Developing Brand Advocates

What’s the ultimate challenge for brands? Getting their customers to become brand or business advocates. Tonnes have been written on this; yet it is still a major challenge in these times of fleeting loyalties and price-conscious customers. This is more so in B2C than in B2B, though. Is there a way B2B companies can identify possible brand advocates who can spread the good word about their business?

Brand advocates – and the stories they can tell – would be a terrific way to help make sure that your content, your client list and your references are inspiring to new business prospects. Power is shifting from the seller to the buyer across all industries. Most B2B companies are seeing this in practice – that their prospects have already done research and formed an opinion of them before they approach for business. When you have much less control on the sales process, you need advocates to educate and make prospects interested in your products or services.

In the case of B2B, the number of customers is less than that in B2C and the role of a good advocate will be to add big value. As a result, harnessing and nurturing this vocal minority can provide for huge returns, ranging from increased sales and brand awareness to combating negative press or poor customer feedback.

Here are a few practical ideas for you to identify and empower a few advocates of your business:

1. Plough through your employee base. The employee group is one of the most influential advocates groups you can find within your own organisation. Leveraging employees is one of the easiest things that a B2B enterprise can do since it has direct control over communication to this audience, including recruitment, as well as any corresponding incentive programmes. It is fairly straightforward to implement policies regarding social engagement, and to reward people for participating. One of our clients has done this well to their benefit. They encouraged employees to be very active in LinkedIn. They emphasised that this was important and part of their job, and encouraged them to create a profile and initiate connections with friends and colleagues. They then gave rewards ranging from movie tickets to holiday vouchers of vacation ownership companies upon meeting specific milestones. The biggest challenge, though, was giving the employees something to say, which is where a social media tool like SocialToaster can come into play, making it easy for employees to share corporate content, like blogs.

Apart from having a clear line of communication to the employees, you also have a greater degree of control over what is actually being said by them in the social media, based on the policies you can make for such things. For many B2B companies, this is a key area of concern in terms of executing. It is readily addressed if the target advocacy group is an employee group subject to constraints put in place based on such a policy.

You can use a similar approach with other potential advocate groups, such as partner or vendor companies. The key to success is identifying the source of the advocate audience, mapping out a plan for engaging key members of that audience, and then executing on an ongoing communications plan.

2. Set up a customer advocacy board: By setting up such a board you will provide a meaty incentive for customers to participate in quarterly meetings. This not only gathers valuable feedback with the board members on keeping customers happy, but creates a built-in network of advocates invested in your success that you can use for customer stories and testimonials that help draw people to your website.

3. Create an online community of advocates: You may not have huge budgets to fly in your advocates to meetings every now and then but by creating an online community you still can meet them virtually every now and then. They can enter into a discussion with each other and your representative in Google Hangouts regularly. During such a community discussion, you can offer an incentive for members who are interested in being part of longer-term programmes to be a reference for customers, provide testimonials, case studies, etc.

4. Keep things simple and easy: For those who want to be involved to do the advocacy work for you, you must make things easy for them. The moment obstacles appear is the moment advocates will become disinterested in championing a brand. Encourage them to share, use digital communities to facilitate discussions, thank them for their efforts, and listen and respond to their feedback.

Too often, brand advocates aren’t managed and nurtured unless the company is in some sort of trouble. It is better and smarter to invest in creating programmes that track, engage and help maintain brand advocates so you can leverage them to promote and expand your business.

(The writer spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)

M Muneer