How this green start-up disrupted the $2 TRILLION CPG INDUSTRY without buying ads

How does a scrappy start-up disrupt the $2 trillion consumer packaged goods industry, while spending almost nothing on paid media?

Method, an eco-friendly cleaning products, built a successful business and brand by inspiring advocacy.

"Don't sell to customers, create Advocates for your social mission," Method founders Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry state in their excellent book, "The Method Method."

In fact, inspiring advocacy is so key to Method that it's one of their seven "obsessions" or guiding principles for the company.


Method's Success Formula

Method lacked the marketing warchest to wage a paid media battle against giants like P&G and Unilever, each of which spends billions annually on ads.

As a challenger brand, Method needed a more cost-effective marketing approach to build its brand and business.

So Method focused on inspiring Advocates. 

Here's Method's method:

1. Start with a belief

What's your brand's social mission? What do you stand for? Think beyond the products you sell. Method's social mission was to get dirty out of people's homes.

2. Brand from the inside out.

Building a belief brand starts on the inside. Create the kinds of products you'd want your family members to use and hire people who embody your brand's values.

3. Aim small and over-serve.

Focus on a niche and serve this niche better than anyone else. Method focused on three archetypes --  true greenies, trend-setters, and status-seekers --  that together represent about 27% of US households. As you do this, your goal should be to make Advocates your biggest group vs. a small percentage of your customers.

4. Create a movement.

Method did more than sell a product. It created a movement, as summarized by the tagline "People Against Dirty."

Method engaged its Advocates on an ongoing basis --- soliciting their ideas, enabling them to share the Method story, inviting them to join and participate in an online community of like-minded people, and even getting Advocates to protest against a legal action against Methd by Clorox.

Shift your Mind-Set

Here's how Ryan and Lowry sum it up:

" succeed in a world of earned and social media requires to shift your mind-set from talking to customers to inspiring Advocates."

Learn More about Method

You'll find more about the Method story in my book Brand Advocates. Footnote: Method was acquired in 2012 by Belgian company ECover. Nice exit for Eric, Adam, and the Method team.









Why Do You Need an Advocate Community?

A growing number of consumer and business brands have Advocate communities -- online communities of their highly-satisfied customers and others who are enthusiastic about the brand, products, cause, or vision.

Why do you need an Advocate Community? Here are five reasons:

1.     You need more positive Word of Mouth. Your sales depend on Word of Mouth. Nine out of ten consumers and business buyers say recommendations from friends and peers heavily influence their purchase decisions. Advocate communities are an effective way to super-charge Word of Mouth by encouraging and rewarding Advocates to spread positive WOM about your brand and products.

2.     You need more organic reach. Organic reach refers to how many people you can reach for free on Facebook by posting to your page. Organic reach on Facebook has plummeted to about 2% for most brands, according to DMR. This means that you've likely noticed a drop in how many of your fans have been viewing and interacting with your organic posts. An Advocate community helps solves this problem by creating a direct, unfettered line of communication between you and your Advocates.

3.     You need more referrals and sales. Brands with Advocate communities are seeing sharp increases in the number of referral leads they’re getting from Advocates. Bomgar, a secure remote access company, increased its referrals by 700% after starting an online Advocate community. In addition, brands are finding that Advocates who are community members spend more than other customers. For example, members of Sephora’s BeautyTalk spend 10X more than non-community members.

4.     You need more user-generated content. UGC like user stories, reviews, and testimonials is the most valuable and trusted form of content. Nearly every brand struggles to get more UGC. Advocate communities encourage, enable, and reward Advocates for creating amazing content that’s proven to drive sales.

5.     You need to increase loyalty and reduce churn. Even your Advocates can fall out of love with you, at some point. Advocate communities keep the love light on, long after the glow of buying your product starts to fade. An Advocate community helps cement relationships with Advocates by creating ongoing engagement and two-way dialogue.

If these needs resonate with you, an online Advocate community could be a excellent solution for you.


Skimm'bassasadors Spur Growth for theSkimm

Have you heard about theSkimm?

