"Word-of-mouth is the best advertising."
Everyone in advertising has heard a client state this idiom at some point in time. Though the belief that advertising isn't worth much compared to the relationship with a customer has merit, the fallacy that customer advocacy sprouts organically offers an opportunity to groom your customers into sharing you with others.
I've never met anyone in advertising who doesn't preach this to clients. The fact that few agencies practice what they preach makes those that do stand apart. My work with small agencies to build stronger client relationships has revealed some common denominators about agencies successfully enhancing their shareability.
Regardless of whether you're an agency or another kind business, you are in one of four relationship stages with your customers: attraction, connection, embracing and sharing. The key to success is to migrate a client to sharing as quickly as possible. Once a customer has embraced you, they should be empowered to share. Here are three tools that you can give them:
1. Quality. Offering customers a quality experience requires a culture of quality. Southwest Airlines provides an excellent example of people demonstrating a love for what they do. They have fun. Who would have thought an airline would use communicating FAA safety regulations as an opportunity to entertain passengers? Use innovation in how you work with clients and they will share that experience with others.
In 2014, Seth Gaffney, Rob Baird and Krystle Loyland left Mother NY to open their agency, Preacher. Their work set the quality bar high with innovative work for clients that previously hadn't garnered much attention. Seth Gaffney attributes some of their growth from clients bringing others to them. "We're so invested in our partners' growth, they become invested in ours," Gaffney says. "The best way to get them to tell new clients about Preacher is to keep making work they're proud of and compelled to share."
2. Service. Austin agency McGarrah Jessee enjoys long tenures with clients. Managing Director Britton Upham claims the reason for such longevity revolves around a comprehensive service model. "The most important thing we do is over-service our clients in a way that makes us invaluable and appreciated partners," Upham says. "One way we do so is to build relationships across the client's entire organization. When they're talking agencies over beers with their peers, our goal is to have them say, 'You should call our guys. They're unlike any other agency.'"
3. Consistency. There's an adage that a customer isn't a customer until they buy from you a second time. There may not be as satisfying as a client who works with you throughout the course of his or her career. Jonathan Schoenberg of TDA in Boulder, Colorado, believes this is a key to their growing success. "A lot of our new business calls are from previous clients," Schoenberg says. "For example, we worked with Dan Fogarty at Chipotle and then Noodles and Co., Pat Hus on Cannondale bikes, then Litespeed Bikes and then Titus Bikes. Steve Sullivan worked with us at Sunveil Apparel and also when he launched his brand, Stio."
After you have attracted a client, a critical phase of the relationship is at hand. Having a connection must evolve to being embraced as a trusted asset. Every client carries the potential of an advocate. He or she can become an evangelist. Jackie Huba, author of "Monster Loyalty: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics," says evangelistic sharing is the Holy Grail of marketing, citing Lady Gaga's meteoric rise to fame to the singer's complete focus on 1% of her fans -- Gaga's "little monsters."
Create this kind of loyalty in your clients by implementing a client relationship building process. Intentionally migrate them from customers to advocates. Offer them tools of quality, service and consistency, and you will soon find your new business efforts a lot less daunting.