15 Ways Real Marketing Pros Create High-Performing Advocacy Programs

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Still relying on email campaigns to engage and communicate with your customers and prospects?

These innovative B2B marketers are doing things differently.

They aren’t wasting time crafting clever messaging or chasing the latest marketing fads.

They’re driving retention and acquisition by harnessing the power of their customer advocates.

By building engaging advocacy programs, these marketers are reducing churn and increasing customer satisfaction. Then, they’re deploying their happiest customer advocates to bring in new business through referrals, user-generated content, online reviews, references, and more.

We’ve interviewed a lot of advocate marketing pros as part of our Customer and Advocate Marketing Virtual Summit. Below, we’re sharing some of their creative campaign ideas and the valuable lessons they’ve learned from engaging advocates.

Steal these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a world-class advocacy program.

P.S. If you want to get even more advocate marketing advice, sign up to view all of the Summit recordings.

The Advocate And Customer Marketing Virtual Summit
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1) Use humour to command attention from the get-go

B2B doesn’t have to mean boring. No one knows that better than Cristina Melluzzi, Head of Customer Advocacy at Cisco EMEAR.

She wanted to turn Cisco’s customers into active brand advocates through a formal advocacy program. (Learn more about Cisco’s advocacy journey here.) But she knew that to get her advocates truly engaged, she’d have to create a community that was both useful and fun.

That’s why Cisco partnered with Richard Ayoade, star of the British sitcom IT Crowd, to create a fun video invitation to their advocacy program.

While it’s unconventional to feature a comedic star in B2B communications, this risk paid off. The personalized video got glowing feedback from amused customers. “They actually said it was very cool,” says Cristina. “And you don’t usually hear ‘Cisco’ and ‘cool’ in the same sentence.”

The funny video also translated into measurable results: 16% of customers who received this email joined Cisco’s advocate community. “For Cisco, that’s pretty phenomenal,” says Cristina of this conversion rate.

Steal this play: To ensure your passionate fans never get bored, it’s important to maintain a sense of humor and provide fun activities for them to complete. This will humanize your brand, and help build more meaningful relationships with your advocates.

2) Use your calendar to inspire topical advocacy campaigns

Keeping brand advocates engaged with fresh content is easy—just keep an eye on your calendar.

Jessica MitchellTo encourage advocates to consistently interact with Hero K12, Customer Marketing Manager Jessica Mitchell creates special experiences for advocates based on events that are happening around them.

First, she piggybacks off special events like the winter holidays or Thanksgiving will make advocates smile and inspire them to share what’s going on in their personal lives.

 

Jessica’s audience is teachers, so she picks themes that are relevant to them, such as Teacher Appreciation Week in May. By tuning into what’s going on her customers’ professional lives, she’s able to drive greater participation and engagement in her advocacy program.

This has helped Hero K12’s marketing team hit some of their goals. “We published two case studies, we received 43 new quotes and received 56 social shares as a result of the campaigns [she ran this year]. In addition to that, we received nine product reviews and an increase in advocate engagement,” says Jessica.

Steal this play: Here’s how you can to capitalize on timely events to drive engagement and create delight:

  • Check your calendar for festive holidays and long weekends
  • Find quirky commemorative days to celebrate (National Trivia Day, anyone?)
  • Capitalize on industry-specific events or happenings (conference season for marketers; tax time for accountants)
  • Think about persona-specific milestones (March Madness for sports fans; Oscars for movie buffs)

3) Bring Customer Success and Marketing together to create content that inspires advocacy

sujan patelSince Customer Success (CS) teams often have the most touchpoints with your customers, Sujan Patel, growth marketer and co-founder of WebProfits, encourages content marketers to collaborate with CS to develop content your advocates want to read.

First, start auditing support tickets or even hopping on support calls. Empathizing with customers is crucial to finding the best ways to educate and delight them. Their biggest questions can also inspire your next content piece. (By the way, if your customers want to read about it, your prospects likely do too!)

You can also ask CS for the top issues they resolve, and then create content that will help customers solve their own problems faster—which will likely to turn them into bigger advocates.

Once you’ve created all this content, use CS to help with distribution. Sujan says he created a spreadsheet of helpful content based on specific topics, which made it easy for his support team to send out a piece related content after every support ticket. They found that this even helped increase their NPS. (Read our full article with Sujan for more content marketing and advocacy hacks.)

Steal this play: Consider asking your advocates to help write support articles through your online community if you’re strapped for resources. Ask them to share their best product tips or hacks with others. Just make sure to recognize them for their help so they feel appreciated—a public kudos or thank-you note is a good first step.

4) Use video to build brand advocacy throughout the customer journey

Video is a powerful relationship-building tool. “Video lets you humanize your customer interactions, which helps to build trust and loyalty,” says Rebecca Rogez, Customer Success Manager at Vidyard.

