The Power of Advocacy

Let’s be up front, it’s no wonder that robust advocacy marketing programs are achieving significant revenue gains – research shows up to 20% for established products and up to 100% 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 can throw at you.

There’s the snowballing effect of advocacy recommendations; word-of-mouth advocacy turns a 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, over time, the cost to acquire new customers will plummet as peer to peer promotion encourages 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. Cisco Gateway 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 the mobilisation of an army of customers on their own terms. 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, benefits through rewards 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 insight, support, sales and marketing collateral, thus gifting 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 their 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. Anyone with enough experience will know this is akin to “throw it at the wall and see what sticks”. But today, conversations can be managed and customers engaged with directly 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. For example, it can’t rescue an inferior product or service. But a product or service is a prime candidate for advocacy if it stands out from the competition, 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, 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.

Long live advocacy.