Customer advocacy programs are defined as follows:
A marketing program that encourages and enables your highly-satisfied customers to pro-actively recommend your company and its products/services to peers and others.
Customer advocacy is a rapidly-growing area of marketing. According to a 2017 study by IDC, 67% of B2B IT vendors have customer advocacy programs, a 570% increase over 2016. Many B2C companies also have customer advocacy programs, although they may refer to them as “Brand Ambassador programs” or “Brand Advocate programs.”
What’s Driving Adoption of Customer Advocacy Programs?
Companies are embracing customer advocacy programs because of two facts:
Buyers trust Word of Mouth more than anything. Ninety-two percent of people trust WOM over any form of paid media including ads. (source: Nielsen.) Online adults are 5X more likely to trust a brand or product recommendation from friends or family than an online ad, and they are twice as likely to trust them over information found on a brand’s website. (source: Forrester.) In the age of empowered buyers, you must have a systematic marketing program to amplify positive WOM on review sites, social networks, and elsewhere.
High ROI, relatively low cost. Customer advocacy programs are proving to deliver high ROI as measured by:
Media value: trusted user-generated content like stories, testimonials, reviews, and more.
Sales value: driving prospect traffic, qualified leads, and even sales.
Loyalty/engagement value: increasing customer engagement and retention.
On average, our customers are seeing a 24X ROI from customer advocacy programs. In a study by Forrester, most B2B marketers said they can tie revenue results directly to advocate participation.
Customer advocacy programs typically cost a fraction of paid media programs like advertising.
For example, a single, full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal (one time, one insertion) is $248,000. For that amount or even much less, a company can fund a customer advocacy program involving thousands of Advocates for an entire year.
How Customer Advocacy Programs Work
Customer advocacy programs have four key steps, as shown below:
Invite. The first step is to invite customers to join your customer advocacy program. This can be done by sending emails to customers plus promoting the program on other communications channels like your social media; website; customer portals; or even within your product experience.
Mobilize. Once customers join your advocacy program, you want to immediately enable and encourage them to participate by doing things like:
Creating and posting positive UGC like reviews, stories, testimonials, case studies, endorsement quotes, videos, photos, and more. A client of ours got a 400% increase in positive reviews and increased its ratings from 3.7 to 4.2 (out of 5) by mobilizing its Advocates to post reviews on a leading B2B reviews site.
Sharing your content. By this we mean getting Advocates to take your content — your case studies, blog posts, social posts, white papers, videos, etc. — and posting this on their social accounts: their LinkedIn, Twitter, or in the case of consumer brands, their Instagram and Facebook. By doing this, you can dramatically extend your reach. Most people today have a total of about 500-1,000 social contacts and connections. If you can mobilize 1,000 customer advocates to share your content, you can reach 1 million prospects.
Referring peers/friends and distributing your sales/promotional offers. Customer Advocates can serve as a virtual sales force by delivering highly-qualified referral leads for you plus posting your promotional offers on their social media. People are 4X more likely to purchase when referred by friends and referral leads are known to have a 5X-10X higher conversion rate than other leads. Plus, referred customers are 37% more loyal than non-referred customers (source: Deloitte.)
Serving as Advocates in other ways. For B2B companies, this includes mobilizing Advocates to participate as guests on webinars and podcasts; speak at trade shows; participate in reference calls with prospects; participate in formal case studies; and more.
Reward. When Advocates participate in the activities above, you should show your appreciation by giving them rewards like gift cards, discounts, brand swag, and other perks. At Zuberance, we have a robust rewards system that includes all of these items plus enables Advocates to earn status within the Advocate community; get on a Leader Board; earn badges; and more.
Re-engage. Customer advocacy programs are not one-time marketing campaigns or promotions. They’re ongoing marketing programs. Most of our clients issue a new “challenge” to Advocates — a “challenge” is an activity they’d like Advocates to participate in — about once a week or once every two weeks. This enables you to get more value/ROI from customer advocacy programs than a one-time campaign plus enables you to build meaningful relationships with your Advocates.
Beyond References or Referrals
Many B2B companies and others have stand-alone reference or referral programs. Customer advocacy programs take these stand-alone programs to a new, more valuable level:
Customer advocacy programs encourage and enable Advocates to participate in multiple ways, all from within a single program. As mentioned above, this includes content creation, content sharing, referrals, offer sharing, plus serving as Advocates in other ways.
Customer advocacy programs are pro-active. Customer advocacy programs engage and activate Advocates on an ongoing basis — once a week or once every two weeks — to get the word out. Many reference programs are focused primarily on static case study collection. As Forrester says:
“B2B marketers should adjust their investment mix between static customer case study collection (resulting merely in impressive collateral that nobody reads) and a more agile, digital advocacy program that engages with buyers as early as possible in the customer life cycle.”
Top 4 Benefits of Customer Advocacy Programs
To summarize, here are the four top benefits that your organization can get from a customer advocacy program:
Increased awareness/positive WOM. Getting Advocates to share positive information about you on social media boosts awareness and drives interest. As Forrester says: “WOM and peer testimony are powerful B2B marketing tools.” The same applies to B2C.
Dramatic, rapid increase in UGC. A client of ours needed customer endorsement quotes for its revised website. In the past, getting customer quotes was like pulling teeth. This time, the company tapped its customer advocates for quotes. They got almost two dozen quotes in 24 hours!
Increased engagement/loyalty. Customer churn is a big problem in nearly every industry and category. Study after study has shown that engaged customers are more loyal and less likely to leave. Customer advocacy programs help in two ways: 1) by boosting engagement of customer advocates themselves and 2) by leveraging customer advocates to remind other customers of the benefits your products/services offer.
Positive impact on sales. While B2C companies can see an immediate sales lift from an advocacy program, this benefit often is more elusive in B2B companies especially firms with long, complex purchase processes. Nevertheless, most would agree that a pro-active program to showcase and amplify your happy customers positively impacts the sales funnel — from awareness to interest through consideration, trial, and eventually, sales.
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If you don’t have a customer advocacy program — or if you have “pieces” of a customer advocacy program, you’re missing a major opportunity to drive awareness, UGC, engagement, loyalty, and sales.
As Forrester concluded: “Customer advocacy must be a part of your strategy.”
Footnote: What about other Advocates?
Customers aren’t the only ones who can serve as effective Advocates. Here are others who you can create advocacy programs for:
Partners like sellers, value-added resellers, distributors
In most cases, it’s best to have separate advocacy programs for these groups because a) Different groups of Advocates have different profiles, characteristics, and needs and b) while there may be some overlap, you usually will have different activities and rewards for different Advocate groups.