Brands are looking for more cost-effective ways to advertise themselves online. And the secret is increasingly more obvious – loyal customers often make the best brand promoters at little to no cost.
Customer advocacy focuses less on what the brand has to say and more on what customers have to say about their brand experience. Consensus among buyers in favor of a particular brand lends enormous credibility to that brand. Citing studies from Nielson and Business2community, Hubspot noted that brands focusing on building credibility have greater success reaching members of their target audience.
“You’ve heard about the power of word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing — over 90% of consumers trust WOM marketing recommendations over any other type of marketing. Moreover, customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate, making customer advocacy a particularly strong acquisition play.” – Hubspot
What is Customer Advocacy Marketing?
Customer advocacy marketing publicizes user-generated content from real customers to lend brand credibility among members of a target audience.
This marketing approach may take many forms, including product reviews, influencers, brand ambassadors, client case studies, referral programs, and more. If you know how to publicize authentic customer feedback with the customer’s implied or explicit permission, there’s almost no wrong way to go about customer advocacy marketing.
But for brands that have yet to partner with customers in this way, the process can feel slightly intimidating. And that’s why we’ve created this guide – to show you how it works, along with several great examples of customer advocacy marketing come to life.
How can brands find their influential customers?
Finding influential customers to speak on behalf of your brand means paying attention to brand mentions online by conscientious, well-spoken customers.
But if you are a new business, there may not be much in the way of those mentions in user-generated content.
Furthermore, your growing business will prevent you from the time it takes to comb through every customer social media profile looking for positive mentions of your brand. This tedious approach is unreasonable. Thankfully, there’s a better way to incentivize, discover, and promote your most influential customers.
How can brands recruit customer advocates?
When it comes to customer advocacy, authenticity is essential. If your target audience senses disingenuous praise, you risk damaging your reputation and alienating customers.
The most critical foundation to a good customer advocacy program is a great product and top-notch customer service. Customer advocates rise up organically after they’ve enjoyed an amazing shopping experience. If you want customer advocates, you must take the quality of your deliverables and customer care seriously.
Happy customers are more than willing to promote your brand within their realm of influence. The trick is paying attention to when a customer is overjoyed and making it simple for that customer to share their experience with the world.
Influencers as Customer Advocates
The best influencers have created a connection with their audience, and respond diligently to thoughtful replies and questions.
As authorities within a particular lifestyle or industry, influencer opinions carry major weight among large, eager audiences. Experts refer to this phenomenon as “expert social proof.”
“The idea with expert social proof is ‘people that I want to be – not my peers – I aspire to be them.’ What brands do with influencers, that’s a perfect example of leveraging expert social proof.” – GRIN Gets Real interview with Kate Bradley Chernis, Founder & CEO of Next Step
Expert social proof is a powerful source of social influence that represents the one of the finest opportunities for customer advocacy marketing. However, influencers as customer advocates strongly implies that those influencers know your products or services well.
Brand ambassadors represent a more brand-loyal category of social influencers. These ambassadors promote only the products and services that they love and frequently do so before the brand ever approaches them for a partnership.
Securing brand-influencer partnerships is a lucrative example of customer advocacy marketing, so long as your influencer community genuinely loves your products or services.
Non-influencers as Customer Advocates
Just because a customer lacks thousands of social media followers doesn’t mean that they can’t help you reach your customer advocacy goals.
In fact, the average customer that can clearly express their delight for your products carries enormous influence over other prospective customers. In its simplist form, these customer advocates leave raving reviews on business directories like Google and Yelp.
But there are many additional ways to leverage customer advocates on behalf of your brand. The best customer advocates – whether or not they are influencers – can produce authentic content that other buyers will find compelling. Not only can you incentivize this feedback, but you can also promote it across multiple channels.
Advocacy Marketing Strategy in 5 Steps
If you’re new to the idea of advocacy marketing, we’ve broken the process into five easy steps. As you nurture a community of customer advocates, you’ll have the insight you need to tweak your program for greater ROI over time.
Step 1: Identify your customer advocates.
The first step is to focus on customers that love your business and aren’t afraid to talk about it. But it’s important to remember that not every delighted customer is equally forthcoming in their public praise.