She says they use video “both as a replacement and a complement to the more traditional marketing touches and interactions that are customers normally receive throughout their lifecycle with us.”

Here’s how Vidyard incorporates video in the customer journey to build brand advocacy:

  1. Customers receive a personalized video invite to their advocacy program
  2. Advocates receive a welcome video from their CEO to start the relationship off on a positive note
  3. New customer-facing team members are featured in introduction videos to share their excitement with customers and help them put names to faces
  4. Customer support send quick video responses rather than emails to show customers what to do in an intuitive and visual way
  5. Vidyard employees continuously create videos that show interesting happenings in their office or to promote certain campaigns or advocacy opportunities

Once advocates are engaged through video, Vidyard then turns the camera around and asks their advocates to create video testimonials for their marketing team. This is a fast way to generate powerful customer content (vs. traditional case studies). “This helps communicate the emotion and passion your customers have,” says Rebecca.

Steal this play: Make a list of places you can incorporate videos into your customer journey and get your team to shoot something simple and short. Every time you plan to send out another customer communication, ask yourself “Could this be a video instead of just an email?”

5) Win over referral leads by embracing the lost art of personalization

So, you’ve gotten a qualified referral from one of your best advocates.

What you do next can be the difference between a longtime happy customer—and a missed opportunity.

Do you immediately copy and paste your boilerplate sales pitch in a LinkedIn message?

Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing, insists you have to get more personal. “No matter what LinkedIn does, it’s never going to be as good as you sending a personal email or you giving someone a phone call.”

Steal this play: Matt suggests going the extra mile to build rapport with prospects using these quick, cost-effective gestures:

  1. Send a handwritten note
  2. Use the phone/voicemail
  3. Send a special happy birthday message or acknowledge a career milestone or change

Watch Matt’s 2016 Advocamp Amp Talk to get more referral hacks

Applying a more human touch can make prospects feel like their unique needs are understood and acknowledged on a person-to-person level. If you need to know more about the referral, ask the advocate who referred them for more details.

The bonus? These moves will help you win new business and build advocacy early on in the customer journey.

6) Get advocates to mentor new customers

Advocates can help you acquire new customers. But a thriving advocate community can also help you retain customers.

Mike Bernard, Vice President of Marketing & Sales Operations at Relationship One, shares a refreshingly original way to keep your community of advocates active and thriving: make advocates official mentors to new customers.

Your advocates can use their passion and product expertise to help your newer customers become power users of your product. The more benefit new customers derive from your software, the less likely they are to churn.

Steal this play: Ask your advocates to help onboard newbies and share their product knowledge and tricks. This will provide a seamless experience for new users and pave the way for happy long-term customers.

The added bonus? Your advocates benefit by making new connections and increasing their clout in your advocate community.

7) Create magical moments your customers can’t forget

“Think of a time when someone was tremendously kind to you. How did that kindness make you feel?” asks Ray Lau, Customer Advocacy Marketing Manager at PowerDMS.

Chances are it made you feel awesome, and you still remember it. Ray tries to create these moments throughout his advocacy program. “Showing kindness helps connect businesses, because kindness connects with people,” he says.

“Companies with a mature advocacy program will have a strategic advantage over those who don’t,” says Ray.

PowerDMS’s results seem to prove that’s true: they have a remarkably low churn rate of 2.3%, and a customer satisfaction rating of 97%.

Steal this play: Ray tries to create moments of delight for their customers by:

  1. Sending them birthday cards
  2. Including funny GIFs in their support responses
  3. Sending them gift cards when they’re having a hard time

8) Make brand advocacy rewarding every step of the way

Francesca Krihely, Senior Manager of Developer Advocacy at MongoDB, aims to make her advocates’ experience as inspiring as getting to the next level while rock climbing.

By offering a clear path her customers can follow to level up in their journey with MongoDB—from downloading the application, to reading their documentation, to going to a user group, and more—she makes it easy for them to progress and feel that they’re mastering MongoDB’s products, growing professionally and becoming a part of the community.

Not only is this progression is intrinsically rewarding, but Francesca also offers her advocates a wide variety of rewards, ranging from swag to exclusive experiences, to help motivate advocates on the climb. Having rewards as goals customers can work towards helps give individual acts of advocacy a sense of greater significance.

She also offers the right resources for her advocates to use depending on how far they’ve advanced in the community. “A lot of them have indicated to us that they wanted to start blogging,” says Francesca. So she created a series about how to become a blogger—from writing tips to web hosting suggestions.

In response, they’ve had over 120 blogs written by their advocates. “Figure out what’s holding your community back,” she says. By removing those obstacles, and making it easy for them to get to the next step, you can empower them to become even bigger advocates and remain engaged.

Steal this play: Build key milestones in your customer’s mastery journey, and make sure you have resources and rewards at every step of the way to recognize advocates and help guide them to the next step (just like leveling-up in a video game!). Don’t be afraid to course correct if you find out something new customers want to learn about.

