How 3 Organizations Harnessed The Power Of Their Advocates To Rise To Meteoric Heights

What do Tesla, a terrorist organization and the Obama campaign have in common? They are movements completely powered by advocacy. In his 2016 Advocamp keynote, Mark Organ, CEO and Founder of Influitive, explains how fostering advocacy can create transformational results for companies—and sometimes get people elected as president.

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I want you to think about the last time you changed your mind about something really important. The time you may have adopted a new idea that was risky and potentially irreversible.

For me, it was when I abandoned my career in neuroscience research to shift towards business and entrepreneurship. For you, it may have been your switch out of the PC universe over to Apple. I know how disorienting that could be. Maybe it was an investment, an unproven project or people, or maybe even uprooted your family and went across the country for a career that you always longed for.

This is my advocate keynote, and it wouldn’t be my advocate keynote if we didn’t play a game. First, I’ve got to enumerate three scenarios. I want you to think about the last time that you made a big decision and what influenced you the most to do it.

Now, was it an ad that you saw or some e-mail marketing? If that’s true, stand up. Not a whole lot of you. How about an article that you read, or if it was a talk that you heard? Okay, a few more. Now, if it was a conversation that you had with a trusted peer, I want you to stand up. All right, we got a whole lot of you.

Chances are it was a combination of the three of those things that had some effect, but from what I understand, it’s rarely the campaign or the influencer that really touches hearts and minds. It’s that network of everyday peers all around you that makes a difference, and that’s what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the under-recognized, the under-utilized and the undervalued power of advocates. How you can take advantage of that, and improve your own life and your own business.

I am going to discuss three different organizations today and how they achieved massive success by subscribing to a simple dictum. The first 90% of massive success is all about creating an impossible idea. The next 90% is all about effectively evangelizing it. Just think about that for a minute.

Three different organizations subscribing to a simple dictum

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The first organization created a hundred thousand dollar electric car with just six hours of battery life. If that wasn’t compelling enough, you require five thousand dollars before you can even take it out for a test spin. Today, that organization fueled by a big vision of a world less dependent on oil has a waiting list that goes out for weeks.

The next is a horrific terrorist organization. It’s aim is to establish a thirteenth century style feudal government in the Middle East. Powered by its vision of the global caliphate, it has persuaded scores of westerners to leave their comfortable homes to go to war torn countries to join in the fight.

Finally, we have a previously unknown, one term, visible minority senator whose bold vision for America—and in fact, the very meaning to his candidacy itself—convinced thousands of people to leave their homes, their families, their jobs to go and volunteer for his campaign. Tesla, ISIS and Obama. How did they light up their followers, and get them to go where their better judgment might not otherwise lead them?

The ability to mobilize their followers actually became the essence of their brands themselves. Now, today we call these followers the advocates, but in the old days my tribe called them the yentas. A yenta is someone who loves something so much they cannot stop raving about it. Today, we are going to go further than coffee talk and yacking and re-tweeting and sharing on social media, and we’re going to talk about the kind of advocacy that can create transformational results for companies and other organizations, and even sometimes get people elected president.

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What motivates these people? How can you take advantage of this for your companies? I first got really interested in this problem about 10 years ago when I was running another company called Eloqua. Eloqua is another marketing software company, and I wanted sales to go faster, as a lot of you probably do. One of the things that I learned was that buyers felt comfortable because they were surrounded by people saying that we were the safe choice.

So, we did a referral campaign over here, and we also tried a reference program. We asked all our customers to please tell us their stories of customer success, but we didn’t really generate any sustained results. It was like a series of one night stands.

It wasn’t any sustainable relationship that was created until we created the Markies. The Markies were the Academy Awards for marketing, and unlike popular delusion, they were not named after me, but rather after marketing. We brought all of the demand generation and quantitative marketers that we knew together and we celebrated them. We gave them 20 pound trophies manufactured by the same company that makes Academy Awards. In return, we got something that was astonishing to us: we got a flood of advocacy. We had so many people referring our business. I had people contacting me saying, “Mark, I want to help you build this thing.”