It's a curated daily newsletter that targets female millennials. Founded by two female ex-NBC news producers, theSkimm has rocketed to rapid growth:

  • 3.5 million active subscribers
  • 1 million social followers, 80% of whom are women
  • 40% open rate (more than 2X higher than standard email open rates)
 theSkimm makes it easy to be smart.

theSkimm makes it easy to be smart.


Advocate Marketing Fuels theSkimm's Growth

Advocate marketing -- a marketing approach of systematically identifying and mobilizing your highly-satisfied customers and others enthusiastic about your brand or products --  is driving theSkimm's growth.

The centerpiece of theSkimm's Advocate marketing program is theSkimm's Ambassadors ("Skimm'bassadors.")

13,000 Strong

Why limit your Ambassador program to a handful of paid influencers?  theSkimm has created an army of 13,000 Skimm'bassadors, a powerful Word of Mouth marketing force.

In return for promoting the newsletter to friends, Skimm'bassadors get Skimm swag like T-shirts, tote bags, and umbrellas. Skimm'bassadors also are also given early access and exclusive offers to the Skimm's partner brands.

Beyond SKIMM Swag

Skimm'bassadors also get connected to a professional network made up of like-minded enthusiasts.

For an audience of female millennials, this reward can be much more rewarding than brand swag.

Word of Mouth key

Trevor Wade, global marketing director for brand design and consulting firm Landor (theSkimm is a client) told AMA's Marketing News that Word of Mouth being spread by Skimm'bassadors has been key to theSkimm's success:

"We know (word of mouth) is one of the best ways to market a brand...because you have the trusted opinion and recommendation of somebody, and you're much more likely to give something a try or come to it predisposed to like it when you hear it from a friend."

That's a marketing insight not worth skimming over. 



Top 5 Marketing Benefits of Advocate Communities

Online Advocate communities are hot.

Thousands of B2C and B2B brands are creating and launching customer communities, with many of these focused on brand's most passionate customers -- Advocates.

Here are the top five marketing benefits your brand can get from an online community of your Advocates:

1. Increase sales

Advocate communities can turbo-charge your sales. 

Many brands have doubled or even tripled the number of referrals they're getting within only weeks after starting an Advocate community. While this result won't occur every time, Advocate communities should boost referral results by making it easy and rewarding to refer friends.

Advocate communities also can help you boost sales by encouraging and enabling Advocates to share your promotional offers and discounts with their social and peer networks.

We've seen conversion rates 50% higher or more for offers shared by trusted Advocates with friends compared to offers sent by brands to prospects. 

2. Drive advocacy

Nine out of ten buyers say product reviews influence their purchase decisions. And after only three negative reviews, 59% prospects won't buy. (source: Google consumer study.)

Advocate communities help you increase advocacy by getting more positive product reviews plus other valuable content like Advocate-generated stories, testimonials, case studies, success stories, and more. (This content can be used to drive organic search traffic, improve email conversions, increase web sales, and more.)

In addition, Advocate communities help you cost-effectively reach more prospects by getting Advocates to share your content like videos, white papers, and product announcements on their social channels.

 HOG (Harley Owners' Group) is the grand-daddy of Advocate communities with over one million members who are passionate about riding and, of course, their Harleys.

HOG (Harley Owners' Group) is the grand-daddy of Advocate communities with over one million members who are passionate about riding and, of course, their Harleys.

3. Reduce attrition 

Customer churn can cost your company millions of dollars in lost revenues. In some industries, customer churn is as high as 50 percent. Reducing customer churn has a major positive impact on the bottom line. 

Advocate communities help cut churn by building deeper relationships with Advocates. A key to this is the dialogue that communities enable between you and your Advocates and with each other.

4. Boost engagement

Smart marketers today know that effective marketing doesn't end once you acquire a customer. It's about keeping your customers involved with your brand. At the highest level, this means building an emotional connection between your brand and your customers.  

Advocate communities boost engagement by providing multiple opportunities for Advocates to engage with your brand through things like content creation, referrals, sharing, surveys, polls, and more.