Level Up Your Advocate Marketing Game
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9) Make painful changes easier by showing advocates real love

Alexa Hubley, Customer Marketing Strategist at Unbounce, credits rom-coms with inspiring her team to successfully launch a new pricing plan—one of the toughest changes for SaaS companies to pull off with customers.

Rather than relying on their usual marketing techniques to inform customers of the switch, Alexa says Unbounce’s marketing team asked themselves, “How can we go above and beyond…to give more back to our customers, and show them that we’re not just in it for us?”

This led them to the most important rom-com lesson: reciprocity. Before they asked customers to get on board, they knew they had to show a little love first.

Unbounce decided to give away a variety of rewards to celebrate the new pricing—whether customers opted into the new pricing or not. These included deluxe swag packs, tickets to their annual conference, and 1:1 sessions with their CRO.

This motivated more customers to adopt the new pricing whether they were at the beginning of their relationship with Unbounce or longtime advocates. Showing customers that they were ready to provide value no matter what led them to consider the pricing plan in a positive light.

Providing value doesn’t just have to be through rewards, either—it can be something as simple as making your customers laugh. Unbounce did this by sending their customers personalized videos and postcards with coffee stains to show just how hard they were working. “Direct mail offers a similar value to video marketing, in that it puts something real in the hands of your customers to create a connection,” says Alexa.

A personalized video for Karen! Aww!

Steal this play: Next time you have to get customers through a painful transition, think about humorous or fun ways you can motivate them to get on board. Or, offer them something of value for free so they want to consider your other offer—it might go over better than a formal email.

10) Bake advocacy into every part of your organization

Advocacy shouldn’t just be an afterthought to your marketing strategy—it needs to “be baked into your corporate DNA,” says Evan Jacobs, Senior Manager of Customer Marketing and Advocacy at Rapid7.

He knew his advocacy program would be more successful if different departments contributed to it.

To get other teams involved, Evan developed an “internal roadshow” to show every team how they could quickly see value from advocates. “Make sure you’ve done your homework—that you know ahead of time to understand what their quarterly goals and their annual goals are, and how you’re going to accelerate them with your advocacy program,” he says. (You can learn how advocates can help every department here.)

He also recommends identifying champions within your organization to help you provide unique opportunities to advocates.

For example, their product team now asks advocates for feedback throughout the development cycle and to make videos about new product features for other customers to watch. This process is a win for their product team for two reasons:

  1. Advocates love giving feedback and feeling heard, which makes them want to engage
  2. The product team has quicker production time and increased customer satisfaction

One of Rapid7’s power users shares product tips in an educational video

Steal this play: Ask your teams what they need help with, and brainstorm ways that customers can help them. Advocates love feeling like they’re getting a peek behind the curtain, so they’ll be happy to contribute. Make sure to heavily promote any internal wins so other departments get on board via workships, lunch and learns, an internal newsletter, or any other way you share information in your company. This way, you can offer your advocates opportunities to interact with teams outside of marketing.

11) Infuse brand advocacy into your ABM strategy at every stage of the funnel

ABM, or account-based marketing, is catching on in B2B marketing like wildfire—and with good reason. At Influitive, ABM has already influenced $2 million in sales pipeline, says CEO Mark Organ.

But what some marketers may not realize is that advocates can improve ABM results at every stage of the funnel.

1) Top of funnel: To generate new leads, you can ask advocates for intros to specific accounts you want to win. These referrals provide compelling social proof that command the attention of your most coveted accounts. Plus, referral leads convert at a significantly higher rate than any other type of lead.

2) Middle of funnel: Advocates can act as powerful references to speed up your sales cycle. As Mark puts it, “The customer journey in ABM runs through peer feedback.” Set up reference calls earlier in the buying process (not at the end when the decision is likely already made) so your most satisfied customers can share their positive experiences with your company sooner.

3) Bottom of funnel: To close deals faster, we’ve implemented a process we call “coffee time” or “chalk talks” where advocates demo our product instead of sales reps. The authentic honesty of a peer helps gain buyer trust faster than a sales rep can.

Steal this play: Include advocate stories, quotes, testimonials, images and videos at every stage of your ABM campaigns to help build trust faster. The key to enticing advocates to participate is by positioning it as a chance for their successes to be shared with a larger group—not as a favour to your marketing team.

ABM and advocacy: better together
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12) Evolve your advocacy program with the right processes and automation

Most companies re-use a small list of customer advocates or references when they need help. And they usually track who their advocates are and what they’re doing with emails and spreadsheets.

Bridget Heaton, Social and Advocacy Manager at Schoology, wanted to scale this process for herself and create a better experience for her advocates.