That’s when the light bulb went off in my head and I knew we had discovered something special. I was able to, over the next few years of my life, to learn a lot more about this phenomenon—how to motivate advocates to do more. I asked a simple question to literally hundreds of what I would call “super advocates”. I asked them what would it take for you to triple the amount of activity that you do for people, companies or products that you love? I codified that into a framework and this is what I have learned.

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1. Exclusive Tribe

Number one, they love to be part of an exclusive tribe. Secondly, they’re looking for meaningful impact they can make on the world. Third, they’re looking for social capital. They’re looking to increase their public reputation.

Why do people paint their faces and bodies at sporting events, or carve these images of their affiliation into their hair, or even permanently tattoo their bodies with these brands? Think about Harley Davidson owners tattooing the brand on their arm. Why do they do that? It’s because people long to be part of something that’s bigger than themselves, and the more exclusive that tribe, the more energy that they pour into it. If you’re creating an advocate program, give it a special personality and make it an exclusive tribe. You’ll find you’re going to get much better results. People are going to keep advocating for it again and again.

2. Meaningful impact

People love to measure the results of the advocacy that they’re doing, and the bigger the result, the better they feel about it. It’s literally a drug-like effect in the brain. If people are advocating for you, let them know how well it’s going. If they’ve referred your business, let them know how well that referral is going. If they’ve written a guest blog post for you, let them know how popular it is, and you’re going to get a lot more of that activity.

3. Social capital

Look, it feels awesome when you’re recognized inside the community for all the great work that you do as an advocate, but it’s even better when you’re recognized outside of that community. So every time someone advocates for you, they generate more career success. They generate more life success. Then that, in turn, generates more incredible advocacy.

When you’ve got all three of these things cooking: exclusive tribe, meaningful impact and social capital — it is unbelievable what can happen.

Tesla Motors

To show you how this works, I’m going to start perhaps a little ironically with an ad. What did you think? Was that inspiring? I absolutely just love that piece, it’s called Fireflies. Can you take a guess at how much it cost Tesla to produce a piece of that quality? It cost them nothing. It did not cost them a single dime, and the reason why is it was created by an advocate. The advocate’s name is Sam O’Hare, and he’s a pretty well-known famous director. He spent eighteen months of his life writing and creating Fireflies. He was so inspired by Elon Musk’s vision of a world less dependent on foreign oil that he poured his heart and soul into it.

I’m going to walk you through how Tesla creates advocates like Sam—thousands like him. First, does anybody know why the company is called Tesla? It’s named after Elon Musk’s alter go, Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla was a Serbian genius, an applied physicist, probably one of the greatest inventors who ever lived. He brought us the alternating current. He’s made critical contributions to hydroelectric power, to radio, and even to the wireless remote. He was one bad ass dude.

Like Elon Musk, he was also a resourceful trickster, so a few months before he died penniless, he was living in a hotel. When it was time for him to check out of the hotel, he was not able to settle the bill in cash, but what he was able to do was settle the bill with a box, which he presented to the hotel manager. He said, “Do not open this box. It has a death ray in it.” A few years after he died, someone in the hotel bravely opened the box and it was filled with useless electric components.

From the name down, Tesla is all about disruptive change, and people love the fact that they’re not just buying a car. They’re buying an idea. It makes them very happy. In order to understand the phenomena better, I connected with one of my board members, Rick Falk, who is a really, really early adopter of Tesla. He took me through the experience.

The first thing to note about Tesla is that they are not sold on lots. They are sold often in mall stores. Notice the floors. They’re gleaming white. What does that say? It says these aren’t gas guzzlers filled with funky fossil fluids. These are green and clean. They’re computers on wheels. They get updated every few weeks, just like the applications on your smartphone. They surprise and delight every few weeks. Everything about the purchase experience at Tesla and the ownership experience is all about surprise and delight.

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Surprise and delight is key to understanding why Tesla works, and it’s actually very important for advocacy itself. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that, when Tesla wanted to announce their new innovation around their air filtration system, Elon Musk said quote, “It is powerful enough to survive a biological attack.” Maybe that’s his homage to the death ray or something. It’s no surprise that Tesla called this the bio-weapon defense mode. The audacity to call it the bio-weapon defense mode! Why did he do that? Because it created lasting buzz both online and offline. Buzz gets the advocates going and that’s so important because Tesla doesn’t spend anything on commissioned sales reps. They don’t spend anything on traditional marketing. All their sales and marketing is pretty much done through advocates.

