Brand advocacy programs in the B2B space continue to grow at astounding rates. Analyst firm IDC states: “By the end of 2016, 50% of companies will have active management of communities and a focus on customer advocacy in the community”. Leading B2B companies understand the importance of harnessing customers to drive Word of Mouth Marketing (WoMM) for their brand. However, many companies find out that activating customers and driving participation is not an easy task. The reality is that it is often difficult to get customers to take the actions you want, when you want. But, once they have taken one action to recommend your products or services, getting them to take another action is easier. It’s a matter of gaining momentum.
Think about your business for a minute. If you could drive more word of mouth (WoM) participation from your existing customers, would it help shorten your sales cycle with new prospects? Would broader and more frequent feedback help strengthen the bond between you and your customers? Could your company generate more business if your customers gave you a steady stream of referrals? If the answer to these questions is “Yes”, then your company would substantially benefit from implementing a brand advocacy program.
So how do you activate customers as brand advocates?
Tip # 1 – Make your customers feel special by personally inviting them to be a brand advocate
When it comes to making customers feel special, the personal touch still rules. Consider asking your Account Managers or Customer Success Managers to personally invite their happy customers to become brand advocates. Don’t rely on email blasts to grow your advocate community. Generic emails are easily spotted and rapidly deleted. It’s much harder to ignore a personal request from a real human being on the phone. Hint: using a customer’s first name in an email invitation doesn’t make it personal. If you go the extra mile to deliver invitations in a personal manner, your customers will notice and you’ll be on your way to earning brand loyalty e.g. the way in which you invite customers will affect the number of customers who join. One more quick point to consider: approximately 20% of customers will join your brand advocacy program. So if you have a target size for your brand community in mind, invite five times as many customers. Be sure to cast a wide net and use all of the sales and marketing channels in your arsenal to reach as many as possible. This might include phone calls, emails, letters and social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn.
Tip # 2 – Incentivize your advocates by offering them rewards for their loyalty
The word here is “incentivize”, not “bribe”. It’s true that many people often wrestle with the distinction between these two words. I would contend that an incentive (when properly designed) is not a bribe, as there are a number of different types of advocate reward that don’t involve money. When it comes to advocacy programs that are created to increase customer loyalty using rewards, consider letting history and past performance speak for itself. Dating as far back as the 18th century companies have used incentives in their loyalty marketing programs to reward customers. Most of the popular brands around the world have successfully rewarded their customers for loyalty. If you’re not doing it, your competitors probably are already doing so.
Tip# 3 — Realize that customer advocacy is not a campaign; it’s an ongoing program that requires attention.
Unlike other activities, brand advocacy cannot be run as a campaign – brand advocacy is an ongoing program. True brand advocacy is a long-term effort during which the marketing department applies an overarching strategy to identify and engage customers for product launches, user conferences, press releases or webcasts. Brand advocacy needs to be an ongoing, sustainable program with commitment and support from executive management. Frequent interaction with your advocates will lead to stronger, deeper relationships that are mutually beneficial. So, when you need a customer quote for your next press release about an upcoming user conference, you’ll have plenty of willing advocates ready to step up to the plate.