Until around 20 years ago, the world was dominated by a long-established model of “industrial” media and advertising. The newspapers, television networks and radio broadcasters controlled the flow of information and corporations controlled every aspect of their brand image through PR and broadcast advertising (backed by big advertising budgets). Without a means to communicate en masse, the customer voice was muted. The reach of any individual customer extended to just a few people.
But with the birth of the Internet and mobile – and the consequent rise of social media – the voice of the customer is louder than ever before. With more customer opinions available, people are empowered to dig deeper through the web and social platforms when considering a purchase. As a result the buying process has changed, taking the control of information away from the business and handing it to the customer. Nowadays prospective customers have all the tools they need to cut through the vendor hype and get the whole truth from the most trusted source –customers.
Your customers control your brand image
The ethos behind peer influence hasn’t really changed since people first began to communicate with each other. People have always sought the advice of their peers, and their peers have always been ready and willing to give their opinions. However, before the communications explosion that was ushered in by the Internet the customer voice was too quiet to be heard. There were few situations where the customers could shout louder than a vendor’s multi-million pound advertising budget and prospective customers found it difficult to find and communicate with current customers. The voice of the customer wasn’t being heard, so businesses were prone to ignoring the little voice – for better or worse. Whilst big corporations could control their brand image with advertising budget they would stick to a big-budget broadcasting approach.
In recent years, the rise of social media has tipped the scales. Businesses no longer have complete control over their brand image. Where before a brand was what your company said it was, now your brand is now what your customers say it is – publicly, vocally, frequently and passionately.
Peer influence is number one
Despite these seismic shifts, one thing has remained the same: peer influence is still the largest single influence on B2B purchasing decisions. Professionals have always sought advice from their peers, attributing more gravitas to the opinion of a colleague than the promises of your marketing department or sales people. There are two key factors here: impartiality and experience. Your peers are impartial, whereas sales people have an agenda and are biased. Your peers can talk about the reality of what they have got from your products or services; a sales person can only speak about the proposition – most often, they don’t use the product themselves.
Customers are empowered
In a world dominated by social media, your customers hold all the cards and have the power to make or break a company almost overnight. These days, happy customers are your greatest asset, and disgruntled customers your biggest threat. With industrial media all but abandoned, organizations need to embrace social media to get the message across. Most organizations have already replicated their ‘old-school’ broadcast strategies on Facebook, Twitter and a few other mainstream social media platforms. Many have taken the next step and actively engage in one-to-one conversations with prospects and customers to generate leads and support customers. Few have taken it to the next level – engaging and motivating their customers to publicly advocate their brand, products and services online and offline. Nowhere is this more complex than in the B2B marketing world where your company needs to connect multiple prospects with multiple reference customers at different levels to make recommendations and influence sales.
Advocate Marketing is the answer
Implementing an advocate marketing strategy is about bringing your company closer to your customers – both current and prospective. In the age of social media, organizations can no longer afford to hold customers at arm’s length – they want to look inside your organization and get involved. In this way, advocate marketing encourages a more customer-focused approach – looking at every aspect of the business through the eyes of the customer. Advocate marketing is about finding, engaging, motivating and activating your customers in a way that will support your company’s objectives in this new age of customer enablement. A solid customer advocacy strategy allows you to leverage your most valuable assets – your customers – and make full use of the strength of Word-of-Mouth (WOM) to create a stronger brand, run more efficient and effective marketing, and drive increased revenue.
To find out more, read our whitepaper –What is Advocate Marketing?