matter — bonus points if you turn feedback into action points to improve your user experience.
Research shows that “simply asking customers for feedback is enough to encourage repeat business – whether or not the customer actually answers any questions.” And repeat business is what defines a loyal customer — they continually purchase products and services from your brand.
Whether it’s through DIY surveys, calls with Customer Service representatives, or via brand tracking software, gathering regular feedback from customers is crucial if you want to encourage brand advocacy.
Pro Tip: Make sure to use customers’ names when asking for their feedback — be it over the phone or via an emailed survey, people respond more positively when their name is used.
2. Create a Loyalty/Rewards Program
Do you know what people love? Free things. And whether or not they have to spend money to get the free things… they still love them.
Another way to drive loyalty and increase your chances of earning brand advocates is to set up an easy-to-use rewards program. Whether it’s points-based or stamp-based, your program must be easy to understand and worth the effort.
A 2020 survey revealed that the top features considered “valuable” in loyalty programs by US consumers are discounts at 78%, followed by free shipping at 60%, and free products at 46%.
On the flip side, a recent study by Merkle showed that the top reasons consumers in the US disliked a rewards program were it “takes too long to earn rewards” (45%), “it’s too difficult to earn rewards” (31%), and “rewards are not valuable “(27%).
As you can see, when it comes to rewards programs, consumers want to earn valuable rewards — like discounts or free products — in a reasonable time frame with reasonable effort. Truly, not too much to ask.
Think of it this way: when you reward customers for repeat purchases, it makes sense that they’re more likely to remain loyal. And by providing a reward — be it cash-back, discounts on your products, or extra perks — you show your customers that their business is important and valuable to you.
Keep in mind, McKinsey reports that “70% buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated”. When customers feel they’re valued, they’re far more likely to have a positive experience with your brand.
Therefore, creating a loyalty/rewards program is a great way to show customers that they are valued and encourage them to become brand advocates.
3. Set Up A Referral Program
Setting up a referral program is a sure-fire way to convert some of your most loyal, valuable customers into brand advocates.
Why? Because you’re making it super simple for them to refer friends, family, and acquaintances to your brand and you’re rewarding them for their work.
In a recent report from Forrester, they found that “70% of US adults online trust recommendations from each far more than statements from brands.” So you can release the most creative, eye-catching ads that extoll your brand’s every virtue, and people will still trust an online review more.
But that doesn’t have to be a detriment to your brand! By setting up a referral program, you allow your most loyal customers to do the work for you. Plus, a study conducted by Christophe Van den Butle found that “referred customers had higher profit margins, stayed longer, and had an overall higher customer lifetime value (LTV).”
So, not only are you saving money on acquiring new customers, but you’re also acquiring more valuable customers than other channels can provide. It’s a win-win!
Pro Tips: Make sure your referral program benefits both the referrer and the referee, as this increases both party’s incentive to use your brand. Additionally, make sure to set a threshold for what is considered a “loyal customer”, that way you know they’re someone who’s pleased with your service and would likely bring in referrals.
While finding and nurturing brand advocates isn’t a walk in the park, it will bring tangible value to your business and should never be overlooked as an avenue for higher profits.
If you’re looking to identify your own brand advocate, we suggest working with your CRM Manager or a Customer Service colleague. As both of these roles are far more familiar with your customer pool, they’ll likely be able to steer you in the right direction.
And if you want to make sure you’re getting all the customer insights you need, consider using advanced brand tracking software to gather data from more than just your current and churned customers.