You know those things you’re *supposed* to do that are good for you…like…flossing daily?
Well, (gross) confession time: I rarely never used to floss.
I thought it was a scheme dentists had with the flossing industry!
For years, dentists told me that it would come back to haunt me—in the form of gum disease and/or cavities.
Well, after about 25 years, they were right: I got two cavities within 1.5 years in my mid-twenties.
Since then, I’ve flossed daily without fail. And I’ve been cavity-free ever since.
What flossing used to be to me is what post-sale customer engagement and advocacy is to marketers: something they should do…but (often) don’t.
Why? Because they’re too busy eating sugary snacks and not brushing their tee—sorry, I meant too busy focusing on acquisition strategies—to spend more time inspiring and leveraging customer advocates.
But this is one decision that will come back to haunt you as a marketer. (Even more than wearing suspenders that match your tie.^^^)
Advocacy programs: a key competency for marketers
In 2016, research from analyst firm IDC said that advocate marketing was one of the five key competencies needed “for successful modern marketing execution.”
In fact, 87% of B2B vendors surveyed believe that advocate marketing is “either very or extremely important to their overall company’s success.” (Learn more about the ROI of advocacy programs in the report. The Coles Notes version: higher retention rates and more WOM from customers via referrals, reviews, references, case studies, testimonials, etc.)
In spite of this, IDC found that 90% of B2B tech vendors in 2016 did not have advocate marketing programs or staff in place.
When asked why, respondents said that three things were holding them back from successfully launching an advocacy program:
A lack of customer availability or interest
A lack of internal alignment
A lack of employee bandwidth
We’ve turned to our community of advocate marketing experts—who’ve launched and run advocacy programs successfully for years—to learn how they overcame (and continue to overcome) these common obstacles.
How to increase participation in advocacy programs
No company lacks of customer interest or availability for advocacy programs; if your product has some happy users, you have potential advocates.
What is usually lacking is the understanding of how to create an engaging advocacy programs that will entice customers to participate.
Here are proven methods successful advocacy marketers have used to create programs that resonate with their advocates.
1. Let advocates connect with you and each other
Alex Wagner, Community and Social Media Manager at GoGuardian, has made brokering personal connections part of the foundation of his program. “[Lack of customer interest] is battled from really engaging with them closely via discussion boards and direct messaging.”
Advocates are most engaged when they can interact with each other—in addition to your employees. If your advocacy program is facilitating new relationships between customers, they’ll be delighted to participate.
2. Be helpful
Before you ask potential advocates to write a testimonial or refer a peer, make sure you’re giving them value first.
“To keep my advocates interested and available, I make sure there are always educational and feedback challenges and activities that bring them a lot of benefits (new certifications or product updates),” says Amy Rosenberg, Community Marketing Manager at Namely. (Learn more about The Namely advocacy program here.)
3. Focus on the benefits vs. time spent advocating
Sarah Lamb, Sr. Strategy Analyst at ADP, makes sure to explain the benefits of advocacy (Think: “Be in the spotlight!” “Grow your professional profile!” etc.) so that advocates are more interested in participating.
Short, easy, and clear requests and communications are key: “We also try to keep challenge submissions short and sweet to get around the bandwidth issue, and are extremely clear of time commitments in all asks,” says Sarah. She also recommends presenting small, easy requests to advocates first, and working up to bigger, more time-consuming ones.
4. Get personal and have fun
Jessica Mitchell, Customer Marketing Manager at Hero K12, mixes requests and other advocacy campaigns with ones that are entertaining to keep advocates interested.
“I keep our customers engaged by making sure that I balance out fun, educational activities and asks,” she says.
She does this by creating campaigns tied to her customers’ calendars, quirky holidays, or other things going on in her customers’ lives.
An example of a holiday giveaway campaign for advocates.
She also gets to know advocates on a one-to-one basis so they feel closer to her and her company. “I also try to get to know my customers on a personal level and I do my best to go above and beyond to make them happy,” says Jessica.
Advocates like feeling special. So, letting them get closer to your company and employees is critical to creating a sense of exclusivity. Asking them questions about themselves, sending personal notes and sharing “behind-the-scenes” updates can help build stronger connections between you and your advocates.
5. Ask advocates what would entice them
If you’re not sure your advocacy initiatives will resonate with customers…just ask for their feedback and ideas.
“One way I used to get my customers involved was asking what they wanted to see on a regular basis,” says Natalie Gullatt, Content Manager at Oldcastle, Inc. “They really got more out of the experience that way.”
