In a world where everyone’s an expert, cancel culture has serious implications, and fake news is easy to come by, it’s hard to trust the word of media, businesses, sales, and marketing people. But do you know who people DO trust? Each other. They trust reviews. They trust peer opinions. They trust people who’ve already done business with your brand. In fact, McKinsey research has found that peer-to-peer marketing is linked to around 20 to 50% of purchases.
That’s why it’s so important to include your customers in your marketing efforts. With the right resources and messaging, you can turn your customers into your brand’s greatest asset.
Introducing client advocacy
Client advocacy (also known as advocacy marketing) is a tactic used by marketers to encourage customers to become the bedrock of their marketing strategies. Customers can be leveraged in many ways, from speaking at events and webinars, to taking a client/prospect reference call, being quoted in a case study or being featured on your website.
In general, client advocates fall into one of three groups:
- Would advocate for you no matter what
- Willing but will only for rewards or exclusives
- Willing but haven’t been set up for success and don’t know about the opportunities
This gives you a good framework for targeting each group of client advocate, tailoring your approach and messaging to get the most from your customers.
It’s essential to empower your customers to be effective advocates. The Wharton School of Business found that 83% of satisfied customers are willing to promote products and services but only 29% actually do so. So it’s important to identify if your advocates have what they need to be (easily) successful in promoting your brand. This might be marketing collateral like brochures and decks, or it could be tailored support with industry speaking opportunities where they promote your brand. Either way, to understand what they need, you need to have a consistent and ongoing two-way conversation about it.
Communication is key
Having regular and personal communication with each of your customers is essential in building a strong advocacy relationship. Let’s start with the personalized part. In my 12 years in advocacy, I have yet to hear a client say that they like being sold to. Instead, they like developing relationships. They like honesty and transparency. They like that you care about their team, family and general wellbeing. So before you do anything, make sure they have received value out of your product or service and that you are treating them like the fellow human they are and not an income box on your forecast.
Next, to be able to advocate for you, clients have to be informed. Are you sharing company news and happenings with them regularly? And just as important – are you communicating with them in the right way? Some people may prefer calls while others will be happy with weekly or monthly email check-ins. Marketing expert Jay Baer summarizes this really well – it’s critical that brands connect with customers where they are. And if you’re unsure what your customers’ preferences are, simply ask them.
Another powerful tool you can use to connect regularly with your advocates is a company community. This can be used to promote company news and product or service updates, and new resources. It can also help to streamline your customer advocacy comms. Information overload is just as damaging to your advocacy efforts as having too little communication.
Don’t forget that a messaging style that suits one advocate, may not work for another. Part of your job will be striking the right balance of comms among your advocates.
Make it easy
Your best chance of getting clients to advocate for you is making it easy to do so. Here are two examples of making it easy:
Scenario 1: You have big company news you want them to amplify on their social media. When you send the newsletter or ping the community releasing the news, provide them with some suggested copy. Include links, account names, hashtags, and photos where appropriate.
Scenario 2: You would like a client to speak at your event. In your initial ask, provide no less than the timeline, expectations, and some content ideas. Offer to help them pull together slides and if you think budget might be a concern (and you can afford it), offer to pay for their ticket or hotel room if required.
Incentives and Reward
A key part of your advocacy communication strategy will be gratitude and incentives. More mature advocacy programs have rewards or point systems, but from experience I’ve found that an email or handwritten thank you can be just as effective. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that certain opportunities will also help to boost your customer’s profile. Speaking at an industry event, for example, can improve their profile as an industry thought leader.
Being thankful is a general best practice but for some, an incentive or recognition will be a deal breaker. The rewards have to be good enough to entice them to make the time to promote your brand.
This is also an easy way to give back to clients and provide more material “what’s in it for me” (WIFM). Some examples of incentives could look like:
- Discounted or additional event tickets
- Special pricing deals
- Exclusive access to early product releases
- Consulting hours with key members of the vendor team. This could be executives, product leaders, marketing professionals, and so forth.
I am also a big fan of sending thank you gifts, especially for more time-consuming events or where the client has really had to go the extra mile in creating their own resources. There are lots of great companies that do custom swag and can manage the send for you also.
Applicable across all sectors
The great thing about client advocacy marketing is that it is relevant to all brands. All companies can benefit from their customers singing their praises, whether they’re reaching out to consumers or speaking to B2B senior stakeholders. Because your approach (and the resources provided) will change depending on your advocates’ needs, it can be tailored to all sectors and audiences.
By making your customers an integral part of your marketing strategy, you can set your brand apart with its superior customer experience and loyal following. It will level up your market presence and competitiveness. As the noise in the market won’t just be coming from your own marketing efforts, but the crowd of customers around you too.