Tips to build a successful customer advocacy program

Jun 09, 2020

Picture this: your team has built out a product that customers love. Years of research, careful planning, production and design, iteration and feedback have led to a long idealized moment: something that can solve a need, and solve it well. Every part of the process anticipated delight for the customer: the smoother-than-butter onboarding experience, the logo’s bright, beveled edges, the playful — if not downright cheeky — FAQs and web copy.

Now onto the next great task: building a marketing strategy, and bringing your product into the hands of those who need it.

We all know traditional marketing strategies, and we live in a real golden age of digital marketing tools. But an often overlooked marketing initiative that yields a phenomenal bang-for-its-buck is a customer advocacy program — where you rely on your customers to become unofficial spokespeople for your brand. A formal customer advocacy program is built around offering customers incentives to become evangelists and spread the word.

Why a customer advocacy program?

The evidence in favor of a customer advocacy program is staggering, or at least enough to spark a digital double-take. It makes sense that it’s effective — individuals are more likely to trust their peers or friends over a corporate front (yes, even if that front has a cute, furry-eared brand mascot). According to McKinsey, customer advocacy and word-of-mouth generate 2X the sales of paid advertising. In addition, customer advocates are 50% more likely to influence a purchase. And there’s a positive impact on the advocates as well: customer advocates spend twice as much as average customers on their favorite brands, and as customers have a 37% higher retention rate.

Given these statistics, it might be surprising to discover that only 20% of brands use customer advocate programs to bolster their marketing strategies.

Building a robust advocacy program will not only buoy sales and revenue via referrals, but will boost a company’s NPS, drive upset and cross-sell opportunities, and nurture a brand community built on engaged and meaningful relationships. In order to build a customer advocacy program, here are four steps to consider:

Pure white stairway

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Set yourself up for success by outlining your strategy. Are you looking for short-term excitement from your initiative — e.g. in anticipation of a product launch? For this kind of buzz, the advocates you might seek would include celebrities and influencers for rapid endorsements. For long-term endorsement, it’s crucial to create a sustainable network of customer advocates who will generate real commitment from their respective networks.

In addition, it’s often a good idea to dedicate an employee to manage your customer advocacy program, and to give your team ample resources and time to plan the program launch to enable its success.

2. Be selective about who you initially recruit to the advocate group

Your advocates are extensions of your brand and your company itself. Pick them mindfully and with the awareness that advocates are. In a broader context, your ambassadors. If you don’t invite the right people to this network, you won’t achieve the results you’re looking for. Much like hiring for official roles at your company, recruit and screen advocates through a deliberate process — make sure that the communities they reach are a good fit for your brand.  Start with your current communities and most active customers, nurture these relationships, and build out from there.

3. Support your advocates

Your advocate program is anything but transactional — these are long-term relationships with customers who love your product and form the backbone of your community. Give them what they need to get the word out! It goes a long way to demonstrate to your advocates how special their role is, and how special they are to the brand. Invite them to be early beta users, or to try products pre-launch, invite them to special advocate-only events, or to take an exclusive peak behind the curtain.

In addition, a way to catalyze momentum and growth for your advocacy program is to bake digital incentives into the experience. A rewards program built into your advocacy program is a tried-and-tested way to not only encourage advocates to take the time to share your brand’s message, but can also provide that tipping-point’s worth of encouragement for potential customers to try your product. For B2B companies especially, digital incentives go a long way in terms of empowering a community of super-users to drive results. For additional resources on digital incentive programs, check out our own catalog on Tremendous!

4. Measure the ROI

Make sure the platform you build your advocacy program on offers solid metrics to track the impact and effectiveness of the program. Create positive feedback loops by identifying which advocates share your content, create new content, and demonstrate the greatest reach. In addition, keep an eye out for the conversation generated by your content, and the program’s overall impact on purchase intent vs. actual sales.

Every month, keep a record of anything advocates do that impacts revenue: all referrals, upsells, and renewals. Be sure to compare it to the cost of running the program, and make any adjustments accordingly.

Customer advocacy programs are often the elusive, yet transformative, missing ingredient for a robust marketing strategy. Channel the love your customers already feel for your product, and amplify it to get your product in the hands of those who don’t realize they need it! With these four steps, you’re well on your way to developing a program that anyone would advocate for.

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