Some of the best ideas for program activities, content, campaigns, contests or perks will come from your customers.
6. If you lose your advocates’ interest…you can always it them back
If you seem to be losing interest from your advocates, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to advocate for your company anymore. You may just need to re-engage them.
“I use email campaigns and create special rewards for advocates who have enrolled but are no longer active,” says Brittney Collier, Marketing Communications Specialist at Billtrust.
Sending out special notes and asking for program feedback will entice advocates to participate again—and help you learn why they lost interest in the first place.
Re-engagement campaigns should be an on-going part of your advocacy program strategy as you continue to learn about your advocates’ preferences.
7. Reward advocates with perks and recognition
The fastest way to lose customer interest is to take without giving back. So, every time advocates do something for you, thank them or show them appreciation.
Some rewards can be physical—like thank you notes, swag, small gift cards, etc.
However, the most powerful forms of advocate recognition come from professional development opportunities, like conference passes, meeting your company’s C-suite or being put in the spotlight (such as being featured in a case study or blog).
Francesca Krihely, Senior Manager of Developer Advocacy at MongoDB, offers her advocates a wide variety of rewards, ranging from swag to exclusive experiences, to help motivate advocates to stay engaged. The bigger the task they complete, the bigger the reward.
How MongoDB Reaches Developers With Advocate-Created Content
Learn how the marketing team at MongoDB leveraged a advocate marketing program to turn their loyal customers into one of their most powerful content marketing tools.
Overcoming internal obstacles to advocate marketing success
The engagement tactics outlined above will solicit interest from ANY advocate group. (If you don’t believe us, check out our guides on how to engage specific types of advocates based on role or industry.)
But advocacy programs can’t be effective, deliver strategic value or remain engaging to your advocates without internal alignment and resources.
Here are our advocate marketing pros’ tips for securing both.
8. Show your company your potential advocates
If your company doesn’t believe you have customers who would participate in an advocacy program, Cristina Melluzzi, Head of Customer Advocacy EMEAR at Cisco, recommends you find some of them as a proof point.
“I created a collage of people who love Cisco so much that they’ve tattooed our brand on their bodies!” she says.
Don’t worry—you don’t need tattooed fans to make your point. You can find your biggest fans on:
Review websites (search for your 4 to 5 star reviewers)
The most engaged people in your online community
Social media shout outs
Your high NPS scorers
Past attendees list from your user groups or conferences
Share images and comments from your potential advocates your executive team so they can see that you have fans just waiting to be mobilized.
9. Understand your advocate’s persona
Kathleen Orazio, Customer Communications at Dexter + Chaney, keeps her program aligned with customer needs by making sure her entire company understands the needs, desires and preferences of their advocates.
“We recently completed Brand Advocate Persona exercise where we identified four distinct advocate personas,” says Kathleen. “Understanding each persona and what motives them to be engaged, and continue to rave about us to their networks has helped us be more strategic with our challenges. And, we continue to see engagement tick up because of it!”
The Brand Advocate Persona
In this eBook, learn to extend persona development beyond the buying process in order to understand the different profiles of your customers... and most importantly, understand what motivates some customers to become active advocates for your brand, while others remain disengaged.
Natasha Ulanowski, Advocacy Marketing Specialist at SAS Institute (Canada) Inc. says that the key to alignment means hammering advocacy education home internally—usually a few times.
“How we overcame the obstacle of internal alignment is not only doing presentations to individual departments, but putting together a big company wide presentation to let all of our offices and employees in Canada [know] how it works, and most importantly how it can benefit them.”
Offering internal teams ways to get involved in the program—and get closer to your advocates—will not only ensure your team is constantly thinking about your advocates, but it will also make things more interesting for advocates in terms of the number of opportunities they have to connect with your employees and learn about your business.
“We got a lot of positive feedback and more departments and employees reaching out to us to get involved in the advocacy platform to help reach their goals, promote their events, and get valuable information from our members,” says Natasha.
11. Find your internal champions
Christina Zuniga, Marketing Automation Manager at InTouch Health, says that having an executive sponsor as an internal program advocate will keep your program resources in place.
“When budget gets low or there are conflicting priorities, having an executive that realizes advocates have ROI attached to them (and preferably reporting that supports this) can save your programs or get you more resources,” she says.
How to calculate the ROI of advocate marketing
Learn how to measure and track the value of advocate marketing—and prove to your entire company that it’s worth the investment. This guide features insights from marketers at companies like BMC Software, Ceridian, Iron Mountain, ReadyTalk and more.