Why Consumer Brands Should Focus on the Top 5% of Customers

Three Ways Brands Can Laser-Focus on Top Social Influencers

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When I think of brands that have an in-depth CRM strategy, enterprise giants like IBM and HP, rather than Pepsi or Kellogg's, immediately come to mind.

That's because with the exception of retailers, most consumer brands simply don't have a CRM strategy, and the ones that do are usually going about it the wrong way. They collect email and mailing addresses only to blast out marketing messages that are mostly unwanted. Miniscule open rates are a mark of success, despite the fact that these "initiatives" are by and large considered spam by the majority of recipients.

This flawed approach misallocates resources by focusing on the largely indifferent "many" (your customer base, broadly defined), instead of the important "few" (people who admire your brand and are already inclined to tell their friends about how great it is).

Instead of rushing to add more customers to an unwieldy email database when the vast majority will delete or opt-out entirely, consumer brands should instead be focused on cultivating relationships with their most passionate customers.

Before social media, identifying customers who were driving word-of-mouth for your brand was difficult, but the rise of visual platforms like Instagram, Vine and Pinterest has made it much easier to identify them. These heavy-hitters are publicly posting photos and videos featuring their favorite products and branding, effectively doing your marketing for free.

Here's a critically important fact: Just 4.7% of consumer brands' customers generate social referrals, according to EngageSciences. This means that virtually all the earned media and conversions your brand obtains on social originate with this relatively small group of people. The key nut for any consumer brand to crack is who these 4.7% of customers are, and then communicate with them in a way that encourages even more advocacy on your behalf.

Sure, there's no lack of marketers who excel at engaging their followers on Twitter, and to a more nascent extent on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. They may use some mix of humor, helpful advice, captivating images, and a carefully honed editorial voice. We still can't stop referencing the "Oreo dunk" and other brilliant examples of real-time marketing that are out there.

Yet, something is still missing: A laser focus on the real brand advocates, with an eye toward amplifying their voices so their reach goes even further. Here are three things consumer brands can do to identify their top inflencers and help them spread the word about their brand:

1. Invest in community managers. One of the smartest things a consumer brand can do to amplify its word-of-mouth on social is to invest in its community managers -- those individuals who represent the front line of a brand's pivotal one-to-one communication with customers -- and elevate their roles within the marketing organization.

This might seem like an obvious strategy to set in motion, but there's a simple reason why it's historically been challenging: Most brands just don't allocate enough budget to support their community managers, and community managers typically aren't senior enough in their organizations to effectively advocate for themselves.

Community managers need more support, more autonomy and more budget to be able to connect the dots and reveal which social-media users are part of the critical 4.7%, and then provide personalized customer service to increase these customers' passion for the brand.

2. Reciprocate on Instagram and other social platforms. Clearly, some brands are already invested in relationship-building via social; they're just focused on the wrong segment. The influencer marketing strategy that many brands employ -- identifying millennial micro-celebrities with sizable social followings and hiring them to integrate product mentions into their posts -- is on the right track, but ultimately incomplete. Marketers should be tapping into the people on social who have a true passion for their brand, even if they're not well-known influencers with six- and seven-figure followings.

With the sky-high engagement on Instagram in particular, this platform should be core to a social CRM strategy. Give those who are posting branded content a little recognition that you appreciate what they're doing. As with any form of kindness, it goes a long way.

In other words, it's not enough to be simply creating "cool" content for Instagram. Go one step further by building relationships with your top customers, liking their content back and commenting on their relevant posts.

3. Invite top influencers to join a customer advisory board. We clearly have more data at our fingertips than ever before, and with it, there's a huge focus on quantitative insights about customers. However, there still remains immense value to the qualitative insights that come from customer stories and the kind of "nuggets" you can only get through conversations with your brand advocates.

While there have long been consumer focus groups, a more strategic approach is to invite your top influencers to join an advisory board. This not only helps develop deeper relationships with your top influencers, it also allows you to truly understand and leverage the creativity of how customers use your products, leading to "co-creation." Moreover, like any business, you want to be inside the minds of those who generate the most revenue for you -- not just those who spend the most money with you, but those who spend money and convince others to buy your products.

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