Brands are putting a greater emphasis on building emotional relationships with consumers. “It’s powerful and it works,” says branding consultant Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G and author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies.
In his book, Stengel introduces the term “brand ideal,” which describes the idea of creating a higher brand purpose through building a strong company culture that improves people’s lives. Through this brand ideal, companies can build strong relationships with their customers, turning them into brand advocates.
What are Brand Advocates and Why Are They Important?
Brand advocates are a different breed of consumer. They strongly believe in the product or service you offer, and go the extra mile to help others believe in it too.
Ultimately, your brand advocates are the people who embody the mission of your organization – they could be customers, friends, family members or employees. These people are invested in becoming a part of your brand culture, meaning they want to feel connected to your company values, they want to feel understood, and they want to feel encouraged to contribute further to your brand story.
The ROI of Brand Advocates
According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers trust brand advocates. That’s not all. Research shows advocates are 50 percent more likely to create content that influences a purchase. They are the champions of word-of-mouth marketing, and they often use social media as a platform to influence an audience, create awareness around your brand, and ultimately, boost sales.
Smart companies have a system in place that makes it easy for advocates to share information about their brand. Several years ago Starbucks launched a site giving Starbucks customers the chance to submit ideas for new products and drink recipes. Several companies have followed suite with a high degree of success.
Retail brand J. Hilburn is another great example. The company offers a unique business model, promising customer satisfaction through customized style and a 100 percent fit guarantee. The brand launched a campaign where they offered customers $50 for each friend referred, encouraging advocates to share the offer over social media. Any referred customer who spent over $100 received a $50 discount. After running the program for 45 days, 1,000 customers had made referrals. They saw a bottom line result of 600 transactions, which added up to over $250,000 in sales.
How Can You Motivate Advocacy for Your Small Business?
You don’t have to be a retail giant to turn customers into brand ambassadors. There are many cost-effective opportunities for small and mid-sized companies to connect and engage with a vast audience of potential customers.
1. Create a unique brand culture and identity.
Your culture should reflect the overall vision and strategic plan for your business. But it should also inspire an emotional connection with your brand. Establish a culture your prospects want to align with, and model this behavior in every aspect of what you do.
2. Communicate your core values.
Ensure your brand values are clearly presented to your customers. Your voice should embody the culture you want to portray. It should inspire your prospects to feel an emotional connection with your brand. Use your company blog to reinforce your culture, and give advocates the opportunity to engage by leaving comments and sharing posts over social media.
3. Share your passion.
Help your customers see how passionate you and your employees are about your business. Allow them to show they are invested in the work they do and they truly care about their customers. Why should customers feel a deeper connection with your brand? How do you set your product or service apart from competitors? Share the benefits of your core product or service with your brand advocates, and present opportunities for them to generate reviews, social media posts, and testimonials that boost awareness and brand reputation.
4. Excel at customer service.
Your customers remember the way you make them feel. Empower customer-facing employees and give them the tools they need to really “wow” the people they interact with in a daily basis. Take advantage of the ability to go above and beyond in ensuring an optimal customer experience on social media. Not only are you able to develop relationships with loyal customers, but you can also turn negative experiences into positive outcomes. Welcome feedback from your customers, then show them you are listening by making improvements to your offerings to suit their needs.
5. Offer incentives.
Once you have identified the key advocates for your brand, acknowledge them as valuable contributors. Keep them involved and up-to-date on your latest offerings – perhaps through adding them to an exclusive email list, or recognizing them through a tailored Twitter list. You may want to incentivize them further by offering discounts or coupons, and providing avenues for them to contribute and add further value to your services.