5 key characteristics that enable companies to cultivate customer advocates
What makes a company compelling enough to win advocates? Contributor Matt Zilli lists the things a brand needs to inspire loyalty and passion.
Most articles about driving customer advocacy focus on how to run successful advocacy initiatives or influencer marketing programs. This is not one of those articles. Those are important topics, for sure, and I’m saving my thoughts on them for a future post.
What I want to do right now is make the point that customer advocacy is much bigger than programs and tactics, bigger even than strategies and initiatives. Advocacy, in fact, is a brand’s most basic success driver, because if you’re not giving customers compelling reasons to stand up and shout your praises, why are you even in business?
Today, the will and the ability to create advocates must be part of the weave of any company. It can’t just be an overlay. It must come as a mandate from the top, and it needs to push up from the ranks to permeate every enterprise function, from product design and packaging to marketing, fulfillment and service.
Jump-start customer advocacy by listening
I don’t have to tell you the monetary value of advocates. It’s well documented that they spend more than the average buyer, bring in more customers and help create more buzz. But I do want to share what I believe is the most important thing about them as people: advocates enjoy feeing that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, part of a team or a movement… and they want to be listened to.
Sounds like a requisite for a successful human relationship, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
Thus, before devising strategies and tactics to create and nurture a legion of brand advocates, you first have to tune in and listen to what customers hope to gain from entering into a relationship with your business. And you have to do it at scale across all customers and all touch points of their unique customer journeys.
Key advocacy drivers
What do you hear when you start listening? In my years of listening, and of data diving, I’ve learned that there are several key elements about a company that can turn a customer into a vocal advocate, frequently from their first purchase, and sometimes before they even purchase a single thing. These perceptions include:
- Coolness factor. Yes, I know that coolness is ephemeral, fickle and highly subjective. And unless you’re James Dean, it’s difficult to make it on coolness alone. But you should not discount it as an advocacy-generating force. Look no further than Apple, which has built a hugely profitable empire on the perception that Apple users automatically inherit a slice of Apple’s innovativeness and coolness.
- Unique selling proposition (USP). When you offer customers something that few others can and you do it in a way that breaks new ground, you can almost count on creating advocates. But a USP can be as fleeting as coolness, so you want to combine it with other elements that are proven to engender advocates in order to stay in the game.
- Shared values. Shared values can be very powerful in creating sustainable emotional bonds between companies and customers. It harkens back to advocates wanting to be part of something larger than themselves. Let customers know that your business stands for something that is important to them, and they will be proud to advocate for you.
- Community. Again, being part of something larger than oneself and having a platform or bully pulpit to share an appreciation of a company and its offerings, is huge in our everything-social age. Embrace it.
- Human touch. Customers prone to advocacy want to be treated like family and friends. Be responsive across the customer journey, exceed their expectations, surprise them to demonstrate your own appreciation of them, prove that you have their back and reap the rewards.
There are other perceptions about a company that can galvanize advocacy, but these are the Big 5, in my experience. Listen to the customer, and you can home in on the ones who best align with what you can offer as a business.
The more drivers, the merrier
But don’t just rely on a single advocacy driver. The more drivers you leverage, the more effective your advocacy efforts will be, and the more formidable your advocates.
One example is a recently launched startup called Brandless (disclosure: client). An online retailer, they sell unbranded but high-quality kitchen and household staples, from steak knives to pure maple syrup to hand cream and soap — and every item is just $3.
They combine coolness, a great USP and a strong sense of community, and their advocates are numerous and vociferous in their praise on Facebook, Instagram and the company website. Not bad for a business that is barely out of the gate.
The point is, before strategizing and formulating tactics for building advocacy, you first must listen to determine all the things that are meaningful to them.
Don’t stop at just trying to hear things from your customers directly. Focus groups and polls are fine and good, but you’ll also need to divine from your data what customers are thinking and doing, and you’ll want to winnow it out of social media activities as well.
Listen well, because once you determine what will best galvanize their advocacy, you’ll be able to proceed to initiatives and programs with a new sense of fearlessness.