5. Get valuable ideas and feedback

Advocate communities will help you get valuable ideas and feedback for how to improve your products, services, and customer experiences. Focus groups are expensive and time-consuming. Advocate communities are like a real-time, online focus group of your most passionate customers. 


In short, Advocate communities help you strengthen customer relationships -- the key to building a stronger brand. 




Top 10 Stats about the Power of consumer Online Reviews

Consumer Reviews: Highly Trusted, Influential

92% of people regularly or occasionally read online reviews (source: BrightLocal, 2015)

90% of people say online reviews influence their purchase decisions (source: Dimensional Research, 2013)

88% of people trust online reviews from strangers as much as personal recommendations (source: BrightLocal, 2014)

By an overwhelming 77% to 23% margin, consumer electronics buyers say they put more trust in consumer reviews than expert reviews (source: Weber Shandwick, 2014)

30% of consumers say they begin their purchase research by going to Amazon and reading reviews (source: The Harvard Business Review, "What Marketers Misunderstand about Online Reviews," 2014)

Positive Reviews = Increased Sales

Restaurants that boost their Yelp rating by one star can increase revenues by 5% to 9% (source: Harvard Business School Study, 2011)

Given equal pricing, guests are 3.9 times more likely to choose hotels with higher ratings than lower ratings. And even if the hotel with great reviews has higher pricing, travelers are still willing to book at that hotel  (source: PhocusWright, 2014) 

Negative Reviews = Lost Business, Damaged Reputation 

92% of people will hesitate to do business with companies with less than four out five stars (source: BrightLocal, 2014)

Four or more negative articles about your company or product appearing in Google search results is likely to cause you to lose 70% of potential customers (source: Moz, 2015) 

It only takes one to three negative reviews for most people to decide not to buy your product or service (source: Lightspeed Research)






How do you rate your advocate reviews program?

Advocate Reviews can help you boost your online ratings, enhance your online reputation, and increase revenues -- but only if you follow best practices.

How do you rate your Advocate reviews program?

Here are five questions to ask yourself. Give yourself one star each time you answer "yes" to the question below:

5 stars = excellent

4 stars = good

3 stars = fair

2 stars = poor

1 star = very poor

1. is your Advocate Reviews an ongoing program?

It’s not smart to start a review program to temporarily boost your ratings and rankings, then discontinue it, even if results aren’t immediately compelling.

Here’s why: 

This “start and stop” approach usually results in wiping out the gains you’ve made or could make in the future once the program gains momentum.

Here’s an actual example of a Zuberance customer:

Rating before program started: 2.8

Rating six months later: 4.1

Rating three months after stopping program: 3.2

Even if your Advocate reviews program doesn’t boost your ratings and rankings in the short-term, it’s still very important to get “fresh” reviews on third-party sites plus your site.

Prospects place significantly more credibility in recent reviews than older reviews.

44% of people say a review must be posted within the
last month to be relevant. (source: BrightLocal.)

Bottom-line: You should be soliciting reviews an ongoing basis. You will get the most benefits from an Advocate reviews system and program, not a short-term campaign.

2. are you Leveraging Advocate reviews in multiple places?

Advocate reviews are a premium form of user-generated content. UGC is about 2X more trusted and influential than brand-created content, studies by Contently and others have shown.

In addition to encouraging and enabling Advocates to post positive reviews on third-party sites, here are three places to display this valuable content:

•    On your website, particularly on “buy pages” and on other high-traffic pages

•    In your marketing emails to add valuable “social proof” 

•    In your social media marketing with tactics like "Customer Review of the Week"

Make sure to make Advocate reviews very visible on your website. Prospects and other site visitors shouldn’t have to work hard to find these reviews. 

Leveraging Advocate reviews has proven marketing benefits:

•    Boost SEO results

•    Increase engagement on your website

•    Increase conversion rates on your website plus in email marketing campaigns plus boost sales

Here’s an example of how Hibu, one of our customers, is leveraging Advocate reviews on its website. Check it out below and here:

 Notice how nicely Hibu displays featured reviews. Hibu also uses an attractive, informative header that includes the total # reviews; reviews by star rating, and the average star rating. In addition, users can sort reviews in several ways including by most recent and also search by keyword.

