What’s better for getting your business’ name out there and boosting sales than having a killer business marketing plan with well-placed ads, zippy copy, and a slick design?
The answer is: having a group of dedicated real-world customers who use their own platforms to advocate for your business and its offerings.
Thanks to social media, reviewing platforms, and the steady rise of online presence, your customers have numerous avenues in today’s internet to help make (or break) your brand. Discerning prospective customers don’t trust faceless brands with no reviews. In increasingly saturated markets, one of the best ways to build your brand is not to advertise to your customers, but to turn them into advocates for your brand and services.
What’s the difference between advocacy and community?
Although they may go hand in hand, an advocacy program isn’t the same as a user community. User communities are more about connecting all of your end customers with one another, your teams, and the resources they need to be successful with your products; and about giving them an active forum to find support, both from their peers and your teams. But an advocacy program should be more selective about its members. Sure, at first, you may be happy just to get people involved so you can get your program off the ground; but the ideal customer for your advocacy program isn’t just an average user with little investment in the product. Instead, it’s someone whom you can recognize as a power user; someone who is invested in the success of your product as being integral to their own success, and will, therefore, be more likely to help evangelize your wins and also bring enhancement requests, unanticipated requirements, bugs, and other worthwhile concerns to your attention.
But how do you find these people? How do you keep them engaged once you do find them? And what does it look like to build an advocacy program that actually works for you and that your customers genuinely want to be a part of? We checked in with Emma Furtado, customer advocacy manager at Carbonite + Webroot, OpenText companies, for her take on the best tips to turn your savviest customers into your loyal advocacy partners who can’t wait to spread the word about your amazing products and efforts.
Top 4 Tips for Building a Successful Customer Advocacy Program
Tip #1: Take your time.
According to Emma, step one is recognizing that doing anything right takes time. “You can’t build a successful advocacy program overnight,” she clarifies, “you’ll need to have at least one employee, maybe even a team, depending on the size of your business and program goals, dedicated to research and relationship-building. You should also think about coordinating across teams. Very few customers want to be cold-called to take part in an advocacy program. Take advantage of the relationships your sales reps and engineers have already built; start working with them to identify power users and have them make an introduction so that you don’t have to start building the relationship entirely from scratch.”
Tip #2: Figure out your goals.
Sometimes in business, we end up with the desire to do something without fully understanding why it’s necessary or what it can do for us. “The point of an advocacy program isn’t to just being able to say you have one,” Emma explains. “It needs to be doing something for you and for your advocates. So, start with the basics around your own needs. Are you trying to build brand awareness, get stronger product feedback, or something else? Ask yourself how this program could boost efforts that your team is already working towards. After you fully outline why you’re doing it, you can start determining realistic goals, deliverables, and KPIs to measure the progress of your program. And once you have those pieces in place, you can start working to determine how best to engage with your customers to develop the kind of program that can achieve those goals.”
Tip #3: Hand-pick your members
As mentioned previously, when your program is in its infancy, you might choose to have a sort of volunteer enrollment phase just to get people in the proverbial door. But Emma warns that, to actually meet your objectives, you need to make sure you’re bringing in customers who will work with you and make good brand advocates. “Not every customer meets that criteria, and that’s okay. Each customer will want to engage with us differently. Your job here is to identify the people who would make good advocates and be willing to be active for your brand in one way or another. A good place to start is by looking for folks who are already engaged in customer-facing programs, such as product betas; who have already provided a Net Promoter Score (NPS); who recently responded to a survey; and/or people who are already active in your industry through blogs or social media.”
Tip #4: Give customers incentives, not bribes.
It sounds rational to entice advocates to your program with exclusive swag or even free software. That’s not the worst thing you could do; but quality brand advocates are the ones who do it to get the word out, help their fellow IT pro, and improve the products we all use, regardless of whether they have a sweet, company-branded vacuum-insulated stainless steel tumbler for their morning coffee. “A good advocacy program isn’t about getting any old kind of engagement with your wider audience,” Emma says, “it’s about creating a mutually beneficial situation between your business and a select group of highly-invested power users. Those users aren’t doing it for the swag. They’re doing it because they believe in your mission; or because they love your products and want to help guild your roadmap; or because they feel they represent unique concerns and feel an obligation to share that voice; or because they want chances to increase their own expertise or presence in the space. There are so many reasons that have nothing to do with free stuff.”
While customer advocacy can’t entirely replace your normal marketing spend line items, creating an advocate program can make all the traditional line items significantly more effective. It is an exciting and important opportunity to level up your marketing efforts by identifying and leaning on your brand evangelists, who effectively share the marketing burden with you.
“Figure out where your advocates are and go there. Talk to them about their businesses and goals. Show them you’re invested in their success, with or without your products. You’ll have an advocate for life.”
– Emma Furtado, customer advocacy manager, Carbonite + Webroot, OpenText companies
Keep in mind: an advocate program cannot succeed as a siloed effort. Customer advocacy works best when it supports your marketing efforts and product development. You can use the real-world customer input to inform your understanding of how customers want to be interacted with, improving the success of marketing programs and return on spend. Additionally, you can use the same feedback forum to guide how you use marketing and product development resources and pivot quickly on a leaner budget. By tailoring the overall customer journey to best serve their unique preferences and needs at each stage, you demonstrate to your base how highly you value their input. Ultimately, these actions serve to build a better experience for the customer overall, i.e., better reputation, brand recognition, and market posture for you.