Customer Advocacy Program – What You Will Need, Brand Examples & Best Practices
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Happy customers make the best brand advocates, but they often need brands to provide the right outlet to share their positive experience.
Many brands recognize that word-of-mouth advertising can help them rise to the top of their market and industry. That’s why more and more brands are taking steps to establish a customer advocacy program.
“When people trust someone’s endorsement of your brand, when they can sense the relationship is real, they believe it—and they’ll buy.” – GRIN, Authentic Influencer Marketing
What is a customer advocacy program?
A customer advocacy program intentionally converts loyal customers into outspoken brand promoters.
The key to a successful customer advocacy program is maintaining relationships with those customers that have the social influence and genuine brand love to promote your brand effectively among their consumer peers. Customer advocates should be well-spoken and socially engaged with your brand and with other consumers.
Benefits of a Customer Advocacy Program
Branded messaging and traditional marketing is understandably biased, which is why both approaches are less effective than they’ve been in the past.
“Customer advocacy focuses less on what the brand has to say and more on what customers have to say about their brand experience.” – GRIN, What is customer advocacy and why do you need it?
Consumer word-of-mouth remains one of the most trusted sources for product recommendations. When a friend or family member relates a positive experience with your brand, studies show that buyers are more inclined to trust that brand.
But brand credibility is just one benefit to a robust customer advocacy program. Other benefits include:
- High Social proof
- Fast-spreading word-of-mouth
- Lower customer acquisition costs
- Greater customer lifetime value (CLV)
- Large volume of user-generated content (UGC) online
- Thriving brand communities
How can brands find their influential customers?
Finding influential customers to speak on behalf of your brand means paying attention to brand mentions online by conscientious, well-spoken customers.
But if you are a new business, there may not be many mentions or much user-generated content.
Furthermore, your growing business will make it difficult for you to take the time required to comb through every customer’s social media profile looking for positive mentions of your brand. This manual approach to customer advocacy marketing is unsustainable. Thankfully, there are a host of social listening tools to help you incentivize, discover, and promote your most influential customers.
What is the difference between an ambassador, advocate, and influencer?
Done well, an influencer or ambassador program can offer all the benefits of a customer advocacy program. But these three roles – though often overlapping – are not one and the same.
Brand ambassadors are sometimes influencers, but they don’t always maintain as large an audience as influencers. These ambassadors are active on social media and maintain some level of influence and authority among social media groups.
Ambassadors typically work exclusively with certain brands that they love and fit a very specific lifestyle niche.
Advocates can be ambassadors or influencers, but most of them are customers that are genuinely loyal to a particular brand. These everyday customers are great at helping friends and family find reliable products and services both on and offline.
Influencers usually maintain a minimum of 1,000 social media followers and prioritize compelling content over brand exclusivity. There are different types of influencers based primarily on the number of active followers.
Nano and Micro influencers curate online communities of less than 100,000 followers and are more likely to also act as brand ambassadors.
Macro and Mega influencers enjoy a minimum of 100,000 followers and may engage several million followers across multiple social channels. These influencers are marketing professionals or celebrities who rarely promote brands without upfront cash payments.
Which individual is best for your customer advocacy program?
Each of these groups – ambassador, advocate, and influencer – may make great candidates for your customer advocacy program. The critical thing you need to know is whether or not an individual genuinely loves your product or service.
If a consumer with social influence does not genuinely care about your brand, then your relationship will be primarily transactional. And that kind of advocacy relationship will produce mediocre results.
Next, you’ll need to figure out what it is that motivates a happy customer to promote your brand. Your advocacy program needs to be mutually beneficial.
Forrester Research examined successful customer advocacy programs and identified the four main types of advocates:
- Educators want to be key opinion leaders (KOL) and reliable information sources for their audience.
- Validators possess great emotional intelligence and are happy to publicly endorse your product, but they prefer private thanks and appreciation over public shoutouts.
- Status Seekers are ambitious, and if they are not already influencers, they often aspire to be.
- Collaborators like to explore and tinker with ideas. They are creative and innovators at heart.
Image via Hubspot
Happy customers within each of these categories can make a great customer advocate. But it’s up to you to understand what type of advocate each of your customers are and how you can channel their motivations to build a mutually beneficial relationship.
How can brands recruit customer advocates?
When recruiting brand advocates, you need a value proposition that will incentivize customers to join and participate.
“The way you think about why a customer would participate in an advocacy program should align with the way you think about why a prospect would buy your product/service… Customers should feel they are getting much more out of the advocacy program than they are putting in.” – Hubspot
Be careful about treating your program as “calling in favors.” Your customers have already bought from you, so they don’t really owe you anything.
Instead, consider what type of customer advocate they are (educator, validator, status seeker, or collaborator) and offer that customer something in return for their help.
If there are influential customers already promoting your brand on social media, start there. Send them a quick message thanking them for the shout-out. Then you can follow up with an offer.
Customer Advocacy Marketing Examples
What They Did
Chipotle took advantage of TikTok’s challenge feature to produce countless customer posts promoting their brand.
In the #ChipotleLidFlip challenge, customers everywhere posted a response from their TikTok account. The challenge eventually found its way to YouTube and Instagram.
