Brand Advocates – Not Just for the Fortune 1000
One of the most remarkable things about social media is how it has allowed small and medium-size businesses (SMB’s) to develop and implement marketing programs that were once the sole domain of large companies.
Brand Advocacy programs — the practice of leveraging your “best” and most ardent customers to tell other potential customers about your business — were relatively commonplace five years ago. Kraft Foods, P&G and other large marketers invested significant resources to find these people and then train them.
Word-of-mouth programs continue to be an important part of a marketer’s handbook, but with the advent of social media, they can really be taken to the next level. For small and medium-size businesses, this presents an opportunity to create cost-effective marketing that can create immediate results.
In the 2012 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll, results showed that word-of-mouth continues to be the most popular marketing method, with 79 percent of respondents using it to promote their companies. Meanwhile, 39 percent are leveraging social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter.
So, how do we create brand advocacy?
There are two fundamental components to these types of programs. First, you have to identify your best customers. And by “best,” we don’t necessarily mean highest revenue. These are customers that do frequent business with you, are enthusiastic about working with you, and would tell their associates, colleagues and friends about you. You may already have a good understanding of who these customers are. For those of you who don’t, here are some simple tips to finding them:
- Listen. These are the customers who communicate via complaints, feedback, comments, ratings, etc. on Facebook, Twitter, your own website, call center, written communication and any other ways they can reach you.
- Respond quickly. Use the same channel in which they communicated to you. For example, if they post a comment in Facebook, respond in Facebook.
- Ask them questions. When you respond, take the opportunity to find out more about their needs and how they interact with your brand. “What do you think about this…?” “Do you like our new website?” “If we bundled these products together, would that make it more convenient for you?”
- Keep track. Most SMB’s have customer databases. If you don’t, start a very simple spreadsheet. Flag the customers that you think are your most loyal. Make a plan to connect with them once a quarter.
After you have identified your potential brand advocates, you need to get them to talk about you in a positive way. How do we incent them to do this without breaking the bank?
- Ask them. Nothing like a positive interaction with your best customers to ask them to spread the word. Keep it simple and direct, such as “if you liked our service, or product, etc., please tell your friends about us…”
- Incent them financially. Give them coupons to distribute to their friends and colleagues, such as 2-for-1 deals, loyalty discounts, etc. Make sure they are differentiated from your usual promotions and coupons and that you only give them to your brand advocates. It makes them feel special and “in the know.”
- Do something special. A Christmas gift, freebies, a thank you card. Let them be the first to see your new product or give them special access in some way.
- Continue to include them. Keep your best customers involved in the process. Give them opportunities to add value and then ask them to help create value.
Your best customers can be your best marketing assets. Remember, this is about building strong and enduring relationships first and foremost. If you do that, they will happily talk about how great you are.
Leveraging social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is your first step to engage and identify your best customers. But the real power of these channels comes in the second step —encouraging them to talk about you on a mass scale.