How Marketers Can Court Brand Advocates

Do You Have What It Takes to Turn On Marketing's Most Wanted?

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In-N-Out Burger, Apple, Dunkin Donuts, Burt's Bees, Harley Davidson. We all know brands that people will go out of their way to talk about and recommend. The idea is appealing to marketers: Why spend millions on advertising, promotions and product placements when the most effective marketing can come from consumers themselves through word of mouth?

But even for the most buzz-worthy brands, not all word of mouth is created equal -- because not all consumers are created equal. While most consumers recommend brands occasionally, and reach a small group of immediate family and friends, there is a select group of people who talk about brands habitually, reaching large groups of peers. They debate product benefits on blog posts, write elaborate reviews on Amazon, tweet with brands day and night, and post YouTube "haul videos" that can attract a larger audience than some cable TV shows. With a few candid words, the right highly connected consumer can get people all over the web stampeding to buy products.

These are brand advocates. It's what they love to do and they are very good at it. Others seek out their opinions, and their recommendations have a direct influence on purchases.

To some people this behavior may seem strange, but if you understand how they think and what motivates them, you'll know how you can help them become your most effective salespeople. My company, BzzAgent, recently conducted an in-depth study of brand advocates, and I wanted to share five tips for effectively marketing to this powerful breed of consumer.

1. Get the products in their hands
Comments about your viral videos and TV spots may be fun, but they get old and tired fast. Most important, they do nothing to help others learn why they should consider your product. Distribute free samples to give advocates experience with the product so their reviews will be personal and much more meaningful. Advocates are optimistic people; they are 75% more likely to share a great experience about a product.

2. Navigate the Amazon
The product reviews on e-commerce sites such as Amazon are one of the most important places to influence the influencers. Even though advocates prefer to share their opinions on social media sites, when it's time for them to learn about new products they go to Amazon.com. It's a one-stop shop for them. Amazon has easily searchable reviews on every variation of every consumer product imaginable. As soon as your product ships, encourage your early customers and fans to visit Amazon to post their initial opinions and experiences.

3. Turn them into insiders
Advocates are always looking for something new and interesting to share with peers. They love this stuff. This how they unwind -- they are three times more likely to write a product review just to relax. Use it to your advantage. Feed them a steady stream of fun stuff to engage with and share, but make it meaningful. You'll turn them off with a copy of your latest sales brochure, but they'll respond to insider access to events, samples, exclusive offers, or sneak peeks at what you have coming around the corner. Anything that feels exclusive is compelling, and compelling gets talked about. Since advocates are three times more likely to share product information with someone they don't know, your offers are likely to gain viral momentum quickly.

4. Engage with them on their own turf
Advocates thrive on the social-media frontier. They are drawn to anything social online -- they are two-and-a-half times more likely that typical web users to use social networks to meet new people, four times more likely to use discussion boards and three times more likely to blog. Engaging with advocates requires that you have active and meaningful participation with them on these places. This is where those "in the know" connect with each other, so be yourself and let your passion come through. Act like a marketer hiding behind your brand and you'll just help your competitor gain some vocal supporters.

5. Help them expand their influence
Advocates work hard to build their following and their reputation means a lot to them -- they are 150% more likely to value their perception as a good source of information. Sharing the latest product information to help others make better shopping decisions is how they build their brand. Recognize them and celebrate their contributions. These people are driving sales for you -- advocates are 50% more likely to create a post that influences a purchase. Re-tweet their messages, feature their comments on your Facebook page, your blog and across your site. CoverGirl uses advocates comments in their print ads and Kmart uses them on product sign in their retail stores. Mtn Dew is now thanking them by name in an ad campaign.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Malcolm Faulds is senior VP-Marketing for BzzAgent.
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