Research shows that up to 92% of consumers trust peer recommendations. And according to American Express, happy customers recommend to an average of eleven people. Now, multiply that by thousands of customers, and there’s significant potential for customer acquisition.

This is the crux of what it means to have brand advocates. Brand advocates are a brand’s ambassadors to the world. They spread the brand message among their friends and family — people just like them — who then spread it further to their friends and family, creating massive opportunities for customer engagement that could never be achieved by only posting an ad or a blog.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at what brand advocacy is and how businesses can use it to their advantage.

In this article:
What’s Brand Advocacy?
How to Identify Potential Brand Advocates
Best Practices for Turning Customers Into Advocates

What’s Brand Advocacy?

Brand advocacy is when a person communicates positively about a brand, spreading their message via word-of-mouth on various channels, such as social media, web forums, review sites, and more. A brand advocate isn’t just buying a product for themselves — they’re actively recommending it to others.

Brand advocacy is powerful because it has the potential for exponential growth. A brand advocate can reach numerous people, and each of those people can spread the word to their networks. This is one of the core concepts of the marketing flywheel: as you gain more customers, you gain more potential brand advocates, adding speed and energy to all of your sales and marketing efforts.

Brand advocacy works to improve every other piece of marketing. Earned media, such as reviews, testimonials, and positive press, generate 4x more brand lift than paid media. And according to surveys, word-of-mouth recommendations are the primary driver behind 20 to 50% of purchase decisions. At a time when paid advertising seems like the only way to achieve significant growth on social media, brand advocacy generates organic growth without needing to assign a costly budget. Plus, it raises a brand’s profile, so that news sources and publications take notice, potentially leading to more publicity and exposure.

Building brand advocacy requires turning happy customers into advocates. And the way to turn happy customers into advocates is by engaging them at every possible opportunity, which means creating a customer engagement strategy.

How to Identify Potential Brand Advocates

The first step to creating an effective customer engagement strategy is identifying potential brand advocates. Not every happy customer will be a brand advocate. Brand advocates are passionate and vocal about brands they love. They’re active on social media and forums and like to comment on and share posts. They have extensive networks and aren’t afraid to activate them. 

Once potential brand advocates are identified, it’s time to start collecting data. Find out where conversations surrounding your brand are happening and look at who’s participating in them. Send surveys and questionnaires — ask happy customers what they love about the brand, and what they think their friends will like about it. Listen to what they have to say, and build relationships with them. Knowing as much about potential brand advocates as possible will allow you to figure out how to best engage them.

Best Practices for Turning Customers Into Advocates

The way to turn customers into brand advocates is by going the extra mile for them. They’re already satisfied customers — now’s the time to “blow their minds” and make them want to spread the word. Here are some methods and tactics to differentiate a brand and enhance customer engagement:

Personalize

When a customer is passionate and positive about a brand, it’s critical to recognize and appreciate it by addressing them on a personal level. Let customers know they’re special — offer customized recommendations for products they might like. Send an email on their birthday with a special celebratory offer. Set up an email campaign congratulating them on their anniversary of becoming a customer with a special gift or freebie. The same way people show appreciation for friends and family members, companies must think of ways to show customers how much they appreciate them. 

Get feedback

Brand advocacy is a two-way street. Brands must be proactive in obtaining ongoing feedback from customers, so they know they’re heard, respected and valued. It’s not difficult to get customer feedback; there are tons of channels and platforms that help brands do this. Set up a survey or poll on social media. Create an email campaign with a short questionnaire about a company’s products and services. Install a chatbot on the website requesting feedback about the purchase process once the customer has completed checkout. Get personal with a few questions at the end of every customer support call and record the live answers. Obtain feedback at every possible opportunity. The more that companies hear about their customers’ experiences firsthand, the better they’ll understand how to turn them into advocates.

