Move over influencers; advocates are more valuable to brands. It’s a fact. And I won’t try to make the case with research on how consumers want to engage with brands on the social web because we all know that’s the case already. I don’t have a problem with influencers at all; and have been vocal in the past about some of my own influencers. All I am saying is that customer advocacy bring more life and longer term value for a brand. Here’s why:
Influencers can be bought; but may not always deliver
Well, not really. What I am trying to say is that influencers don’t really care about your brand. They may have a crush on you or find your product useful; but they are too busy being influencers – tweeting, blogging, and recording webinars to really care. Of course they love getting free trials and new products before they hit the market; and very rarely will they say no when you offer to send them that new shiny object.
But how many times have you seeded a product to an influencer without any result?
Besides, even if they did love you, they’d probably refrain from talking too much about you in fear of community backlash or the fear of a negative perception of being bought even if it’s not true. I completely understand that conflict. Most influencers get pitched several times a day and all it does is feed their egos; so the time commitment of reaching out to them won’t always reap any positive benefit much less any business value to a brand. I am speaking in general terms here because I do know some really awesome influencers. Point is that influencers are great for generating buzz; not so great for driving purchase decisions. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, right? Go ahead, attack me.
Don’t forget to pay your rent
The minute you stop sending influencers the latest and greatest; or pass on flying them to CES or any other industry event, they will evict your brand in a heartbeat. Then, the already infrequent tweets will completely stop and they may even talk smack behind your back because you poked at their ego. The reality is that with many influencer programs, brands are just renting the conversation; and unfortunately the conversation isn’t always authentic. If it was, you wouldn’t have to keep sending them products to fuel their conversation.
Don’t get me wrong here. Influencer outreach programs do have some validity to a brand’s marketing initiatives. They just need to be done smart and strategically and it shouldn’t be the core focus. I would say that a brand’s first priority should be to focus on its advocates because their love is real.
Advocates love your brand and tell others too
Shot out to Kelly Feller (a previous colleague and friend from Intel) who once said, “if you love your customers, they will love you back and tell others about it.”
Here is the great thing about advocates. They love you even if you don’t give them the time of day. They are vocal, passionate and are not afraid to give your brand praise (on and off line). And, while they may not have hundreds of Twitter followers or thousands of RSS subscribers, the conversation with them is always authentic. I would also argue that advocates outnumber influencers by a long shot. Can you imagine for a second what the impact would be if you paid just a little attention to your advocates? It’s not hard to do at all; and the great thing about it is that they don’t label themselves and are very easy to approach. While influencers consider themselves influencers; advocates don’t really care. And, that makes your job so much easier.
Tapping into the emotional equity
I have never studied the psychology of a consumer’s purchase behavior. But what I am confident about is that there is definitely an emotional connection between a brand and its advocates. It’s the reason why I only buy one kind of television. It’s not out of habit, convenience or price either because the brand I love is quite expensive. But I have an emotional connection to the brand, Sony. The connection can stem from just about anything – a previous brand experience, the value the product brings to someone’s life, its swagger or the product simply kicks ass. When a brand actually becomes human and spends time nurturing their advocates; the emotional equity will grow exponentially. And that’s a hard bond to break.
Advocates affect the purchase funnel
I am sure we have all seen the traditional purchase funnel at some point in our careers (some call it a sales funnel). Marketers – and people much smarter than I – spend a lot of time and coin trying to figure out what messages resonate with customers; and which channels have the greatest conversion rates. We are talking about millions of dollars in media spend that aims to drive marketing messages in each of the phases. And smart marketers are also creating metrics models for each phase of the purchase funnel to measure the effectiveness of these messages.
The purchase funnel is evolving, especially as we think about advocacy. In this model, customer advocacy is at the center. It’s meant to illustrate the power of social media and how advocates aid and influence their micro communities down the purchase funnel through authentic messages (or everyday conversation).
It’s circular in nature because as a brand invests and drives customer advocacy; they will, in turn, influence others at various phases of the purchase funnel; thus creating a cycle of influence and advocacy that the brand is facilitating.
How to identify advocates
Identifying advocates is really not that hard to do. If you spend enough time in Facebook, you will begin to see who stands out and interacts the most with the content. There are tools like SocialTALK that are building this capability into their product which will make life much easier. Also, Zuberance is a great tool that can identify advocates already living in your brand’s ecosystem. What I love about this is that it empowers advocates to share reviews and content about your product with their social circles. Rowfeeder is an exceptional tool that pulls data directly from Twitter and Facebook, and allows you to easily see who is talking about your brand the most and easily identify those advocates.