@gilmhercroesI Love @chipotle 🤩 I challenge you to try the #chipotlelidflip , can you do it?🤣 #ad♬ Flip – Future
Why It Worked
Chipotle created a fun activity previously known only among employees and converted the experience into a branded hashtag. On a $0 budget, Chipotle generated thousands of participants – many of them influencers and high profile customers.
Customer advocacy marketing doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In Chipotle’s case, seeing customers having fun at a local store increased engagement among customers and raised awareness for certain menu items.
What They Did
An up-and-coming insurance provider, Root, allows new customers to prove their good driving skills before getting a quote. Furthermore, they can earn driving badges, get discounts, and promote their driving accomplishments on their social media accounts.
Image via Root
Root also gives customers credit for referrals. Not only do they enjoy more points to earn badges, but they also receive discounts on their insurance premiums. Referral messages are personalized and entice new customers to create a social profile on the app and test their driving skills (regardless of whether or not they get an insurance quote).
Image via Root
Why It Worked
Root’s customer advocacy program helps drivers lower their insurance premiums while showing off their safe driving skills. These “badge” features attract curiosity and make it easier for customers to generate referrals through their very own affiliate links.
Insurance is usually boring, but Root makes getting insurance fun. The quote process motivates customers to publicize the fact that they are lowering their insurance by driving safer and referring their friends and family.
Image via Logoworks
What They Did
Several years back, Starbucks made headlines with their Tweet-A-Coffee campaign. Customers could link their Starbucks app to their Twitter account and Tweet a friend’s Twitter handle to @tweetacoffee to send their friend a $5 gift card.
Why It Worked
Customers everywhere embraced the “pay-it-forward” feature on Twitter. It was fun and encouraged many new customers to try Starbucks for the first time. The campaign also placed Starbucks front-of-mind for millions on Twitter.
Customer advocacy programs are highly effective when they encourage gifting between customers, as did Starbucks’ Tweet-A-Coffee campaign. It took an old idea – gift cards – and made the experience more memorable and interactive.
Family Gifts Co.
What They Did
Family Gifts Co., a photo canvas company, repurposes customer images in sponsored ads to promote their Christmas gifts.
Image via Instagram
These customer images show finished products in lifestyle shots that appear more authentic and endearing. Not only did the brand save on design costs, but they also built deeper connections with their audience.
Why It Worked
Family Gifts Co. is a lesser-known DTC brand with very little brand awareness. Repurposing customer content gave them an edge over large photo print companies like Shutterfly by promoting pictures of their products in real life.
With a customer’s permission, you can repurpose compelling content, share on your company page, and even achieve more ROI on paid ads. This technique also works great when repurposing influencer content.
What They Did
COVID-19 has been hard on air travel. But that hasn’t stopped Southwest from inviting their customers to have fun on flights. The brand regularly encourages flyers to reply with their own compelling content, such as the Twitter post below.
Additionally, Southwest is known for performing customer care openly on social media. Customer disputes receive validating responses, suggestions, and alternative solutions. In all things, Southwest keeps their social media activity customer-focused.
Why It Worked
Southwest always maintains a fun-loving attitude online. Marketers regularly employ humor and audience participation in their content strategy. Customers enjoy the interactions and are happy to engage.
Even though you’re a business, you should treat your customers like real people. Refusing to get defensive in response to public customer complaints demonstrates your willingness to provide the best customer experience. Keeping your content fun and inviting often produces delightful user-generated content.
Common customer advocacy program myths & mistakes
Appealing to customer generosity
Even when inviting customers to join your advocacy program, there needs to be something in it for them. When a customer loves your brand it needs to be a two-way street.
By getting to know your advocates, you’ll find the right perks to incentivize participation, such as free product, publicity, or design collaborations (new product lines, improvements, etc.).
Customer advocacy programs should be customer-centric. If you begin to make your program about the brand, you will quickly lose customer interest. As such, it’s critical that you invite customer feedback, positive and negative, so that your advocates feel heard and invested in your products and services.
Paying customers to advocate for your brand
It is almost never a good idea to exchange customer promotions for cash. Once your customer advocacy program becomes transactional, it is very difficult for advocates to promote brands authentically.
Instead, focus on perks that your customers will love, such as free product, exclusive content, sneak peaks, or personalized “thank you” gifts.
Failing to personalize
To be customer-centric means personalizing your products and services. Customer advocates are often great test subjects for increased personalization and new products. For those advocates that are collaborators, you may even be able to create specialized, co-branded products.
Lack of program organization
Serious customer advocacy programs require careful planning and organization. Without it, your advocate relationships will stale, and you won’t be able to count on your customers to produce meaningful content on your behalf.
Failing to establish processes to scale the program
To scale your program and increase ROI, you’ll need to standardize your advocate relationship management process. This means assigning team members to those relationships and engaging your advocates consistently.
By creating processes and refining them over time, you’ll have clarity on which kind of customers make great advocates and what techniques will generate the best results on social media.
In conclusion – What should your next steps be to launch your customer advocacy program?
Now that you’ve had the opportunity to define customer advocacy, see brand examples, and debunk myths, you may feel ready to get your program off the ground.
As you examine the field of repeat and enthusiastic customers, you’ll want to make sure that you have a brand mission, vision, and objectives for your advocates. For more information on launching your program from scratch, check out our step-by-step guide here.
Recruiting influential customers has never been easier. Use GRIN to find your brand champions.
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