Measure and track

Tracking customer engagement activity is the key to creating brand advocates. Brands need to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s being said about them online. Use social mention tools to monitor online discussions. Read the comments on social posts and respond to them individually. Follow the online behavior of converted customers to see what other products or pages interest them. Analyze customer support queries — what are the most common issues or concerns that come up? Measure customer feedback initiatives: What were the responses to surveys, polls, and questionnaires? What do customers like and dislike about the brand experience? No strategy can be successful without a clear tracking protocol and a clear idea of what KPIs to track.

Encourage multiple purchases

According to a U.S.-based survey, 37% of consumers say it takes five purchases to become loyal to a brand. The best way to turn customers into advocates is to get them to buy again and again. The more times they convert, the more they’ll feel connected to the brand. Retargeting is a great way to encourage multiple purchases. Entice previous customers with display ads or native ads promoting discount offers. Provide personalized recommendations about products they might like based on previous purchases. Create an email campaign offering exclusive discounts on repeat purchases. If you can get data about customers’ birthdays, send a gift coupon on the big day. Remember, it’s much easier to retain existing customers than acquire new ones.

Loyalty programs

More than 70% of consumers are likely to recommend a brand if it has a good loyalty program. A great loyalty program will give members real value. A great loyalty program will give members real value. Create a rewards structure that meaningfully pays off for the customers — then they’ll know it’s not just marketing fluff but a genuine benefit. It’s also crucial that loyalty programs reflect a brand’s character and values. Choose a name and a design theme for the loyalty program that strengthens the brand’s overall identity. Keep active with promotions and treats, and keep in touch with members regularly. A loyalty program that’s only heard from once or twice a year won’t create enough impact to make a difference.

Referral programs

Brand advocacy is wholly based on word-of-mouth marketing. Referral programs provide an organized, built-in way for customers to refer a business while incentivizing them with structured benefits. For example, offer points or cash-equivalent prizes for every referral a customer provides. Create a referral link and landing page that they can forward to friends. Develop a rewards system, with points or prizes for every five referrals. The power of referral programs is in the results — referral marketing generates 3x to 5x more conversions than other types of marketing.

Optimize the customer experience

The best way to create brand advocates is through a seamless experience. Simple, user-friendly website navigation, responsive mobile website, easy checkout, fast shipping, agreeable returns policies, regular email updates, high-quality customer support — all of these are essential in the process of creating happy customers. Brands must take a close look at all stages of their customer journey and optimize it in every possible way. After all, 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a great experience. And, in a recent report, optimizing the customer experience is regarded as the most exciting marketing opportunity for companies, ahead of content creation and data-driven marketing.

Customer testimonials

Customer testimonials and reviews are the most potent weapon in any brand advocacy strategy. Even one positive business review can lift conversions by 10%. Brands should provide platforms for customers to review their products, such as Facebook ratings, Google reviews, and review sites such as Yelp. Approach individual customers who’ve provided positive ratings and ask for a personal testimonial. This could be in written form or a short video testimonial. Widely promote testimonials on the company’s website or social media pages.

Be authentic

86% of consumers say that authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support. In every instance of customer engagement, brands must remain true to their values and mission. Keep the company values at the forefront of every marketing activity, and make sure to uphold brand promises. That doesn’t mean that mistakes will never occur. Customers know that people run brands, and they’ll respect those that own up to errors and honestly try to rectify them. The basis of brand advocacy is trust, and trust comes from authenticity. 

To Recap

In a saturated and competitive market, brands need to stand out. Having fans or happy customers isn’t enough — building long-term relationships with customers that are centered around trust and providing unique value is the key to encouraging advocates to speak on your behalf. Use the best practices above to encourage customers to actively champion the brand post-sale. It’s the most cost-efficient way to bring in more customers.

Veronica Covdy
Author

As the Customer Marketing Manager, Veronica is responsible for building strong relationships with customers and amplifying their stories. Outside the office, Veronica is happiest when she’s exploring hidden gems in SF, eating her weight in cheese/charcuterie, and dancing at a show (preferably in that order).