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Will 2014 be the Year of Advocacy Marketing?

by Hank Barnes  |  January 28, 2014  |  23 Comments

About this time last year, I wrote one of my first blog posts about an interest in hearing Advocacy Marketing stories.  At the time, I believed (but without a lot of data to back it up) that it would become increasing important.

Fast forward about 12 months.

I can comfortably say that my view has been confirmed.  I strongly believe that Advocacy Marketing should be at the top of the priority list in terms of marketing investment.   Now, there are some things that need to be present for this to be the case:

  • A collection of customers who LOVE what your products and services have enabled them to accomplish.  These are fans who will share their stories, without you even asking them to do so.
  • Well defined and understood positioning and messaging that your fans believe–and will echo in their communities
  • Organizational willingness to accept the good with the bad as the leverage marketing they can not control

Of these, the first two are a prerequisite (if you don’t meet them–they become the top priority).  The last one is more of an excuse that you need to fight to get over—you are not in control anymore, buyers are.  Get over it.

Successful business team with raised arms.

The momentum behind Advocacy Marketing continues to grow:

Why is this so important?  It’s more than the hype.  It is  because customers trust peers more than they trust you.   And we have data to back this up.

In one Gartner survey, buyers stated that their number one source for understanding the differentiation of a technology provider was peers of the same size in their industry (60%).  Professional communities (36%) and same size peers in their region (25%) also made the top 5.  Company sources of information (sales reps at 19% and Web sites at 12%) trailed significantly.  In another survey, peers and communities were cited as the second most preferential source of information at all phases of the buying cycle, trailing only self-driven information search.

These are the facts that are driving my opinion.  If buyers trust and rely upon peers, and you have a base of fans that love to talk about what you, what would be a better source of value that advocacy marketing?  Once you empower your fans to share their stories, in the context of your overall brand promise, you’ll have a legion of people assisting you with your sales and marketing efforts.  This, in turn, will help create more fans, and the momentum will grow.

I do strongly believe that 2014 will be the year of Advocacy Marketing.

What do you think?

Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: advocacy-marketing  

Hank Barnes
Research Vice President
3+ years at Gartner
28 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Will 2014 be the Year of Advocacy Marketing?


  1. Anand R says:

    From my experience, advocacy marketing, in the way described here, has been around a few years: Ever since social media became a significant platform for marketeers.
    This, at least so, in retail, fashion and other B2C markets.

    Is this prediction that 2014 will see a spike across the markets in this method beyond what we’ve been seeing? Or is it in reference to the technology industries in particular?

    It would be interesting for me to have this clarity.

    Cheers,
    A.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Thanks for the comment Anand.

      While I agree Advocacy Marketing has been around for a while in B2C (and growing in B2B), it has not been at the top of the heap in terms of marketing investments. I am suggesting that it should be moving towards that point, particularly for technology companies. Many of the early advocacy marketing programs in technology got started out of customer support communities–with limited investment. As success grew, more dollars were committed to it.

      My suggestion is that Advocacy Marketing will (and should be) at our near the top of the priority list for technology marketers. If your company has fans, mobilize them. If you don’t, you better figure out why and work to get them.

      That is the long answer. Short answer—Technology Companies as primary focus…B2B secondary (with some B2C flavor for tech companies selling to consumers).

      Hank

  2. Allan Adler says:

    Hank:

    I think your article is spot on. At the end of the day, the fan base or lack thereof has always been out there, but your point is that you can mobilize and use the fan base as a strateigic asset vs. allowing it to do its own thing. It’s intruiging to consider that even among the brands that have strong twitter followership, few reply to tweets, and its this lack of engagement of the base that is an example of what you are talking about.

    Part of the challenge in mobilizing the fan base is the proliferation of social media sites that make it hard to offer yet another destination for fans to share their thoughts. It seems that creating a vision for Advocacy is easy vs the the tactics of pulling off the promise.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Thanks for the nice feedback, Allan.

      As you think about Advocacy Marketing, don’t think about it as “another place to share thoughts”…instead, think of your Advocacy Marketing efforts (and tools) around stimulating the “thought sharing” where people are already hanging out.

      Twitter as a dialogue channel is not ideal, but it is great for amplification…..Other forums might be better suited to starting conversations.

      Hank

  3. Hank: Great post – I’m a product manager at Influitive, and we obviously agree that Advocacy Marketing is poised to make a big difference to B2B companies bottom-line. We’re looking forward to helping companies and advocates recognize the potential value they provide to each other – a key part of Advocacy Marketing is the process of managing symbiotic relationships! We’re trying to help companies scale up the number of happy relationships they can manage with our platform.

