Behold the Power of Brand Advocates

For years, public relations professionals have known of the power of brand advocacy. But in the digital age brand advocacy is evolving into the realm and responsibility of nearly every type of digital marketer. Whether you’re working on a search marketing campaign or overseeing a client’s display strategy, every marketer needs to understand and believe in brand advocacy.

Thus, a recent eMarketer report, titled, “Brand Advocates: Scaling Social Media Word-of-Mouth,” was a timely addition to marketers’ library. The report highlights the stunning growth of brand advocacy over the last five years while providing helpful tips companies can use to cultivate brand advocates and how to avoid common pitfalls of annoying those who most appreciate your brand.

Not surprisingly, the report’s executive summary sums up what most marketers already know: “Brand advocacy is becoming a critical part of the social media marketing mix.”

But there’s more than the obvious that underlies successful brand advocacy campaigns. Consumers aren’t just “liking” a brand and commenting about it on social networks for the fun of it. As eMarketer reports, they are doing so because many desire to see their favorite brands succeed. And that can have powerful positive effects on companies — if they respect and utilize their brand advocates properly.

One interesting point I took from the report was that while brand advocates are interested in companies’ content, more important is their loyalty to a brand. A CMO Council study found that brand loyalty (48%) was far more important to brand advocates than whether a company had great content on its social networks (30%). This suggests that great content is helpful but being a great brand that your customers can feel proud to be associated with is more important.

So what makes for a successful brand advocacy program? And who are these “brand advocates” anyway? Let’s take a look:

eMarketer defines brand advocates as consumers who “use social media to not only interact with brand pages, but also to actively promote the brands, products and services they love.” They provide valuable insight to marketers about what is, and is not, working with a brand’s products and services and how the brand is being perceived outside of its four corporate walls.

What Brand Advocates Do

  1. They recommend products and services — frequently. According to Zuberance, 38% of brand advocates recommend a brand about once a month while 12% do so several times a week.
  2. They educate other consumers. As noted earlier in this post, brand advocates aren’t just in this for themselves (well, most of them at least). Market research company TNA found that the No. 1 reason people write about brands online was to offer advice. That is, they want to help their fellow consumer make more informed decisions.
  3. They interact with brands and other consumers on brand pages. Brand advocates don’t just comment online about brands. They actively participate in companies’ online activities. Find ways to target brand advocates beyond just Facebook “Likes” and Twitter mentions.

Recognizing Brand Advocates

eMarketer offers a great list of eight attributes marketers can use to recognize brand advocates.

  1. Brand advocates are young. eMarketer forecasts that 52.7% of U.S. social network users will be under the age of 35 in 2012. Building a strong base of young brand advocates now will pave the way for powerful brand advocacy in the future as those millennial consumers become more affluent and ingrained in the purchasing habits in the years ahead.
  2. Brand advocates are helpful to others. This may be the most valuable (or detrimental) aspect of a corporate brand advocacy program. It’s not a stretch to state that brand advocates can make or break some companies. Marketers shouldn’t discount their value or strength of voice and ability to influence others.
  3. Brand advocates want to see brands succeed. Your company’s online advocates want you to succeed and marketers need to develop strategies that help those advocates spread the word about a brand’s success.
  4. Brand advocates are active offline, too. They talk up your brand, no matter where they are. Think of ways to tie online marketing campaigns into offline campaigns, and vice versa.
  5. Brand advocates make brands part of their online persona. They feel a connection to your brand that extends into how they represent themselves online. Find ways to feed this connection through programs like a “Virtual CMO for a Day” and other persona-based advocacy programs.
  6. Brand advocates use social media more than the average consumers. No surprise here but marketers report that despite brand advocates’ preference for social media they find it difficult to get brand advocates to talk about their brand in social media in a way that matched their desired brand attributes.
  7. Brand advocates are influenced by social media.
  8. Brand advocates are moms and dads. Don’t just settle for the common perception that your brand’s advocates have to young and technologically savvy. A brand advocate can come from anywhere and any age. Marketers need to work to cultivate all potential advocates across multiple verticals and demographics.

So what’s the best way to reach, engage and cultivate brand advocates? Have a strategy. Don’t just rely on one program for all your brand advocates. Figure out how different groups respond to different promotions and communications and develop distinct campaigns based on that feedback.

In the digital age, brand advocates have asserted themselves as powerful forces in the consumer marketing space. Marketers need to recognize and respect their value and begin developing sophisticated digital marketing campaigns that combine offline incentives with online recognition and feedback opportunities.

This post was originally published on the MediaWhiz blog

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