Today’s audiences are increasingly indifferent to what we marketers have to say.
Yes, our blogs, ebooks, and webinars contain valuable information (and hopefully this post is an example of this), but everybody else is also putting out valuable information. So, when everything looks the same, it’s hard to stand out. Not only that, but people are also getting bombarded by brands with all of this genuinely valuable information. But to people, it’s all just noise from brands and, as a result, they’ve gotten really good at tuning all that noise out.
So, to get our stories across to audiences, we have to both think about what they want and who they listen to. This is where customer advocacy comes into play.
What is Customer Advocacy?
Customer advocacy is anything your customers do for you that’s not in their job description. Specifically, it’s about spreading positive sentiment amongst your prospects, customers, and partners. It’s one part of the brand advocacy umbrella where your best champions – customers, employees, and partners – drive your brand awareness and reach.
What is a Customer Advocate?
A customer advocate is a promoter of your brand, services, and partnership. They emerge from amongst your strongest customers, and the key to nurturing them is through a customer marketing strategy.
What is ‘Client Advocacy?’
Client advocacy comprises of VOC (Voice of the Customer) programs. These customer-centric initiatives can consist of NPS (Net-Promoter Scores), CSat (Customer Satisfaction), and CES (Customer Effort Scores) that help you quantify your customers’ product and service sentiment.
This ensures you are adequately considering your customers’ experiences with your brand, services, and partnerships.
Why is Customer Advocacy Important?
As advertising channels expand from televisions and radios to laptops, mobile, smartwatches and so on, humans have started to turn off their ability to process all that data. This creates lots of noise throughout our advertising channels.
But this noise is valuable. It contains lots of relevant content, metrics, and results, yet it gets drowned out next to all the other valuable content that floods the airwaves.
The authentic customer voice is the only thing that slices through that noise.
1. Audiences Want Authenticity – Not Slick Copy
Sharing your customer’s voice unmanicured in its natural tone and state is the quickest way to have your target market resonate with your offerings. Customers speak the same language as your audiences, and not only that, but your message doesn’t feel paid for and contrived.
2. Your Customers Have Deeper Networks Than Your Official Accounts
It’s about crowd amplification and generating a chorus. Your community creates a ripple effect that expands and exponentially furthers faster than your demand generation plays. Collectively, their reach is dramatically wider than that of your brand.
3. It Pushes Your Brand into Key Conversations
No asset or conversation is more critical to moving the buying needle than one with a positive and authentic sentiment shared by a customer to a prospect.
But there’s one caveat, of course, and that’s someone who has used your product before. But other than that, there’s nothing more impactful than a peer-to-peer reference.
How to Build a Customer Advocacy Strategy
1. Put the Customer at the Center of All Your Business Decisions
A customer’s experience throughout their journey with your company, product, and services will determine whether or not you have a viable business model. You need to keep measuring and, in turn, optimizing their experience at every point along their journey.
The key to keeping your customer at the center is focusing on ‘what’s in it for them’ (WIIFT). At every stage, you must first deliver value before expecting anything (like advocacy) in return.
2. Build a Customer Community
Focus on your ‘capital C Community’ (discussion forums, academies, advocacy hubs, events, and knowledge bases) – over your ‘small c community’ (digital support forums/ticketing center).
Your customers don’t care how many different software suites or platforms you have in your tech stack. Rather, all they care about is that it all feels like ONE experience. You need to hide the seams to create a familiar and trusted digital journey across your varying touchpoints and you can do this seamlessly with a customer community.
Your customers hear enough from you. What they really want more than anything is to connect with each other. They want to learn and experience the journey together. We’re social creatures after all. In today’s digital age, having the ability to connect without company interference is invaluable to their adoption of your offerings.
3. Deliver Value to Customers Before and After the Sale
We often think about how we support prospects in making a buying decision. But we can easily forget what it’s like once the customer receives the product/service offering.
Here’s an analogy. Suppose you’re making a considered purchase, like a high-end blender (e.g., Vitamix) that costs over $500. If you bought the $500-blender because the packaging looked great (or a free demo at the store intrigued you or your friends have it too), but never actually used it, it’s highly unlikely you’ll buy the new ergonomic grip, let alone a new Vitamix model.
But if you (the customer) experienced a post-sale journey with free cookbooks, videos of how to make meals for your kids in under 6 minutes, social media posts spotlighting your friends, and an invite to the conversation (by providing your thoughts on the blender), you might use it day and night.
In that scenario, buying a new ergonomic grip isn’t necessarily an upsell; rather, it’s a necessity because you’ve worn the old one out. And once the next Vitamix model comes out, your loyal customer will make a repeat purchase.
Overall, the difference here is that the blender became a habitual part of your daily routine instead of ‘shelfware’ that collects dust in your cabinet.
4. Empower Your Customers’ Voices
Helping your customers build their personal brand is the fastest way to not only increase their reach, but deepen the lifetime value of your mutually beneficial relationship. It behooves every brand to help turn your customers into industry thought leaders, influencers, strategists, and other influential figures.
5. Insert the Customer’s Voice in Every Key Department
First, capture different VOC outputs and make them consistently visible across your entire organization. This helps your employees build a more intimate understanding of the journey you’re orchestrating for your customers – and where improvements need to occur.
Second, get all your departments (i.e., sales, customer success, support, services, marketing, product, and people ops/HR) to interact with your customers. Not only that, but get your teams to help promote the customer’s voice and, in turn, create ownership and adoption that will help inspire customers through good and hard times. Employee advocacy is the vehicle for driving that internal-to-external engagement at scale.
6. Personalize Your Gratitude
Avoid transactional gifting. Instead, focus on thanking your customers in conscientious and personalized ways. When your appreciation resonates, you’ll create magic moments for your customers that will last a lifetime.
PS: Though you don’t want to create transactional rewards, you can create a healthy dose of competition amongst your best advocates. Everybody loves to be at the top of a leaderboard once in their life, so help them attain those goals by creating an experience that is as enticing as your most addictive video game.
7. Rinse and Repeat
In an increasingly subscription-driven economy, the customer journey is not a linear model with a beginning, middle, and end.
It’s much more akin to an infinity loop where the customer journey continuously repeats itself. The journey matures and grows through each new line of business, SKU, and offering. This is how you move from a net-new logo to all of your upsell, cross-sell, and expansion strategies.
Next Steps: Start Your Customer Advocacy Program
You’ll want to build out a maturity model that overlaps with your products and services’ maturity adoption model. As your customers get better at using your offerings, they’re likely to get better at sharing their experiences during their successful journey.
This maturity model will focus on how to start by delivering value, refining which customers are good at which types of activities, and expanding with the best of the best advocates by providing them with heightened exposure across all of your channels.
Ari Hoffman is the VP of Customer Marketing and Advocacy at Influitive. Ari’s human-first approach to work and passion for customer success are fixtures of his career. He is a seasoned veteran and trusted advisor for customer-centric businesses, primarily in the enterprise SaaS industry. A natural organizer and people-connecter, Ari leads with empathy and relentlessly shines light on others.
When you come across Ari online or in-person (please say hi!), you’ll find him championing customers and building community among CMA professionals globally.