Recognize Your Customer Advocates & Build A Customer Loyalty Program

Capital, Not Cash: Build Your Customer Loyalty Program and Get Brand Advocates

Earlier this week I joined our customer Fred Bals at Ektron on a webinar discussing their impressive advocate marketing and customer loyalty program. Part of that discussion focused on how to appropriately motivate advocates. My point on the webinar, illustrated with the slide below, was that marketers need to move beyond rewards and gifts to the more meaningful recognition, perks and privileges that advocates desire. Given the interest in this topic, I’m exploring it more fully over the next few posts.
Evolution of marketing and how mobilize your advocates
Brand advocates become enthusiasts for a few innate reasons, one of them being the rule of reciprocity. At the start it’s pretty simple: advocates are fulfilled by the appreciation they have for something a brand does or makes. In return, they provide unsolicited support for that brand.

But the exchange doesn’t stop there – the rule of reciprocity evolves. Over time, support turns into customer brand loyalty. Loyalty turns into advocacy. And as customers increase their level of commitment, they expect a corresponding increase in recognition from the brand.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky, however, because appropriate recognition requires a bit of finesse. In other words: you can’t just pay people for liking you.

As Biggie Says: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Most of us do things for one of two reasons: business or pleasure–a.k.a. money or fun. Yet in the world of advocate marketing, combining the two is problematic; getting paid to do something fun takes all the fun out of it.

Consequently, incentivizing has become a bit of a taboo when it comes to advocate marketing because it can result in some unintended and unsavory consequences:

  •  Great Expectations: Exchanging monetary value for promotion conditions consumers to expect something in return for their advocacy. If and when you fail to meet those expectations, their level of appreciation can suddenly drop.
  • Inauthenticity: Paying for a recommendation immediately compromises the value of the recommendation and the reputation of the recommender. Advocates aren’t shills. They pride themselves on their independence and authenticity.
  • Greedy Spammers: When consumers talk up a company because they have their eye on a prize, it becomes pretty obvious to third parties. They overfill Facebook feeds, Twitter feeds and product review sites, effectively cheapening their recommendations and likely peeving a follower or two.

Recognize and Thank

At the end of the day, there are two important things to keep in mind.

  1. Reciprocity is about giving back, so make sure you’re recognizing the people who have already displayed solid support for your brand and not those who simply like you on social platforms, for example.
  2. Understand the difference between recognition and reward. Advocates should not be made to feel like they’re being paid for their support; rather, they should feel like the brand is genuinely and personally thanking them.

There’s a psychological sweet spot that makes all the difference when it comes to appreciation and payment. The key is to develop a system that’s intermittent and personal.

Sporadic rewards are a compelling system of reinforcement, for example, because they can’t be predicted. It’s like gambling. And when the reward is personal and context-sensitive, advocates can truly appreciate it as well as feel truly appreciated themselves.

So if rewards are dangerous, what kind of recognition can your advocate marketing program employ that appropriately thanks customers for their efforts and is truly meaningful for advocates? I’ll cover that next week – stay tuned!

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13 Responses to Recognize Your Customer Advocates & Build A Customer Loyalty Program

  1. Fred Bals says:

    “Understand the difference between recognition and reward.” Great post, Jim. I try not to even use the words “reward” or “award” in the Ektron Inner Circle. As you said, it’s about acknowledgement. And what I like best is when I see one of our advocates doing something on their own motivation.

  2. Mandy Moore says:

    In my experience managing b to b accounts what customers want most is to be heard. They wanted us to acknowledge and correct problems and they also wanted to give input into features and functionality. A nice dinner, sure–that’s great for building the relationship. But in thinking back over my client list I believe they all would have preferred some more time with their account team, the CEO and the CTO over any kind of tangible incentive. They also liked to be thanked for being good customers. And by thanked, I mean literally having me say, “thank you,” not a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine.

  3. Kent Fenwick says:

    My only concern would be to make sure that you align objectives with proper incentives. You don’t want it to look like you are lobbying…

    • Kent, absolutely, the point of having an Advocate program isn’t to “lobby” your advocates, but to inform them of areas when you can use their help and to show your appreciation when they do step-up.

  4. Ray Gans says:

    What I’m finding is that there really isn’t one way to reward everyone. Different advocates are motivated by different things, and sometimes what works best is dependent on their current mood. Some like competition with their names up in lights when they accomplish “big things,” others like simple recognition – as long as they’re recognized, and some don’t seem to want anything other than an occasional thanks. A personal touch seems to be best, but I can imagine that this doesn’t scale well as the number of active advocates grow. I have found in other environments that offering tangible rewards can set up a sense of entitlement or a quid pro quo mentality that seems outside the spirit of genuine advocacy. I like the concept of finding “a psychological sweet spot that makes all the difference when it comes to appreciation and payment” and plan to investigate this (and sporadic personal rewards) more in the future. I look forward to the next installment!

  5. Marius Butuc says:

    If reciprocity is about giving back, is there any room for paying it forward in this context?

  6. Excellent points! The notion of reciprocity in this arena could easily and quickly be misunderstood by none other than your advocates so it is great to have a guiding hand! Thanks for your ideas and directions!

  7. Roger Auge says:

    I love this topic, because it’s something I grapple with as president of a financial cooperative with 4 locations, 10,000 members, and a business volume of $300 million. We had our annual meeting last night and had several hundred members present. A long running practice has been to offer cash prizes of $100 for attending the meeting. We offered 10 prizes of $100 for students last night (in an attempt to get more students to the meeting to get them started in the process of learning more about our co-op). Then we offered 40 prizes of $100 for adult members. Remember that our members are owners of the corporation and share in the profits (we’ve paid out $3million in profits over the last 10 years based on each member’s financial activity level in the co-op) so when they show up to this meeting, they are voting on the direction we ultimately take. Despite this fact, we still have a problem with what we call “the associative life” of our co-op, and we need to find ways to engage members at a higher level than what I’ve covered so far. I’m open to any ideas! Thanks influitive for being so great…I’m working on being an advocate of yours with our board… I just need to build the right business case.

  8. Devin says:

    “Yet in the world of advocate marketing, combining the two is problematic; getting paid to do something fun takes all the fun out of it.” I feel that part of that is that the advocate knows that it was not an equal exchange, but that’s what they intended. It was a gift. Payment of any kind is kind of like giving part of the gift back. It cheapens both.

    • influitive says:

      Well said! I hadn’t thought of it that way, Devin. Do you recognize customers for their support?

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      • Devin says:

        That is something we currently struggle with, for a number of internal reasons. But we’re looking into it.

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