If you’re unsure of where these customers are, you can “smoke them out” using a few effective tactics.
Create a campaign.
Many brands launch a campaign that is customer-focused. Common examples include contests or participatory events that incentivize user-generated content. This approach is also referred to as experiential marketing.
In addition to watching your customer advocates stand out from the crowd, you will also endear customers to your brand.
“In 2021, there is a need to rebuild connection and emotional appeal to our brands, because I think we’ve largely lived in a very disconnected world because of COVID. Brands should be thinking about how to rebuild those emotional connections.” – GRIN Gets Real interview with Kate Bradley Chernis, Founder & CEO of Next Step
Create a loyalty program.
Loyalty programs use quantitative analytics to help you identify customers that keep coming back. You can approach these customers directly or offer loyalty bonuses for publicly promoting your brand.
These loyalty programs can also include handsome rewards for referrals. Many brands use this technique to identify and leverage customer advocates at the same time.
Build a social community.
Customer engagement forges relationships.
In addition to your partnerships with influencers and other social advocates, there are many ways to use your social media presences to increase engagement with your audience. Facebook Groups focused on your industry or a niche market can help you add value to your brand and join peer-to-peer conversations with your target audience.
Compelling lifestyle content on visual platforms like Instagram and TikTok can also increase follower excitement. Engagements (likes, comments, shares, etc.) become tools to help you identify more customer advocates.
Knowing how your customers feel about your brand can give you insight into whether or not you are placing hurdles in the way of customer advocacy.
For example, customer surveys can help you find weaknesses in your products or customer experience. Armed with this feedback, you can quickly improve your operations and make it easier for customer advocates to rise to the surface.
You can also use surveys to prompt happy customers to promote you online. For example, many survey platforms allow you to encourage customers to share their positive comments publicly for all to see. These same platforms also encourage disgruntled customers to divert their comments into private conversations with agents that can help them resolve a dispute.
Use an influencer search tool and eCommerce integration (GRIN).
Due to their credibility, influencers are some of the best customer advocates. Influencer search tools like GRIN can help you identify influencers that match your industry, voice, and values.
Additionally, GRIN will integrate with the leading eCommerce platforms. These features allow you to use product gifting to recruit influencers that genuinely love your brand. It’s critical to your customer advocacy program that you have your influencers try your products or services before you formally partner with them to promote your brand.
Step 2: Set your customers up to advocate successfully.
It’s a mistake to expect your customer advocates to take the initiative to promote your brand every time. Timid customers will hesitate to promote your brand publicly no matter how happy they are with your products.
Customer advocacy can be fun for your customers, especially if you have a few processes in place. Here are some common examples that might also work for you.
Use and offer hashtags.
Promote branded hashtags that draw attention to your business. Especially if your hashtag aligns with a particular lifestyle, solution, pain point, or inside joke, customers enjoy passing the hashtag along.
Creating and monitoring hashtags is free and simple on all the leading social platforms.
Incentivize your customers with reward programs.
Customers can exchange rewards or points for product discounts or store credit. If a customer has already expressed adoration for who you are and what you do, offer rewards or points for voicing that opinion publicly.
That said, you shouldn’t make the mistake of tempting customers to alter their opinions in the face of financial reward. But you can use certain non-financial rewards to encourage customers to spend more frequently, place a positive review on multiple platforms, take a picture of them using your product, and much more.
Give your customers social content.
User-generated content consists of all third-party posts that features or mentions your brand. Building a campaign around user-generated content will encourage happy customers to display your products and services in fun ways.
When a customer advocates for your brand, giving them a public shoutout is a great way to promote the customer’s content while also making the customer feel appreciated.
Step 3: Build brand love.
Look for new ways to deliver joy and value to your audience. When you create content, focus on authenticity and transparency. Showcase the brand-customer relationships that are working, and try to replicate those relationships among more members of your customer base.
Step 4: Remain customer-focused.
Relationships are earned. As you connect with your customers, take extra steps to strengthen the bond.
You can strengthen your customer relationships by acknowledging their feedback, adding value in unexpected ways, engaging them in meaningful conversations, sending them exclusive limited-time offers, resolving disputes quickly, and more. The brands with the most customer advocacy treat their audience with the utmost care.