    Allan: You have a very good point – oftentimes there is a lack of engagement from the audience in different social channels. We’ve found that oftentimes advocates are not aware of product/service/company conversations happening in a social channel – because they are not actively searching for the terms B2B companies are (who have sophisticated social monitoring tools). We’ve seen B2B companies who expose conversations on social channels to their advocates as opportunities to participate and make their voice/opinion heard (and hence, get more public exposure for their professional expertise).

    For example – someone tweets “Should I buy company X or Y’s product?” A Company’s Social team may pick it up and get a salesperson to respond, but an Advocate Marketing-oriented company would bring the attention of their advocates to the public tweet and get their own happy customers to respond to the prospect rather than a salesperson. We’ve seen this sort of situation happen many times – but the hard part is maintaining an ongoing relationship with advocates so they can stand up for your brand when needed – varying the “asks” of advocates is important over their lifecycle to keep them engaged. References, referrals, speaking engagements, opinion surveys, product feedback, “fun stuff”, user events and other engagement asks are important to bring up with advocates over time.

  4. I agree. We see many conversations on LinkedIn asking for reviews from peers on technology from departments undergoing evaluations.

  5. As someone who is working in this emerging field (and seeking other opportunities to continue doing so), I am extremely gratified to see this type of validation. Seeing analysis like the data presented here will help me to better educate others about the value of investing in an advocate marketing professional.

  6. Liz Richardson says:

    We are a B2B tech company who has recently started exploring this world or idea of advocate marketing. Like your article states, we were well aware that entering a Twitter conversation or tech forum debate around solutions related to our product was probably ranking about a 2 on the believability scale. We knew we wanted our “collection of customers who LOVE our product” (which we definitely have) to be the ones regularly recommending us and conversing with their peers. But how to easily 1) identify all of our willing advocates (not just the tried and true list of 30 we had asked to death) and 2) get them in to the conversations in a way that DIDN’T involve one-off e-mails.

    This applied to customer references, case studies, reviews, referrals – so many things. In social channels it was not only how to continually grow our follower base but also how to get them to amplify the conversation, as you put it.

    We know we have lots of customers who are just in love with our product, but it wasn’t until recently that we’ve actually had the tools necessary to engage, manage and recognize our advocates, creating a new level of relationship with a lot more customers than we were able to before. Now that we have the tool necessary to do all this, we are finding that with customer advocacy, there is a whole new wide world of more effective and meaningful marketing. We’ve only just begun and barely scratched the surface, I’m sure, but we are already seeing results that are far outpacing our former customer marketing and social marketing efforts.

    So, yes, at least for us, I believe 2014 will definitely be the year of advocate marketing.

  7. Kira says:

    Advocate marketing is going to be huge! It is sure way to tap into customers enthusiasm and authentic love for the brand!

  8. Deena Zenyk says:

    You said, “I strongly believe that Advocacy Marketing should be at the top of the priority list in terms of marketing investment.” I say, that’s music to my ears!

    As a marketer who has been in trenches doing this advocate marketing thing for many years (albeit under many different orgs/titles), it’s only recently that what I do is actually starting to make sense across the organization. Sales folks, PD, PM, creative – the idea that advocates bring value to the bottom line and way beyond it is now becoming fact.

    Advocate marketing is real. It’s not a nice-to-have psuedo-marketing program, it’s a must-do. If I had a penny for every time I’ve waved the advocate marketing ROI flag, only to end up being under-funded. Now, less flag waving is required, due in part to blog posts like this. Thanks, Hank!

  9. Jeff Linton says:

    Hank I could not agree with you more, what a difference a year makes! Your first bullet point “A collection of customers who LOVE what your products and services have enabled them to accomplish.” This is why we called our Influitive Hub “ALUV”. Act-On’s Advocacy program allows us to cultivate everyone who Luv’s our service. The Hub helps us manage fans who willing want to share their stories, re-tweet other tweets, blog and speak with other Act-On prospects and customers. Great validation post Hank! Thanks.

  10. Thanks for the brand advocacy affirmation, Hank. We can certainly attest to the fact that the marketplace has dramatically changed, and the power was not left in the hands of the brand — at least like it was even a few years ago. Consumers are the most powerful voices of a brand – not to mention the fact that they are transparent sources of information.

    I wanted to make two points.

