What's the Difference between "Fans" and "Advocates"?

Marketers often use the terms "fans" and "Advocates" inter-changeably.

Fans and Advocates are more loyal and engaged than other customers. But there are three important differences between the two groups.

1. Advocates go out of their way to recommend your brand and products. 

For example, you may be a fan of a particular beer brand. You really like the beer and drink it often. You may have liked the beer brand on Facebook or follow it on Twitter. 

Advocates, on the other hand, go way beyond buying your products or liking you on social.  

Advocates pro-actively encourage their friends and others to try and buy the products they love. In the case of the beer brand, Advocates will buy the beer for their friends and tell them: "Dude, you gotta try this!"

In short, Advocates are like salespeople and marketers for your brands and products. Fans, not so much.

2. Advocates are your most loyal customers.

Fans love you when you're winning. But when you hit a losing streak, fans will often desert you. (Look at all those empty seats at San Francisco 49ers' home games.)

Advocates, by comparison, will support and defend you, protecting your cherished reputation even when you're down.

I saw this at Apple, where I worked for several years as a marketing communications consultant. When Apple was sputtering many years ago, its Advocates stood by its side.

Remember that old Tammy Wynette song? Well, you could change the name of the tune for Advocates to "Stand by your brand."

3. Advocates don't just cheer, they get into the game with you.

Advocates are your most engaged customers.

They get in the game with you by giving you ideas and feedback; suggesting new products and services; and joining online communities of fellow Advocates.

And they're the first to participate in online and offline events.

Rubio's, a San Diego-based casual restaurant famous for its Baja fish tacos, holds an annual beach clean-up called "Coast Fest." Rubio's Advocates are the first to show up at the beachfront for Coast Fest with plastic bags and twist ties in hand.


One last big difference: Advocates create and share content like positive reviews, stories, videos, and more at a 2X to 10X higher rate than fans, our real-world results show.

Identify Your Advocates

Get started by identifying your Advocates by name and contact info. Then put these super-charged recommenders to work for you!

Customer advocate vs. employee advocate programs: What's best?

Since this is an election season, I have a question for you:

Which type of advocacy program do you think has the highest value for your company: Customer Advocate marketing programs vs. employee advocate programs?

Cast your vote now.

Meanwhile, here's my response:


It Depends...

Before you think I'm an "Advocacy Fence-Straddler" with one foot in a blue state and one in a red state, let me explain my vote:

Both types of advocacy programs are valuable. The answer really depends on what you're trying to achieve.

Employee Advocacy Programs are best at:

  • Boosting recruitment
  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Getting employees to share your content, thus extending your brand reach in a very cost-effective way

Customer Advocate Marketing programs are best at:

  • Driving revenue
  • Generating referral leads
  • Boosting online ratings and rankings
  • Creating user-generated content

Customer Advocate Marketing #1 FOr driving Revenues  

Forrester recently asked marketers which type of Word of Mouth program was generating the most revenue.

The winner by a landslide:

Customer Advocate marketing with 70% of the "vote" versus 55% for category influencer programs and 45% for employee advocacy. 

Not an Either-Or

In fact, you shouldn't pick between customer Advocate marketing or employee advocacy programs.

Both are valuable, proven approaches to building your brand and business.

Here's my two cents: take some of the budget you're going to spend in 2017 on paid media and ads, and instead invest in your most credible "spokespeople":

Customers and employees.

Your brand will be the winner when it backs both of these advocacy candidates!



How Advocates Turbo-Charge the Marketing Funnel

Looking to turbo-charge your marketing funnel?

Unleash your "Advocate Army"!

Advocates can help you turbo-charge every phase of the marketing funnel, from top-of-the-funnel awareness-building to bottom-of-the-funnel conversion and sales.

This diagram shows specific ways Advocates can add value at each step of the funnel:

So at what stage of the funnel do you need most help?

Creating Awareness

Let's say awareness is your key challenge. Advocates can boost awareness by sharing your content like your videos, white papers, case studies, and more with their peer and social networks.

Advocates are your most loyal, enthusiastic customers. They'll gladly re-tweet and re-post your content.

On average, Advocate sharing rates are 2X to 5X higher than other customers.

Boosting Purchase Intent

Is your primary funnel challenge getting prospects to increase their purchase intent?

Energize this part of the funnel by enabling and encouraging Advocates to create and post five-star reviews on shopping sites.

Positive reviews not only increase purchase intent, they also can lead to an immediate purchase. For example, millions of travelers immediately book a hotel room after reading a positive TripAdvisor review.

Increasing Conversion

The "marketing choke point" in your funnel may be getting prospects to purchase your products, download your app, or sign up for a free trial.