They have an incredible online community, the Tesla Motors Club, and offline they have rallies and car clubs that boast a conversion rate of 70% without a test drive. The traditional auto retailing rate is 12% with a test drive. It’s remarkable.

The advocacy program extends right into the car itself. When you fire up your Tesla and it links up with your address book, it asks, “Would you like to recommend some people who may want to buy a car?” If they do, then they get $1,000 off and so do you. If you can get 10 people to buy a car, then you are eligible for the model X founder’s edition with features so souped up it is not available to anyone in the general public. Essentially, it’s an advocate edition. If that isn’t social capital, meaningful impact, exclusive tribe all rolled into one, I don’t know what is.


That’s the Tesla story. Now, Elon Musk, he inspires with his vision of advanced technology in order to sell his dream, but ISIS shows you don’t need to be advanced in anything in order to inspire advocates. Make no mistake: I do not support this depraved and sick organization in any way, shape, or form. But I do think it’s important to understand how it has grown so quickly.

In order to do that, I reached out through my network and I connected with this man. His name is Richard Barrett. I connected with him on location by Skype in Mogadishu, Somalia. He is the closest thing to a real life James Bond that I know. He’s a former MI5 and MI6 British agent. He’s a counter terrorism expert. His job is to convince people not to join organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.

He impressed a very, very important thing upon me: ISIS is much more than just a big political idea that people rally around. It’s a global community. It’s bound together by rituals, songs and by videos. It instills a very powerful sense of belonging in its members. Secondly, it is very operationally effective. Wherever it sets up on the ground, it establishes competent administration and government often far superior to whatever corrupt government came before it.

One area where it is incredibly operationally effective is in marketing, especially digital marketing. Did you know there’s over 90,000 active Twitter accounts that are associated with ISIS? Now, most of those are run out of central command, but the vast majority of them, including the most effective ones, are run by a loose association of super advocates that ISIS command calls the Bachia. Barrett and his associates call them the fan boys. One study showed that over 25% of all activity online was created by just 50 of these super fan boys. These people are nurtured by high command. They’re given the highest level of respect. At ISIS, a tweet is weapon sanctioned by God.

Now one of these super fan boys is the son of a diplomat, working alone in a basement of a flat somewhere on the outskirts of London. Counter terrorism experts agree he’s a digital genius. He’s managed to disseminate an astonishing array of inflammatory material online and not get caught by some of the most sophisticated counter terrorism organizations in the world. He even had weekly webinars to instruct his brethren on how to do the same thing.

One day, he made a mistake and he was captured. When he did, the supreme leader of ISIS, lionized him as a hero of the global caliphate. Imagine that. Here is this unknown nobody working alone in a basement of some London flat, and now he has risen to the highest level of exposure in the ISIS universe. His place in heaven may or may not be assured, but that is social capital with a capital C.

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This sort of public recognition just can’t be underestimated. I know that many of you are here from smaller organizations. You might be asking, “Can I get this kind of advocacy for my organization”? I’d say you have an advantage. The meaningful impact an advocate can make on you, on your company, is magnified, and you have another potential advantage. You may be perceived as an underdog. Everyone loves an underdog, and I think that is why Tesla and ISIS had such powerful advocacy for themselves. They were new and they were small. I think you can take advantage of some of the same things, those of you who are here from smaller organizations.

Obama Campaign

This guy came out of nowhere. Here’s this one term senator with almost no backing from the democratic establishment, no backing from Wall Street. He was able to run this incredibly effective super advocate campaign. It’s probably the only way he could have won.

In order to understand this better, I reached out to my network again. I connected with another really interesting guy named Rick Seiger who ran Advance for Obama. Advance does events and publicity, speechwriting, security, all of that kind of stuff. Can you guess who is responsible for this super advocacy campaign that Obama ran? It was Obama himself, and it makes total sense. He wasn’t a power broker or a deal maker. He was the community organizer. I remember Rudy Giuliani making fun of him for that in the 2008 debates, but in this it really served him well.