Step 5: Create the best customer success programs.
Customer advocacy programs create a direct and powerful line of communication between your brand and the customer. Armed with this candor, you and your customer service teams can upgrade your products and customer care tools.
Particularly among B2B and tech companies, customer advocacy informs the client onboarding process. Your customer advocacy programs will blossom if you invest in those operations that ensure increased customer success with your products and services.
Customer Advocacy Marketing Examples
What They Did
Chipotle took advantage of TikTok’s challenge feature to produce countless customer posts promoting their brand.
Image via TikTok
In the #ChipotleLidFlip challenge, customers everywhere posted their response from their TikTok account. The challenge eventually found its way to YouTube.
Image via TikTok
Why It Worked
Chipotle created a fun activity previously only known among employees and converted the experience into a branded hashtag. On a $0 budget, Chipotle generated thousands of participants – many of them influencers and high profile customers.
Customer advocacy marketing doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In Chipotle’s case, seeing customers having fun at a local store increased engagement among customers and raised awareness for certain menu items.
What They Did
An up-and-coming insurance provider, Root, allows new customers to prove their good driving skills before getting a quote. Furthermore, they can earn driving badges, get discounts, and promote their driving accomplishments on their social media accounts.
Image via Root
Root also gives customers credit for referrals. Not only do they enjoy more points to earn badges, but they also receive discounts on their insurance premiums. Referral messages are personalized and entice new customers to create a social profile on the app and test their driving skills (regardless of whether or not they get an insurance quote).
Image via Root
Why It Worked
Root’s customer advocacy program helps drivers lower their insurance premiums while showing off their safe driving skills. These “badge” features attract curiosity and make it easier for customers to generate referrals through their very own affiliate links.
Insurance is usually boring, but not the way Root does it. The quote process is fun and motivates customers to publicize the fact that they are lowering their insurance by driving safer and referring their friends and family.
Image via LogoWorks
What They Did
Several years back, Starbucks made headlines with their Tweet-A-Coffee campaign. Customers could link their Starbucks app to their Twitter account and Tweet a friend’s Twitter handle to @tweetacoffee to send their friend a $5 gift card.
Why It Worked
Customers everywhere embraced the “pay-it-forward” feature on Twitter. It was fun and encouraged many new customers to try Starbucks for the first time. The campaign also placed Starbucks front-of-mind for millions on Twitter.
Customer advocacy programs are highly effective when they encourage gifting between customers, as did Starbucks’ Tweet-A-Coffee campaign. It took an old idea – gift cards – and made the experience more memorable and interactive.
Family Gifts Co.
What They Did
Family Gifts Co., a photo canvas company, repurposes customer images in sponsored ads to promote their Christmas gifts.
Image via Instagram
These customer images show finished products in lifestyle shots that appear more authentic and endearing. Not only did the brand save on design costs, but they also made deeper connections with their audience.
Why It Worked
Family Gifts Co. is a lesser-known DTC brand with very little brand awareness. Repurposing customer content gave them an edge over large photo print companies like Shutterfly by promoting pictures of their products in real life.
With a customer’s permission, you can repurpose compelling content, share on your company page, and even achieve more ROI on paid ads. This technique also works great when repurposing influencer content.
What They Did
COVID-19 has been hard on air travel. But that hasn’t stopped Southwest from inviting their customers to have fun on flights. The brand regularly encourages flyers to reply with their own compelling content, such as the Twitter post below.
Additionally, Southwest is known for performing customer care openly on social media. Customer disputes receive validating responses, suggestions, and alternative solutions. In all things, Southwest keeps their social media activity customer-focused.
Why It Worked
Southwest always maintains a fun-loving attitude online. Marketers regularly employ humor and audience participation in their content strategy. Customers enjoy the interactions and are happy to engage.
Even though you’re a business, you should treat your customers like real people. Refusing to get defensive in response to public customer complaints demonstrates your willingness to provide the best customer experience. Keeping your content fun and inviting engagement often produces delightful user-generated content.
Conclusion: Your best customers are your number one influencers.
Customer advocacy marketing makes the most of elevating the needs of customers. By consistently putting your customers first, you’re bound to create a crowd of delighted brand advocates.