    1) While the term “brand advocate” does not necessarily denote just a customer, it is worthwhile to emphasize that Amplifinity’s enterprise clients, particularly those who use our platform to generate long-term advocacy programs, leverage their employees, customers and partners/3rd party influencers to drive advocacy. Each group has its own motivations and responds positively to particular types of programs. All three groups have a tremendous impact.

    2) You made the point that engaging and empowering advocates is critical. To highlight that point: it’s true that brand advocates WANT to talk about a brand, and often do without any nudging from the brand itself. Amplifinity has consistently found that targeted “asks” are imperative to the success of a program. “Asking” can take many forms, and each technology provider determines which asks are most effective, and when and where the asks generate the most advocacy response.

    ROI, lead gen and new customer acquisition that results from a brand advocacy strategy can also be tracked, measured and quantified. All of these factors make advocacy management a “no-brainer” for brands wanting to stay in and on top of the game. We look forward to following your insights as advocacy management continues to grow, Hank.
    ~Theresa Trevor, Director of Marketing for Amplifinity

  11. Hank Barnes says:

    Love the passion of the growing community of Advocacy Marketers…keep the comments on ways to get value and success stories coming.

  12. I work with B2B tech vendors in the Enterprise and Mid Markets. Advocacy is top of kind for 2014 go-to-market.

    We’ve had great success driving content marketing to significant conversion rates and Advocacy is a natural next step for brands that are focused on adding value to relationships with all of their constituencies.

  13. Brandt says:

    Great to see some love for the industry!

  14. As a proponent of customer story telling for the last two and a half-years, I am of the view that some of the fundamentals related to using fans and advocates in marketing have been so far overlooked. Overall, there is a lot of focus on enabling customers to ‘share’ their stories but marketers continue to lag behind in integrating this best marketing asset in their marketing channels. At ReadyPulse, we work with many brands to manage their ambassador programs and the stats prove that the ambassadors are willing to share content that is more effective than generic fans that are doing on their own. However, the issue for marketers is to figure out who these potential ambassadors are and how to activate them and finally amplify the content they provide to get meaningful results that support the investment. There lies the need for focus from digital marketers point of view.

    To the contrary to what has been said earlier in one of the comments, I view social networks like Twitter to be a great dialog channel with your ecosystem, only issue is the amount of traffic is high if your business is a social success. So, marketers need to consider vendors that can provide a proper infrastructure to enable the conversation take place both in a controlled environment as well as on social channels, but reap the benefits irrespective of where the action takes place.

    Overall, thanks for a timely article Hank.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Thank you for the comments. For all readers, my inclusion of comments from providers does not reflect any level of endorsement. As long as comments share ideas to make Advocacy Marketing more effective, I’ll approve them.

      But, in the spirit of Advocacy Marketing, it would certainly be preferable to hear from your customers, particularly in the technology industry. Practioners sharing ideas and tips with practioners would be fantastic.

      Regardless, keep the comments coming.

      Hank

  15. Chris Owens says:

    I think this is the new way. It may have been around for a while but its gaining steam.

  16. alex says:

    Every CMO should be looking at their advocates as a lower-cost, highly influential channel for sales, support and success.

  17. Ali Hyatt says:

    Thanks for an insightful post, Hank. I believe your point about “Organizational willingness to accept the good with the bad as the leverage marketing they can not control” is key and seems to be the difference between the early and late adopters of advocacy marketing. Brands’ consumers have taken control and brands need to hop along for the ride or they’ll be left behind.

    At Upward Labs, we offer self-serve software for brands to track and manage advocates both online and in-person, so we’re obviously behind the importance and future of advocacy marketing. We actually witness, more often than not, that brands we work with are pleasantly surprised (even shocked) to see how much advocates are willing to do on their behalf once they simply ask. Advocates will go so far as to host a booth at a fair, hold an event or circulate petitions on a brand’s behalf.

    It’s a consumer-powered world, so brands should find ways to make this new world work for them, instead of fighting it. Look forward to your future thoughts on advocacy marketing trends and findings throughout the year.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      Lots of nice examples, here Ali. It would be great to hear from some of your customers on how Advocacy Marketing is impacting their business.

  18. Ali Hyatt says:

    Thanks, Hank. Sharing one post from a customer that does a good job of showcasing offline advocate activities (for a product that people often don’t want to talk about: lice prevention shampoo!): http://babobotanicals.com/Kates_Blog/babo-healthy-habit-ambassador-program/

  19. […] per a study, customers trust their peers more than you or any other brand. This is the reason that your […]



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