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He knew how to motivate. He knew how to mobilize the volunteers. You’ve got to remember something: the volunteers didn’t hear about Obama from some ad, from some television ad, or some super pack; they heard about him from a friend or a relative, a pastor, a professor, a mentor, an advocate. The campaign of Obama was completely focused on the volunteers and these were the values: respect, empower, include, and—of course for good measure—to win. You hear echoes of that three part framework I indicated before. Now, in terms of respect, empowerment, and inclusion, the campaign made every volunteer feel like they could make the decisive difference in a campaign. They made all the data in the campaign available to each and every volunteer, no matter how new they were. This was unprecedented at the time. Those volunteers that were able to show early promise were rapidly elevated into new positions like team captain and lieutenant—which provided social capital.

When Obama would roll into a campaign stop, he would always elevate and celebrate the main volunteer. He would say, “This woman, she is my voice in this county. Treat her with the same respect that you would treat me.” In this way, just like the ISIS leadership, he shined the beacon of celebrity away from himself and onto the faces of the volunteers, the advocates, and the community. Now, some of you may be supporters, but can you imagine Donald Trump doing that? No, right? It’s not going to happen. It’s really quite a special thing that Obama did.

One more thing about Obama that I’ll mention is he knew who the enemy was. According to Seiger, the enemy was not Hillary Clinton in the primaries or John McCain in the presidential race. The enemy was apathy. The enemy was complacency. The enemy was inertia. Not only did he mobilize the volunteers, he mobilized people to get off of their butts and into the voting booths. In the real world, this is accomplished by an army of volunteers knocking on doors. In a virtual world, by an army of advocates going nuts on social media.

Fostering advocacy for your business

You might be thinking, “I am at a payroll systems software company.How does this apply to me?”

I’ll tell you a secret: you can instill a sense of belonging and delight and mission in your advocates. You can have incredible results. One of my favorite examples of that is from a company called SMART Technologies, one of our customers. They make interactive whiteboards, which are cool, but they’re not exactly like electric sedans. They hold a very special event every year at headquarters up in Calgary. Does anyone know where Calgary is? Somewhere in Canada. One of my colleagues has been there. He said it’s the closest thing to religious revival he’s ever seen in business.

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Above, you can see some of the SMART Technologies advocates. They’re teachers. They’re not praising the Lord. I’m not sure what they’re doing, but it looks like a lot of fun. Right now, at this very moment in San Francisco, there’s about 12 meetings that are happening between a teacher advocate explaining to another teacher how to use interactive whiteboards in order to generate better results for students. It works a lot better than a sales rep who has never stood at the front of a classroom.

Not only is the sales force at SMART made up of advocates, but so is the marketing team as well. That award winning blog that SMART does, almost all written by advocates. Their booth at trade shows is staffed by advocates. A lot of the best ideas for products come from advocates. There is no wall at SMART between the advocates and the company. I think this is the way of the future. This is where everything is going. Companies are building advocacy right into the center of their business. It’s such a more efficient and effective and satisfying way to build a company.

I’m going to leave you with one observation. You can’t buy authentic advocacy. It’s never been easier to go and rent an evangelist or a celebrity, a YouTube star, or an athlete to represent your brand. If you’re in B2B like I am, you can spend a lot of money on an analyst firm, and they might talk about you. But you’re not going to get into that top right quadrant unless you have genuine advocacy around your company and products.

As practitioners, we need to develop the skills required to catalyze advocacy in others. How many more e-mails can we process, folks? How much more contact can we read?

I’m done. I can’t take anymore of this. We need to learn some of these skills, and that is what I hope that we all take away from our time here with all of the amazing collective brain power in this room. Over the next few days, I hope you find the insights and the tools required to tap into the full passion of each and every advocate, and figure out how to inspire them to carry your flag and plant it in places that you’ve never dreamed of. I hope you learn how to delight them so much that they freely advocate for you again and again. Enjoy Advocamp!

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