Advocacy and Customer Experience are key components of my research agenda on go-to-market strategies. Prior to joining Gartner, I shared a blog post (that you can find here) on the CustomerThink community asking if we are under-investing in advocacy, particularly in the technology sector. I’ve shared a shortened version of that post below as a reference.
Do you agree or disagree with some of the ideas below? If you are a technology provider doing interesting things to encourage and support the customers that are acting as advocates for your brand, I’d love to hear about it to help expand our body of research in this area. I look forward to speaking with you.
Do You Under-Invest in Advocacy?
Often when people talk about the social media phenomenum, they seem to be focused on the risk of brand damage. People bring up stories like “United Breaks Guitars” (purposely not linked here due to the focus of the article) and cite how much more likely people are to share bad experiences than good ones. As a result, there is a tendency to focus on social “listening” activities to making sure that brand damage is not occurring.
While I am a fan of “listening”, I think focusing primarily on ”brand protection” is a mistake and a missed opportunity. An associate of mine, Steven Webster (who is now with Microsoft) pointed out an interesting quote from Bill Bernbach, one of advertising’s greatest thinkers and the father of the “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen, and the AVIS “We are number 2, so we try harder” campaign.
“We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it. We are so busy listening to statistics we forget that we can create them.”
The idea of “creating statistics” is reinforced by some information I’ve cited before that I found in a blog post at MackCollier.com and will quote it here again:
“Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have concluded that it only takes 10 percent of a population holding an unshakable belief in order to convince the majority to adopt that same belief. In fact, the scientists found that this will always be the case.”
These ideas make me think we may be spending money in the wrong places. I’ve yet to see anyone make the focus of their marketing program the development of a strong (10% or greater) base of advocates. Do you ever here businesses talk about the number of strong brand advocates they have? Rarely, but they will talk about the number of people that “like” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter–regardless of the level of engagement in these broad audiences. Putting advocacy development at the core of your social business strategy should be a priority. Remember it only takes a passionate 10% to sway the majority, but your brand needs to find the right targets for the number of advocates it wants to develop and nurture. Establishing and tracking these goals is key to social success. It would be great to hear companies spend more time talking about the size of their advocate community more often than their broad follower numbers.
And imagine the power of a passionate 10% coming to your defense when something bad happens. It is worth more proactive consideration and investment.
Just to recap, if you are a technology provider with some interesting advocacy programs, please reach out to me. I’d love to hear about your programs and results.
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I think a great thing a customer-oriented company can do is allow customer dissatisfaction on their social platform, and through that social mechanism, remedy/correct/investigate/communicate with the dissatisfied poster. Every company, regardless of how wonderful your customer facing team is, will have an upset client at some point, a red account they’re about to lose, a list of accounts who attritted, etc. The true mark of a customer oriented company is identifying WHY the customer is unhappy, and HOW they will rectify the situation. When you can pull in a happy customer to help advocate for you – to coach your unhappy customer – they bring in that customer perspective, that peer-to-peer interaction that the vendor/vendee relationship can’t always achieve.
You’re absolutely right about a missed opportunity. At my former company, our VP of Customer Success liked to tell the story of a very unhappy customer call she was on. At the end of the call, she asked the customer to be a Customer Hero. Out of line? Not at all. Who is a better hero for your brand than a customer who has taken issue? Only they will be able to tell the story of how your company reacts to problems in the customer base, which is fairly compelling. That is the best customer to have on a reference call with your next unhappy client. Or even your next prospect!
We use Influitive as our customer advocacy portal, where we centralize the marketing ‘asks’ through a reward based platform. We’ve utilized these advocates to put in a coaching call to a customer, to share with them how they use our products, and help educate accounts before they become dissatisfied with us. Now this wouldn’t be appropriate for every shaky account, but for those handful that would like another customer’s perspective, it works great. At the end of the day, customers tell the best stories for your brand, and they will come to your company’s defense and offer their own coaching when you’ve instilled in them that they are just as important to the company’s success (and the products they love so much) as those on the payroll.
Hank – great post and I wholeheartedly agree that we can be doing more with our great customer advocates. Thankfully I’m in a lucky role – as director of customer culture at Eloqua I get to work with our amazing advocates on a daily basis, but not a week goes by when I don’t think of some fun new way we could tap into their passion for our company. If only there were a few more hours in the week to make all those ideas happen!
At Eloqua we believe our customers are our lifeblood, and the Advocates are the true heart. We connect with them through our Topliners community (http:///topliners.eloqua.com) where they’re keen to jump in with their peers and help guide them in the ways of marketing automation and just plain good marketing. We connect with them through handwritten thank you and congratulatory notes, and sometimes by even mailing a baby onesie to our Advocates who are expecting (every baby needs a “Mini Modern Marketer” outfit to get started out right!). We connect with them at our annual Eloqua Experience conference through special Advocate-only events, reserved seating in keynotes, special pins (“flair”), and last year they were also invited to participate in a flash mob, which they really loved.
We ask a fair bit of our Advocates: reference calls, customer-peer calls, social media help, speaking at events, etc. So we look for ways to give back to them when possible by giving them early access to product release information or the ability to connect directly with a product manager, for example. They’re all happy to participate in Advocacy actions for the simple benefits of increased networking and company exposure, but when we can give them a special thank you or insider access, they truly appreciate that too. Who doesn’t like to be delighted?
The understanding for the need of advocates, champions for your brands and products has always been there, but I think this task has previously been more in the responsibility of the sales team/point of sale due to the customer interaction they get. However, mainly thanks to social media, we see now more and more that customer buying cycles are getting shorter and shorter and customers do not interact with sales until they are ready to buy. Customers are relying heavily on the opinion of their peers.
Your advocates are your real sales force in this case and if you neglect to see it, your brand could be forgotten about over the noise advocates make for other brands.
Nevertheless, customer orientation requires a cultural change within the organisation. It is not just marketing and sales who need to change their approach, but also R&D, customer services, support and many more.
I see advocate programs as a chance for marketing to move away from being seen as just a cost centre and to be taken seriously as a revenue generating entity, advocacy programs and also marketing automation are part of the tools that can help deliver proof.
Thanks for all the comments. For the other readers, the last comment is a link to an Influitive blog post that shows advocacy marketing well (Influitive provides a SaaS solution for managing and motivating advocates).
They saw my post and used their system to notify their customer advocates about my request–and quickly generated a number of responses that have turned into useful conversations for my research.
A great example of the power of customer advocacy programs.