Creating brand advocates: The root of advocacy

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Advocate Marketing is about finding and mobilizing your happy customers to spread positive word of mouth recommendations and support your marketing objectives. But where do these brand advocates come from? How can you get customers to talk about what you do? What will cause one customer to advocate your brand and your products (or services) when another won’t? It’s all about the customer experience: which means it’s all about perception.

Let’s rewind for a moment. Brand advocacy happens in two different ways:

  • A prospective customer asks a current customer about their experience – a sort of “pull” advocacy.
  • A current customer is so pleased (or disappointed) with their experience that they feel like they have to tell anyone and everyone.

The difference is in whom initiates the conversation: the customer themselves, or somebody who’s in the market. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to look at “push” advocacy – e.g. what makes people shout about your products or services?

People talk about things that are exceptional in the classic use of the term: things that are an exception to the norm. There was something different and better about the experience. It went beyond expectation. So what exactly is an expectation? Expectations are patterns of assumption that the human brain uses to simplify the model of the world we carry around in our heads. These patterns are called schemas. They help us to easily recognise and manage routine situations and how to behave in these situations. Like gravity. If you’re holding a coffee cup and let go, you know it will drop. You don’t need to understand the physics of gravity. Your observations and experience tell you that the cup will drop to the floor. But what if a coffee cup slipped out of your hand and hit the roof? You’d tell people about it. Why? Because it disrupted a mental schema…it went against your expectations. It was remarkable.

In essence, the formula for driving brand advocacy is simple: if you want people to talk about what you do, give them something remarkable to talk about. Give them an experience that goes beyond their expectations, and “breaks” the mental schemas they have that relate to products/services in your category. Something that makes the customer think: “I didn’t know that one of those could do something like that”. It is this sort of schema disruption that people can’t help but talk about.

So what schemas/expectations/assumptions do people have about your products/brand/category? List the assumptions that people make about your category/brand/products…then work to break those assumptions (in a positive manner). They’re everywhere:

  • Fast food is bad for you
  • Sports cars are expensive
  • Enterprise software apps are painful to use
  • You get what you pay for
  • Big companies have the best products

Advocates are people to whom you’ve delivered exceptional products or services. There’s no factory where you create advocates. You can’t create advocates, only people who advocate – they display behaviour created through the disruption of a mental schema. The more you exceed expectations the more advocate behavior you get.

In essence, the formula for driving brand advocacy is simple: if you want people to talk about what you do, give them something remarkable to talk about.

It’s more commonly called “going the extra mile”. Going ten extra miles is exponentially more powerful than going one extra mile. Literally. If you tell a friend you went out for a five mile run in the morning they’re unlikely to find that remarkable (unless maybe you have a broken leg). If you tell your friend you ran 60 miles before lunch you’ve definitely got their attention. However, the effect doesn’t last long. The exceptional quickly becomes normalized as the customer’s mental schema changes and expectations shift. The second or third time you tell your friend that you ran 60 miles they’ll be less impressed. They’ve heard it before. If you repeat anything enough times it becomes mundane; unremarkable. When people get a flight upgrade from economy to business, they talk about – at least the first time. The variance between what they expected and what they got triggered the need to tell people about their experience. They might mention it the next time, but after half a dozen times they won’t even mention it, unless they’re asked (push advocacy diminishes and turns into less vocal pull advocacy).

So, once a mental schema has been disrupted, expectations quickly change. The exceptional becomes normal (and unremarkable) and experiences become commoditized very quickly. You have to keep measuring expectation to see where you need to go to next to create advocacy. If you trace brand advocacy back to its source, the origins lie in product design and the way you service customers. What is it about what you do that impresses people? Unfortunately, it’s going to be different every time, so the question is this: what are you going to do next to impress your customers?

The dilemma for marketers is that it’s their job to find new customers, but they often have little influence on product design and customer service: no say in the shape of what they’re marketing. This disconnect makes it difficult for an organization to “close the loop” on brand advocacy generation. With advocate marketing tools, you can measure brand advocacy and discover precisely what it is that customers are talking about. But the marketing department needs to work more closely with R&D to work out which developments that will trigger more advocacy. Too often, R&D departments spend too much of their time trying to catch up with competitors, working to neutralize perceived weaknesses – leaving little time to introduce the exciting features that drive advocacy. Ultimately, the big question is this: how can you create products that customers will sell for you?

To find out more about how you can drive brand advocacy, check out our Advocate Marketing solution

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