In The Engagement Economy, Advocacy Trumps Loyalty

Advocacy Trumps Loyalty

In The Engagement Economy, Advocacy Trumps Loyalty

by Josh Catone

Posted on 08-04-2017

When Amy Downs joined Lifesize as chief customer success and happiness officer in 2014, the videoconferencing company was in the midst of transitioning its business model from selling on-premise products through channel partners to selling cloud services directly to customers.

Downs realized success would depend not only on generating advocacy from existing channel customers, but also on customers who would recommend their products to peers.

“Advocates aren’t always your most loyal customers,” Downs told CMO.com. “Your advocates are really the ones who care enough to talk to you.”

Indeed, advocates might gush about your product, or they might rake you over the coals for some issue, but if they’re taking the time to proactively give you feedback, those are the people you want to identify as advocates. They’re providing your brand with an opportunity to engage on a personal level.

Advocacy also encompasses a willingness for customers to tell others about your product, said Calvin Peters, PR and digital communications manager at Walgreen Co. At the core, Downs’ and Peters’ definitions are two sides of the same coin: Brand advocates are the ones who take the time to talk about a company, either to the brand or to their peers.

Fostering Advocacy

We’re now living in a constantly connected engagement economy. Word-of-mouth has always existed, but now people talk at unprecedented scale across of multitude of online and offline platforms. In a world where it takes six to eight touches with your marketing to generate a sales lead, and 80% of marketing reach comes from amplification via customers, it is absolutely clear that marketing is no longer one-to-one or even one-to-many. It’s one to many—to many—to many.

To succeed with advocacy, brands have two jobs: to deliver an experience worth talking about and to make it easy for customers to share those stories.

It all starts with one basic truism, experts said: A product has to be good. All the customer evangelism and excitement in the world can’t save a bad product. But fostering advocacy actually can improve your product. That’s one of the main reasons Downs said she has put so much focus on identifying and connecting with Lifesize advocates. The feedback provided by the company’s most vocal advocates helps it identify product and service issues, improve things like onboarding, and chart a path toward future features or services.

Fostering advocacy also involves engaging customers. In the three years since Downs joined Lifesize, the company’s NPS score has rebounded from -4 to north of 80. That’s largely because, at the start, it made a commitment to be customer-centric, Downs said. Everything it does stems from a core value to deliver a great customer experience over anything else.

“The foundation for any customer advocacy is based on delivering an amazing customer experience, so brands need to focus on that as a top priority,” said Chris Newton, VP of marketing and business development at Influitive.

Newton counsels brands to talk to their customers often, across all platforms, and not only when they want something from a customer, such as feedback or a purchase. “Customers’ vision of your brand encompasses your every interaction with them as well as their every interaction with your product, so make them good,” he told CMO.com.

In addition, brands can’t be successful at fostering advocates unless they first listen to what their customers are, according to Dave Peck, former PayPal global head of social and digital media marketing and current KIND Financial CMO. “Once you hear what they are saying, see what is actionable and realistic to improve the customer experience,” he told CMO.com.

Advocates are the canary in the coal mine for brands. They’ll let you know when you’re on the right track or when you need to pull back and course correct. “The customers who are going to engage with you, who are you advocates, are going to tell you what is going wrong,” Downs said. “You’ve got to be listening everywhere.”

In the engagement economy, that means paying attention to multiple channels with the realization they can reach large audiences with a click.

It also makes it all the more important to reflect the values of their customers, said Jamie Grove, co-founder of Minimuseum, which has run three successful $1 million-plus Kickstarter campaign.

“To get people to advocate, you need to be very genuine in your approach. You need to actively demonstrate that you are doing the sorts of things that match up with [their] values,” he told CMO.com, adding that the way to do so is by “crafting stories and creative that makes the customer see themselves in an idealized state.”

For example, during his time as VP of marketing at ThinkGeek, Grove and his team focused on making geeky things look extremely cool. “It worked for us because we believed they were cool, too, and so the creative came across as genuine at the same time.”

Storytelling is also core to advocacy efforts at Walgreens, which, through its VIP Influencer program, encourage influencers (previously identified advocates) to share stories about shopping experiences or specific products. “We look for opportunities to create shared stories,” Peters told CMO.com. “We give people a platform and a reason to share their thoughts, which propels inherently authentic, earned advocacy.”

Finally, to truly reap the benefits of customer advocacy programs, an entire organization ought to be engaged. “We have over 220 Lifesize employees in our community, actively engaging with customers,” Downs said. They come from almost every department in the company, from customer support and product marketing to sales and engineering.

The commitment to team-wide customer-centricity is important for multiple reasons. When everyone is on the front lines, the likelihood that customer problems will be solved effectively and efficiently is more likely. It also demonstrates to customers a high level of commitment and care from the brand. And it opens up multiple touch points across the brand with customers that offer opportunities to delight and deliver a positive experience.

“I encourage my team to look for personal and unique ways to appreciate our customers,” KIND’s Peck said. “Sometimes it’s the simplest things, such as picking up the phone and giving a customer a call and having a conversation.”

To Pay Or Not To Pay

The consensus? Better if you don’t.

“Paid advocacy creates shallow customers. They might buy once or maybe twice, but they do not stay in for the long term,” Grove’s Minimuseum said. Peck echoed that sentiment, pointing out that encouraging customer advocacy is about creating meaningful experiences, which is done by delivering things people want to engage with, not by artificially boosting engagement with incentives.

That’s not to say paid advocacy is never appropriate. But it doesn’t have the same long-term effect or ability to scale as organically earned advocacy behavior. Peters said Walgreens focuses on quality over quantity, regardless of the type of campaign.

“We’ve found broad programs designed to get hundreds or even thousands of advocates to say something in exchange for a small gift or points are not particularly effective,” he said. “The content is often uninspired, so it doesn’t seem to engage or inspire their friends, which is the ultimate goal of advocacy.”

Measurement, however, is a must, providing that it’s of the right metrics.

“A common advocacy mistake is to focus too narrowly on a tactical marketing metric, such as number of referrals, online reviews, or social shares per month,” Newton said. Focusing on narrow top-line numbers also can lead to missed opportunities for using advocates for activities such as product development or community support.

For those in need of a more visible accounting, Peters recommended share of voice (SOV), which measures how many people are talking about your brand vs. your competitors.

“We’ve found really strong correlations between winning share of voice and increasing sales,” he said.

Topics: Experience Cloud, Insights Inspiration, Digital Transformation, Marketing, CMO by Adobe

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