She turned to AdvocateHub, an engagement and advocacy platform, so she could focus less on the processes of finding, tracking and recognizing advocates, and more on creating engaging activities for them.

 

Bridget with some of her amazing advocates

It helped her keep track of which advocates were being asked to what so certain members wouldn’t get over-used for references, case studies, etc. “You need to be the advocate for your own advocates,” she recommends.

Steal this play: If you can’t invest in a platform, she says there are other ways to automate your programs, such as using Zapier to automatically trigger points for activities completed. By creating a list of potential advocate activities and asks, it’s possible to automate some requests and interactions. “Automation is essential for your sanity, and for program health,” she says.

Bridget also recommends simplifying your program as much as possible if you have no budget for technology. “Processes will be your best friend.”  She suggests using the same time each week to do repeating activities. For example, invite new advocates to your program on Mondays, and follow up on advocate recognition or rewards on Tuesdays. This also helps set expectations with advocates.

13) Focus on celebrating advocates first, and what they can do for you second

While setting program goals is important, advocacy programs need to give value before they get value.

Adrian Chang, Director of Customer Marketing Programs at Oracle Marketing Cloud, says they’ve separated the teams that focus on advocacy and acquisition so their brand advocacy program could remain 100% focused on providing an outstanding experience.

One way he makes advocates feel special is to “celebrate customers when they have moments of truth.” When advocates share a success story, the advocacy team shares it with the rest of Oracle’s customer and prospect base through video testimonials and at events.

Putting advocates in the spotlight as much as possible has helped Oracle’s advocacy team organically influence revenue. Oracle has seen that customers who share their story have a higher probability to renew, contribute to their advocacy program, and influence more new customers to join Oracle Marketing Cloud.

“Just over 20% of our advocates, in a particular quarter, influenced 80% of our revenue,” says Adrian. The lesson learned? Track advocate activity, but focus on giving value first.

Steal this play: Have your team do social media shoutouts or give LinkedIn recommendations when advocates achieve a milestone. It will mean a lot to your advocates’ careers and make them want to engage with your company more.

14) Develop the right customer stories by getting to know your advocates

tiffany-beddow-headshot“[B2B buyers] really don’t trust what you have to say about yourself,” Tiffany Beddow, Senior Customer Marketing Manager at ON24. That’s why she decided to get her advocates to do the talking for her brand through more customer-generated content and success stories.

However, sourcing the right customer stories can be tough. “A major marketing team initiative is creating verticalized content sliced by use case and industry, previous platform, integration and account-based,” says Tiffany.

Her solution? Getting to know more of her customers more through a brand advocacy program. This way, she could:

  1. Source the types of stories her sales team wanted
  2. Have a wider group of customers to choose from.

Through their advocacy program, Tiffany offered customers educational tips and articles to make them more successful. She also engaged them through discussions where they should share their knowledge with peers and ask questions. Then she asked customers if they’d like to advocate for ON24, as well as other and questions that helped her gauge who was ready to tell their story.

“It’s really helped me create engagement at scale with our customers,” says Tiffany. By finding the right advocates—namely ones with very specific use cases—she was able to the source stories her sales team wanted.

An advocate story generated for ON24

Steal this play: Provide education and spark discussions to gauge your customers’ knowledge and success. Once you know them better, you can hone in on the top ones you want for your case studies. Part of this data may already be in your CRM (especially information about product usage or vertical). The other knowledge can be gleaned from engaging with customers online and watching for certain behaviours to signify that they’re ripe for a success story—like lots of community activity.

15) Measure advocacy program ROI with “R.C.E.”

The benefits of advocacy programs are plain to see to the people who run them: glowing online reviews, happy customers on the phone, and spontaneous social media love are hard to ignore.

But in order to secure advocacy’s place in your company’s budget, you often need hard numbers to back it up.

Peter Garza, VP of Marketing at InTouch Health, has a simple framework he uses to prove how his advocacy program significantly moves the needle.

He proves value through three main buckets: Revenue, Cost Avoidance, and Effectiveness.

Revenue Your advocates can increase your profit margin by providing high-quality, low-cost leads with referrals. Plus, they act as valuable references to grease the wheels and help convince on-the-fence prospects. They even help boost your customer LTV because your leads were higher quality to start with, and clients are more invested because of the social ties that surround the deal.
Cost avoidance Advocates help mitigate costs by giving you golden nuggets of insight and fresh new ways to present your copy. They also help cut down on the cost of research for product validation by sharing valuable feedback.
Effectiveness Advocates make your marketing communications more compelling and effective by bolstering your claims with endorsements.

A reporting template built around these key factors is a sure way to prove the value of your hard work and gain internal support.

More brand advocacy resources to help you build a stellar advocacy program:

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  • suraj mehta

    Nice to hear from such great persons about Real Marketing Pros which Create High-Performing Advocacy Programs. Amazed content. thanks for this.
    suraj