Notice how nicely Hibu displays featured reviews. Hibu also uses an attractive, informative header that includes the total # reviews; reviews by star rating, and the average star rating. In addition, users can sort reviews in several ways including by most recent and also search by keyword.

As mentioned above, putting Advocate reviews in emails is proven to boost click-through rates, conversions, and sales.

This skincare company got a 25% increase in click-through rates after it added Advocate reviews to this email:

3. are you Soliciting Advocate Reviews in multiple places and ways?

Dedicated emails to customers are a proven, effective way to generate reviews. But since Advocate reviews are so valuable, you should also be soliciting reviews on other channels like:

  • On your website
  • On your social channels like your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
  • On customer portals
  • On your online community
  • Kiosks in your stores

In fact, you should be soliciting reviews in nearly all places that your customers interact online or offline with your company or products. 


Whether or not you succeed in getting Advocates to publish their reviews on third-party sites, the feedback you get from all reviews (positive and negative) can benefit you in many valuable ways.

By analyzing reviews, you can use this feedback to:

  • Improve your products and services
  • Learn more about key customer segments
  • Identify a problem and solve it before it wreaks havoc with your business

Are you regularly sharing reviews with discussing insights and actions with?:

  • Product management
  • Customer experience
  • Sales


One of our customers only allowed customers who previously identified themselves as "Promoters" (9s and 10s) on a customer survey the opportunity to rate and review.

This not only severely reduced the number of reviews they received but also didn't allow them to get feedback from all customers. 

Best practice: give everyone the opportunity to rate and review, even if you only accentuate the positive!

How did you rate your company? Let us know.



The Business Case for Referral Marketing

Considering referral marketing for your business? Smart move.

Referral marketing is a proven, highly cost-effective tactic to generate highly qualified leads, get customers, and boost awareness.

Plus, referred-in customers are proven to be 37% more loyal than other customers.

Gigaom Research sums it up this way: “Brands that invest in referral can gain a competitive advantage over those investing elsewhere.” 

Top 10 Facts about Referral Programs

Here are the top 10 facts about referral marketing programs:

1.     People are 4X more likely to buy when referred by a friend. Did you know that 2 out of 3 Millennials block ads? Most people don’t trust or even pay attention to ads, but referrals get people to buy. (source: Neilsen.)

2.     Referrals are the most effective form of lead generation for B2B marketers. Fifty percent of B2B marketers said referrals delivered the largest number of qualified leads for their company ahead of email (48%), live sales visits (46%), direct marketing (25%), and white paper downloads (20%). (source: Chief Marketer)

3.     Customer referrals can drive stunning profits. A study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that referred customers are 18% more loyal, 16% more profitable, and that companies earned 60% on referral rewards. (source: “Why Customer Referrals Can Drive Stunning Profits,” Harvard Business Review.)

4.     Referral marketing is a proven customer acquisition tool. In a study, 27% of marketers said they get more than half of their new customers from referral marketing. (source: “Workhorses and Dark Horses, digital tactics for customer acquisition” Gigaom Research.)

5.     Referral marketing provides multiple marketing benefits. In the same study, marketers cited four key benefits of referral marketing: acquisition (31%), conversion (31%), retention (26%), and awareness (23%). (source: “Workhorses and Dark Horses, digital tactics for customer acquisition” Gigaom Research.)

6.     Referred-in customers are more loyal. Referred-in customers have a 37% higher retention rate than other customers. Depending on much customers pay for your products or services, and how long they typically stay, this means that referral programs can generate millions in dollars in revenues for your company. (source: Deloitte)

7.     When friends refer, people buy. Word of Mouth is the primary factor behind 20%-50% of all purchase decisions (source: McKinsey)

8.     Referral marketing is one of the lowest-cost lead gen channels. B2B marketers rated “referral/advocate marketing” as the third lowest-cost lead gen tactic, behind only social media (not paid ads) and email marketing (house list.) (source: “Cost-per-Lead by Channel, according to B2B Marketers”, Software Advice.)

