Let’s be up front, it’s no wonder that robust advocacy-marketing programs are achieving significant revenue gains, research showing some 10 to 20 percent for established products and up to 100 percent for new products. Consumer goods companies and retailers have taken the lead in this field, but business-to-business companies like Cisco are also beginning to make their move by establishing relationships with advocates as potential advisors and recommenders.
Ignore the discipline at your peril
The art of sharing success seems to still be ‘off radar’ for so many brands and organisations which leaves me confused when you consider that advocacy is the corporate gift that keeps on giving. There are at least three ways that this often misunderstood or at worst ‘ignored’ discipline can drive reward, recognition and deliver further new business to the bottom line which of course ticks all of the ROI questions the finance team will throw at you.
Let’s take a look at just three of the positive effects of advocacy marketing. First, there’s the snowballing effect of recommendations. Whereas advertising can drive consumers down the so called “purchase pathway” which is initiated from the moment of category interest onto brand awareness, brand consideration, and of course all going well, brand purchase. So, word-of-mouth advocacy turns that one-way street into a roundabout, as customers who purchase the product encourage new customers to enter the virtuous circle. In other words, advocates beget advocates and therefore in theory over time, the cost to acquire new customers should in effect plummet because the peer to peer promotion is encouraging more opportunities.
We need cross platform experiences in these times of ‘always on’.
If we go beyond recommendations, advocacy marketing can establish a platform for dialogue with a company’s most committed customers, thereby generating immediate feedback on products and messaging. A good example comes from Cisco, who have developed a new customer advocacy program, called ‘The Gateway’. The initiative is centred around a digital advocate community, built in partnership with Influitive – the industry leaders in this field. The Gateway is Cisco EMEAR’s official home of customer advocacy, where like-minded people can connect and exchange insights on all things Cisco. @CiscoGateway acts as the home of customer success stories, insider knowledge and exclusive access for the select customers who are looking to build their personal and company brand. But the program is more than a digital experience. The very essence of this home of advocacy is about mobilising an army of customers on their own terms. Understanding what motivates different customers and building a robust and scalable program that allows them to self-select how they wish to advocate for Cisco. Some customer advocates seek out opportunities to speak at Cisco Live, while others are looking to connect with their peers in an authentic trusted environment, a bit like ‘Trip Advisor’ but for the b2b world.
Celebrating success doesn’t always need to be in the form of awards
We all know the power of peer to peer reviews and recommendations but this initiative extends the reward factor by making the Cisco ‘Gatewayer’ feel part of a community, a community that shares, educates and one that benefits through rewards that are awarded for those who interact and engage. Since its conception Cisco staff and Customers have fully embraced this as a powerful tool to inform and celebrate how collaboration between supplier and client can offer huge rewards in efficiency and productivity. Such an approach can provide so much insight, support, sales and marketing collateral and thus gift product development teams with a critical-feedback loop, as well as engaging and sharing advocates’ enthusiasm for meaningful business improvement, and let’s face it – when companies use that feedback to serve customers better, they strengthen the potential for advocacy marketing in the future.
Celebrated customer stories can have a positive effect on the bottom line.
Finally, thanks to the evolution of digital, companies can enlist advocates in two-way conversations with large groups of customers. Historically, companies have tried to jump-start conversations about their products with the one-way “push” of traditional advertising campaigns and anyone with enough experience will know this is akin to “throw it at the wall and see what sticks”. But today, they can actively manage conversations and engage directly with consumers and advocates through social networking, blogs, forums, and mobile applications. The Cisco Gateway strategy is enabling customer interaction at every conceivable touchpoint with Live, Content, Social and Film each playing a part in delivering stories of success and interaction with peers.
“The biggest untapped opportunity in marketing today is in mobilising customers as an extension of your brand. There is no better storyteller than the customer and companies need to embrace advocacy as a powerful force to cut through the noise and drive authentic, trusted relationships that will lead to the success of your customers and your own business”.
Cristina Melluzzi – Head of Customer Advocacy at Cisco EMEAR
To be clear, not all products lend themselves to advocacy marketing, however, for example it can’t rescue an inferior product or service, for instance. But a product or service is a prime candidate for advocacy if it stands out from the competition or is new, efficient, if it gives customers something positive to talk about, if its product line is regularly updated to offer a fresh subject for discussion, and if its target customers are likely to seek recommendations before purchasing and last but by no means least if it can deliver results to the bottom line then it has to be worth shouting about.
Long live advocacy.