An Open Letter to CMOs & Marketers

Dear Mr. or Ms. CMO: I have some disturbing news to share with you: your customers and prospects don't trust your messages.

They don't trust your ads, billboards, emails, blog posts, CEO videos, salespeople or pretty brochures.

In fact, most prospects simply ignore your messages. They tune you out, TiVo past your commercials, or sign up for the "do not call" list. In the United States, consumers have placed about 200 million numbers on the do not call list.

But the one thing your customers and prospects trust is each other. They trust each other about where to eat, what car to buy, what fitness club to join,and what hotel to stay in. They even trust the advice of friends  and others when it comes with whom they should hire, seep with, or get married to. in short, advocacy, not advertising, is what determines whether people buy your products or services.

And yet, many marketers don't seem to get it. Despite overwhelming evidence that advocacy is far more trusted than paid media, they continue spending on marketing tools and tactics that consumers don't trust or ignore.

Fitness Club Ignores Advocates

A high-end fitness club where i'm a member gets about 60 percent of its business from advocacy. The club's Advocates are its most powerful marketing weapon. Without them the pipeline for the club's sales force would dry up.

So what does the club's director of marketing spend her marketing budget on?

Billboards, emails, TV ads, and print ads in magazines featuring lifeless color stock photos of models with perfect bodies, hair and teeth (most of whom look nothing like the most real people, including the club's members).

In short, she invests her marketing dollars in everything consumers dont' trust.

Splash Landing 

The club recently opened a new waterpark for kids. To promote the waterpark, the club's marketing director bought billboards featuring a photo fo a little boy sliding down a water slide.

When some people saw the billboards, they thought the club was a public water park like Raging Waters. So families started showing up in bathing suits and beach towels. Embarrassed front desk employees had the unpleasant task of telling the uninvited gusts that the club was a private, membership-only facility.

Seeing the crestfallen looks on kids' faces was too much for the front desk employees. They gave each family a free, one-day pass.

Social Media Hangover

Many marketers are experiencing a "social media hangover."

They're starting to question the value of getting more likes and followers. THey're seeing that only 10 to 15 percent of fans ever return to a brand's page on Facebook, and that less than 1 percent of fans engage with brands on social networks. And here' the dirty little secret about social media: doing social media right takes a lot of people and time, two things most companies don't have.

Social media may be inexpensive compared to traditional media. But social media isn't free. If you add up the cost of allt he people required to manage an effective social media program for a company, you'd be surprised how large the tab really is.

Get Social or Die

Companies can't afford not to be doing social.

You must use the communication channels your customers and others use, and , increasingly, those channels are social. there are now more than 800 million active Facebook users, with more than 200 million added in 2011, according to Social Media Examiner. Plus, there are now 100 million active Twitter users (they log in at least once a day). In fact, we haven't even scratched the surface of the power of social media. The technology is transformational.

Even if you can't measure or prove social media ROI, you can't afford not to be using it. If there wasn't a ROI, would you not do social?

Advocacy: Social Media's Sweet Spot

Ironically, the most valuable thing you can do with social media is something that's been around marketing since ever Eve said to Adam: "Here, take a bite out of this apple. I recommend it."

It's getting your enthusiastic customers (AKA Brand Advocates) to recommend your company, brand, products and services.

As the founder of Zuberance, a company that sells advocacy technology and services, you probably think I'm biased.

Guilty as charged.

But I'm also a career marketer like you. I've tried every type of marketing tool and technique. I've created some award-winning marketing campaigns and some duds. I've never seen any marketing approach work better than getting your Advocates to do your marketing for you. But don't trust me. Ask the Advocates of this approach.

Your Customers Are Way Ahead of You

Awhile ago, I attended a market research firm's annual event for marketers. Speaker after speaker urged marketers to innovate, to try new approaches.

"Your customers are way ahead of you!" they proclaimed. "They're ignoring your ads and using word of mouth networks instead," speakers ranted.

Marketers int he audience applauded wildly. And then they went to lunch with their ad agency to plan their next ad blitz.

Moving the Dollars

It's time to take a few of the dollars you're spending now on underperforming tools that don't work very well, like billboards and ads, and invest in advocacy.

Nancy Terry, SVP of marketing of Sport & Health Clubs in the Washington, D.C. area is a fitness marketer who gets it. Like lots of other marketers, her budget isn't getting any bigger. So she's moving some of her marketing dollars from other marketing tools that aren't working very well into advocacy.

"I am one hundred percent convinced that getting our enthusiastic members to help market our club is an approach that will work," said Nancy, as she launched an advocacy program in early 2012. "After all, word of mouth is the number one way we get leads today. Why not invest in what's working?" she asks.

Good question.


What are you waiting for? 


This letter is an excerpt from Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers Into a Powerful Marketing Force.

To learn more about Zuberance and  identifying, energizing and tracking your Brand Advocates, click here