9.     Referral marketing also delivers among the highest in quantity and quality leads. In the same study, B2B marketers rated referrals as “very high in quality and quantity” along with trade shows and events and email marketing (house list.)

10.  Conversion rates for referrals are almost 4X higher than any other marketing channel. In a Marketo study of its customers, B2B marketers said the average conversion rate (lead to opportunity) was 11% for referrals. Following referrals are partner-generated leads (4.5%), inbound leads (3.8%) and paid marketing (about 3%.) The lowest-converting channel was email (.55%.) (Source: Marketo.)




How to Create Brand Advocates

Many CEOs and marketers ask me this question: 

"How do we create Brand Advocates?"

Here's the answer:

Surprise and delight your customers. Go beyond the expected. Create memorable, "WOM-worthy" experiences they'll tell others about. (Like I'm about to do now in this post.)

Hotel Mokara Creates Advocates

Hotel Mokara, a lovely hotel/spa on the San Antonio River Walk, knows how to create Advocates. 

My wife Debbie and I stayed at the Mokara last week while I was in town to speak at an American Marketing Association (AMA) San Antonio luncheon.

Early one morning, Debbie went to the lobby to get some work done when she realized she didn't have her "readers" with her. So Debbie asked the front desk reception person if the hotel had a spare pair.

("Readers" are reading glasses that correct close-range vision and sell for about $10. I've bought about 63 pairs of readers in the last couple years. I have readers my car, in my desk at work, in my tennis bag, in the bathroom. I once had to buy a pair of readers to find the readers I misplaced.)

Doak Walker to Debbie's Rescue

 Doak Walker, Hotel Mokara Manager

Doak Walker, Hotel Mokara Manager

Doak Walker, Hotel Mokara's manager, overheard the conversation between Debbie and the front desk receptionist. He gladly offered to go to the local CVS and buy Debbie the readers.

Mr. Walker returned about five minutes later with a new pair of readers in hand. (He even called the front desk while he was in the CVS to make sure he bought the right magnification.)

Amazingly, Mr. Walker refused Debbie's offer to pay him for the readers. "Oh no," said Mr. Walker, with a smile. "Absolutely not."

Mokara Means Mo-Caring

Many brands try creating Advocates by showering customers and other influencers with swag, gifts, points, and coupons.

There's really nothing wrong with treating your customers well. (Debbie and I really appreciated the complimentary champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries on our second and final night at Mokara.)

But it's remarkable service experiences and caring professionals like Doak Walker that earn genuine loyalty and advocacy.

Debbie can see that clearly, thanks to Doak Walker.

PS: Doak was named after Doak Walker, the famous Southern Methodist and Detroit Lions football player. There's an annual college football award called the "Doak Walker Award" that goes to the nation's top collegiate football running back. However, there's no family relation between Doak Walker the famous football player and Doak Walker, the hotel manager extraordinaire.







Checklist: Are You Following Referral marketing best practices?

Referral marketing can deliver “stunning profits” for your company, according to a study published a few years ago in the Harvard Business Review.

The study found that referred customers for a bank are 18 percent more loyal and 16 percent more profitable than non-referred customers.

Banks aren’t the only types of company that have benefitted from referral programs.

DropBox, the online file sharing service, is considered one of the most successful referral programs of all time. The company’s referral program helped DropBox grow from 100,000 to 4 million users in less than 18 months.

Is Your Referral Program Missing the Mark?

Despite these tantalizing numbers, your referral marketing program may not be delivering desired results.

This checklist of five referral marketing best practices will help you determine if you’re following referral marketing best practices:

1. Are you promoting your referral program effectively?

Like most marketing programs, the success of your referral marketing campaign depends a lot on effective promotion.

Are you using all of the promotion tools available to boost awareness of your referral marketing program and invite people to refer friends?

Here’s a list of 10 ways and places you can leverage to promote your referral program. How many of these are you using?

