As marketers, we like to think that the customer path to purchase is fairly straightforward. We identify prospects and then communicate our message to them on their computers, phones, tablets and televisions. We place ads on billboards along their commute and in the magazines they read, all in an effort to increase their interest, lead them to the consideration phase and, ultimately, get them to buy our products.
But deep down, we all know it’s so much more than that. We’re not just in the business of spitting out ads—we’re in the business of building brands and relationships. To do that, we need to think beyond the sale to customer lifetime value and focus on building brand advocates who can, in turn, convert new customers.
That’s a real paradigm shift for most marketers, and it requires a change in mindset, as well as in process. Brand marketers have turned retargeting strategies that help retain customers into an art form, but even retaining customers isn’t enough. The true value lies in turning customers into brand advocates, which is something more than even a repeat client—it’s someone who actively promotes your brand, online and off.
According to a study by Nielsen, 83 percent of consumers say they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of family and friends. Two-thirds of respondents even trust opinions posted online by consumers they don’t know. Word-of-mouth marketing is powerful stuff.
Let’s take a look at how you can best identify and cultivate brand advocates to drive value for your business.
Identify brand advocates
Brand advocates make the extra effort to share their experiences with friends, family, co-workers and anyone who is willing to listen.
The key to identifying brand advocates is using the information that technology has put right at our fingertips. Consult your customer-relationship-management system to see who is participating in referral programs and monitor online reviews to see who is taking the time to share their positive vibes. Then, use social listening tools to measure the “who, what, when, where and why” that contributes to the making of a brand advocate:
- Who: Who is mentioning your brand online, e.g., on social media, blogs, new sites, etc.?
- What: What are they saying?
- When: Is there a time of day, day of week, day of month or season when people talk about your brand more frequently?
- Where: Where are your brand advocates posting? Can you identify any behavioral patterns?
- Why: What drives them to post? Do they like or dislike your brand, and why?
Measuring social metrics can help you identify influencers at every level, whether it is a mom in a small town who influences other moms, a guy who tried your product for the first time and just can’t stop posting about it or a fashionista with 5,000 followers. These are authentic brand advocates who don’t have to be paid to promote your brand. Get to know them by tracking their behaviors and learning what makes them tick.
Put a price on advocacy
Once you understand who your brand advocates are, you can take the next step by converting existing customers into new advocates. You can also identify prospects who share similar traits with your advocates and work to convert them into customers and, eventually, advocates themselves.
The secret to measuring the value of brand advocacy boils down to three letters: CLV, or customer lifetime value.
The traditional sales funnel usually ends at the conversion. Sure, brands will retarget customers to encourage repeat purchases, but they are still regarding a purchase as the holy grail of metrics. Brands have to think about, and try to measure, the other ways in which a customer drives value for the business.
For example, if a customer is promoting your business for you, how much traffic—and, potentially, conversions—does that generate? What could it save you in traditional marketing costs?
Companies should be willing to spend more to retain customers who promote their products, and to land new customers who share similar traits with their brand advocates, as they could be their future cheerleaders.
Encourage word-of-mouth marketing
You can’t force your customers to talk about you, but you can certainly encourage it. First and foremost, you must deliver a quality product or service. Second, you can create or curate intriguing and relevant content that people will want to share with their networks.
Everyone wants to create the next viral video, but even more important is to create virality within your target audience. Reaching 100,000 people can be as effective as reaching 20 million if those 100,000 are in your target group and the most likely to convert.
You can also get more customers to share your content simply by asking them to do so. Include a strong call to action in your social media posts. Consider sending recent purchasers personalized emails asking them to share their experience. Recognize the posts, tags and photos your customers share by reposting and retweeting them. This not only rewards their loyalty and encourages continued advocacy, it is also a form of free promotion for your brand.
Consider sending your best customers special discounts and promotions to reward their loyalty and, hopefully, get them talking. You can also leverage referral programs, in which you give customers a discount or promotion to share with a select number of friends. This has worked quite well for food-delivery services like DoorDash and Postmates, subscription boxes like BarkBox and Ipsy and ride-share programs like Uber and Lyft.
Keeping up with marketing changes can feel exhausting, but brands can truly leverage word-of-mouth marketing to their advantage. Take steps to recognize your brand advocates, to encourage more customers to become advocates and to put your advocates to work for you by publishing quality content, running strategic campaigns and remaining a high-quality business your customers can trust.
Farshad Fardad is CEO of global digital marketing company GlobalWide Media.