Get sales flowing by inviting Advocates to share your offers with their social and peer networks and by referring friends.

Conversion rates for Advocate referrals are up to 50X higher than conversion rates for web leads and other marketing tactics.

Maximize Funnel Impact

Get the most value from Advocate marketing by deploying your Advocate Army at every stage of the marketing funnel.

You can do this by giving Advocates multiple ways to recommend your brand and products, as the chart above shows.


How to Build Advocacy for your Brand

Brand advocacy programs focus on getting customer Advocates and others to recommend your brand -- versus a particular product -- to others.

Brand advocacy programs are proven to:

  • Increase positive awareness and brand perceptions
  • Create a "halo effect" around your brand that positively impacts product sales
  • Accelerate growth. A 12% increase in advocacy scores can double a company's revenue growth rate, studies show.

How Brand & Product Advocacy Programs Differ

Product advocacy programs often focus on getting Advocates to post positive product reviews.

Brand advocacy programs, on the other hand, are usually about creating more favorable perceptions of your brand. This is often done by encouraging and enabling Advocates to create stories that reflect favorably on your brand.


GoDaddy Boosts Brand Advocacy

GoDaddy has a very active product advocacy program that gets highly-satisfied customers to recommend GoDaddy products and services like web hosting. 

At the same time, GoDaddy has begun a brand advocacy program aimed at improving its brand reputation.

Thousands of customers Advocates have created and shared stories that reflect positively on GoDaddy.

In a recent program, GoDaddy encouraged and enabled small business owners to share their business success stories. This helps positions GoDaddy as a champion of small businesses.


Intuit Gets in the Game

Like GoDaddy, Intuit's "Small Business, Big Game" also is an effort by Intuit to be perceived as a champion of small businesses.


Tens of thousands of small businesses have shared their stories of what inspired them to start their businesses, reaching millions of potential Intuit customers.

The prize for the winning small business: a Super Bowl ad, courtesy of Intuit.


An effective strategy for boosting brand advocacy is to mobilize Advocates against a common enemy.

For example, Salesforce.com has enabled thousands of its Advocates to share their stories and testimonials under the "No Software" banner.

Thinking of starting a brand advocacy program? We'd be glad to share best practices, how-to's, and critical mistakes to avoid.











What's the roi of boosting Your Online Ratings?

Companies that boost their ratings on shopping sites like Amazon.com may increase their sales revenues by about 10% for each .1  their ratings go up, for example from 3.5 to 3.6 stars.  


And, companies that boost their ratings one full point -- for example from 3  to 4 stars -- may double their sales revenues, our research and real-world experience shows.

Online Ratings Heavily Influence Purchases

Nine out of 10 prospects say consumer online ratings influence their purchase decisions, numerous studies have shown.

If your product gets four or more stars (out of five), prospects are very likely to buy your product. But a large majority of shoppers -- over 80% -- won't buy a product with less than four stars, studies show.

Boosting your online rankings increases the likelihood that prospects will buy your products (see chart below.)


Purchase intention increases as ratings increase. 

Purchase intention increases as ratings increase. 

Real-Wold example

Company "A" is a consumer electronics company.

The company's flagship product previously had a 3 rating out of 5 on Amazon.com, where at that time it was generating about $500,000 in annual sales revenues. At 3 stars, most shoppers were reluctant to buy this product. 

The company began a systematic effort to identify and mobilize Advocates to post positive reviews on Amazon. (The company did not pay or provide incentives for Advocates to post positive reviews.)

The company's sales revenues started increasing as its ratings started going up, first from 3 to 3.1 then from 3.1 to 3.2, etc. However, the company saw the largest sales lift when the rating jumped from 3.9 to 4.0 stars.

Within one year, ratings for the product increased one full point from 3 to 4 stars and sales revenues from Amazon doubled from $500,000 to approximately $1M.


Numerous studies have shown the ROI of increased star ratings:

  • 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)
  • Hotels that increase their ratings by one point on TripAdvisor can boost revenues 39%. (source: “Hotel Performance Impact of Socially Engaging with Consumers,” Cornell University Hospitality Research Center.)
  • Restaurants that boost their Yelp rating by one star can increase revenues by 5% to 9% (source: “Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com,” Michael Luca, Harvard Business School, 2011)
  • 92% of people will hesitate to do business with companies with less than four out of five stars (source: BrightLocal, 2014)

norton revenues jump 200% on Amazon.com

Check out this 90-second video featuring a Zuberance customer, especially the part where she says revenue increased 200% after her company began an Advocate reviews program.


You also may want to look at this cool infographic:





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:

"...to 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.