Businesses today are increasingly faced with a new reality. One where social proof trumps glossy case studies and image-rich company websites. One where what we say matters less and less—and what they say about us matters more and more.
The burden of social proof, while generated “out there,” is very much the responsibility of the business to manage. Perhaps “manage” isn’t even the right word because, after all, we can’t manage those who aren’t on the payroll. We can, however, guide the conversation.
We can set the tone. We can combat negative sentiment by turning up the volume on those who are satisfied or better. We can mobilize our happiest customers when and where it matters most, so future customers seeking information about or affirmation of their next big purchase decision intersect with real people who really use our products or services, whether virtually or in-person.
Advocate marketing is the ideal channel for adapting to this peer-driven marketplace where purchase decisions are typically made long before a prospect makes contact with your well-greased funnel. Jumping into the deep end, however, without a strong strategy in place is never a good idea—whether at the pool or in business.
While many companies are reacting to the market today by hastily adding some type of “advocate marketing” to their mix, the results are inconsistent because they simply are not sure what to do and how to do it. They become more reactive than proactive as they struggle to align advocate activities with core business metrics. They focus on outcomes rather than relationships.
There is a better way. By making advocate engagement more robust and predictable—and more embedded in your processes—the role of the advocate inside your organization becomes more strategic, more impactful, and more measurable. That’s the end-goal of advocate marketing.
As a principal strategic consultant, I’ve worked alongside hundreds of advocate marketers representing companies big and small across countless verticals these past few years. I’ve spent thousands of hours planning for their success. It is from these engagements that I’ve honed in on six common traits of the most successful practitioners and, vis a vis, advocate communities.
1. They are strategic.
While this may sound like a no-brainer, operating from a strategic rather than a tactical position is not the norm. The best advocate marketers I’ve spent time with start with a vision and strategy statement that serves to guide the ensuing metrics and tactics.
Emma Roffey and Cristina Melluzzi at Cisco are in a league of their own in this regard. (Read more about Cristina Meluzzi’s thriving advocate community here.) Their strategy is their compass. It is the source of truth for how, when, and where advocates intersect with their business, and how they engage them. A strong strategic foundation serves to guide the alignment between advocate activity and core business metrics.
2. They calendarize program plans.
The Discover > Nurture > Mobilize (DNM) advocate marketing framework is a powerful model that lays out the optimal advocate journey. It sets out the order of interactions most likely to lead to intended outcomes. The most successful practitioners follow a highly-calendarized DNM plan that carefully charts the advocate journey through initial phases of discovery and into a cycle where advocate relationships are nurtured.
This prepares advocates for opportunities to advocate, such as taking reference calls, sharing referrals and feedback, and writing online reviews. A thoughtful cadence of when to ask, when to delight, when to learn, and when to give, allows for foresight and hindsight in the planning process. This results in improved workflow planning and more predictable resourcing.
3. They are organized.
The most adept advocate marketers are highly efficient in how they execute their program plans. This is, after all, a highly organized approach to customer engagement. To be organized means getting ahead of (and, frankly out of) the spin cycle of one-off requests for event speakers, testimonials, and case study subjects.
It redirects the time and energy invested in chasing down a small stable of referenceable customers, to nurturing and developing relationships with a broader cross-section of clients who jump at the chance to share their experiences with your prospects. Victoria LaPlante managed the advocacy portfolio at HubSpot before joining Influitive. Through her efforts, reference opportunities were so coveted by advocates she could fulfil her reference requests within minutes.
One of her advocates once told me he was always on the lookout for those reference opportunities and would respond within minutes only to find he wasn’t the first. This created a sense of urgency and competition around such requests. Saying your organization is customer centric is one thing; having customers that fired up to help sell your products is next level.
4. They link program budget to value.
A question that comes up often with my clients is how to best surface the value an advocate community generates. The most successful advocate marketers are laser-focused on a specific metric (or two) each month, and they design campaigns, such as events, to hit that specific metric in a time-bound way.
For example, a two-week campaign focused on driving product reviews across a number of popular review sites. The incentive for the advocate to provide two or three online reviews during that time frame might be the chance to win tickets to a popular sports event or a $500 gift card. At the end of the month, the marketer reports on the total number of reviews driven by the campaign with a total cost of $500. He or she makes a clear connection between budget and value.
Excellent advocate marketers then report monthly on the results of that campaign in the language of those they are reporting to. While metrics like “advocate engagement” and “challenge completions” are a good barometer of community health, your CMO, VP of Sales, and Customer Success executive will likely be more responsive to understanding your outcomes versus spend.