1.     Dedicated emails

2.     Email newsletters

3.     Reminders including footers in other emails

4.     Banners and buttons on your website

5.     Social outreach via your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, plus other social channels

6.     In-product reminders. Invision is a good example of a company that does this well. It seems like about every 10 times I log in to Invision, I get a request to refer friends.

7.     Paid media including Facebook custom audiences

8.     Messages from all customer-facing employees like account managers plus your business partners to promote the program.

9.     Invitations to referral friends in post-purchase messages like Thank You pages

10.  Create a contest or sweepstakes. TiVo generated over 100,000 referral actions in a referral sweepstake managed and powered by Zuberance.

2. Is your referral reward and/or incentive compelling?

Rewards and incentives boost referral results but only if they’re compelling. Here’s what I mean by “compelling.”

·      Valuable: The rewards and incentives are viewed as valuable by your potential referrers and prospects. By the way, valuable doesn’t always mean money. DropBox gave referrers and their referred friends free storage.

·      Relevant: Your rewards and incentives should reflect the price of your offering. Tesla gave referrers $1,000 for each referred-in customer. That may seem like a lot. But the average price for a Tesla is about $70,000.

·      Timely: There should be adequate time for referrers and referred friends to promote your offer and receive incentives and rewards. This is especially the case for considered purchase decisions like travel. For example, a referral reward of $500 off for a trip to Europe if you book and take your trip in the next 30 days doesn’t make a lot of sense. That is, unless you’re on the run from the law.

3. Are you inviting everyone to refer friends?

Referral programs shouldn’t be limited to current customers and Advocates. Are you inviting all of these types of people to refer friends to you?

·      Current customers

·      Past customers

·      Prospects

·      Partners

·      Employees

Invite Detractors to Refer Friends?

We’re often asked this question: Should we invite Detractors (people who respond 0-6 to the 0-10 likely to recommend question) to refer friends?

You probably don’t want to send referral offers to customers who responded 1 or 2 to the 0-10 question. It may just irritate them more.

However, you may want to invite customers in the middle range of the Detractor category -- like 3-6 – to participate in the referral program.

Keep in mind that the Net Promoter scale is unforgiving. Only customers who answer 9 or 10 (highly likely to recommend) are considered Promoters. Many Passives and even some Detractors would refer friends especially if there is a compelling incentive.

4. Are you making it easy for referrers?

I’m an advocate of, the online bill paying service. But I’m not an Advocate of the user experience of’s referral program. does a good job of promoting the referral program on the home page of its website. The “refer a friend” call to action is right there in the upper right-hand corner of the site.

But the referral form doesn’t follow best practices:

·      It only gives me one way to refer friends

·      There is no social sharing capability

·      I must put my friend’s phone number on the form

·      I can only refer one friend at a time

Check it out for yourself: and let me know what you think.

Review your user experience for referrers and referred friends. Making it easy is super-important.

5. Are you personalizing the referral experience?

Lastly, here are several ways you can personalize the referral experience. Are you using all of these:

·      Putting the referrer’s name in the subject line of the email to the friend. Example: “Rob has an offer to share with you”

·      Putting the referred friend’s name in the body of the email. Example: “Debbie, I recommend this product to you.”

·      Enabling referrers to choose from a couple or three offers to share with friends.

If You Don’t Succeed at First…

You’d love to have the kind of success that DropBox did. Who wouldn’t?

Truth is, very few referral programs achieve success immediately. Here are the key questions to ask yourself:

1.     Are you carefully analyzing data from every element of the referral program flow and user experience? Where are the “drop off points” occurring? Are certain types of your customers participating at a higher rate in the program than others? Why?

2.     Have you tested other referral rewards and incentives? I know of brands who tried over a dozen different rewards and incentives before finding the right formula. Don’t over-react. Give rewards and incentives adequate testing time.

be patient and persistent

Your customers are inundated by marketing messages – about 5,000 each day – including referral offers from other vendors. Ongoing promotion is critical if you’re going to break through this communications clutter.

Feel free to reach out to me at if you’d like to discuss your referral program.