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  • Kathy Baughman

    Brand Advocacy Redux

    A few years ago, engagement was the holy grail of marketing. Brands delivered interactive campaigns designed to stimulate action and interaction: Take a poll, share or upload a photo, join a “community,” create a video, and so on. Unfortunately, the outcome was a lack of true engagement; brands for the most part pushed “stuff” using a variety of social and digital channels. The latest shiny tools and apps were embedded in the campaigns and for a while people did react, but few actually engaged in a meaningful way.

    Today, engagement has evolved to “brand advocacy,” the art of more continuous engagement through relationship building. Boston Consulting Group describes advocacy marketing as generating knowledge and positive opinion about your brand and products by engaging individuals and small groups in meaningful, direct, two-way communication. The intimate understanding of individual consumers or customers creates both affinity and advocacy; people recommend, share, provide feedback, defend and tell you when you need to do better. Marketers have known this for a while, but few have adopted a systematic or standardized approach.

    In order to excel at advocacy, brands need to understand and define their target, and find the six to eight percent who are truly passionate and want to interact, share who they are, and ultimately endorse your brand and products. This is much harder than pushing “engagement” or seeding products and hoping for return on engagement. For years, brands have collected information and data about their customers, but for the most part have failed to truly use it to develop meaningful relationships.

    Both the art and science of advocate identification and recruitment has evolved significantly over the past few years. Much work has been done in understanding their motivations, how to appropriately engage, what to ask of them and what to “give” them in return. Additionally, more brands than ever are interested in exploring a path to brand advocacy. Yet as we talk with brands, we’re befuddled by how many neglect this route. Some just don’t know how to get started, while others simply don’t think it’s worth the effort.

    Research conducted by McKinsey should persuade those in both camps. It studied what motivates people along the decision journey, and word-of-mouth (WOM) was paramount. The study further found that having a robust “post-purchase” channel as part of the marketing cycle was key to finding and activating loyalists who will drive advocacy or WOM.

    Our own work at ComBlu bears this out. We have helped many large, global brands identify, recruit and activate brand advocates, and then engage them over time. These brands got to know their advocates, and recognized the input they gave and the WOM that they spread. Productivity among this group is dependent upon segmenting advocates and understanding how to engage specific types for defined goals and purposes. For example, a very small percentage will actually create a video or write content for you. Yet, many engagement road maps focus almost exclusively on this type of activity. Not only does this waste resources, it restricts return motivation and can lead to stagnation. Yet, many people will curate content or share it, but few brands stimulate this “collector” behavior as part of the engagement strategy. Knowing what to ask, and who to ask to do very specific things is part of knowing them and respecting them.

    ComBlu defines brand advocacy as the confluence of conversation, community and content. We sponsor a Content Council for brands and almost all of the members consider content to be a powerful engagement asset. Most brands though have not mapped content to the right point of the decision journey and continue to push vast amounts of content indiscriminately into the cloud. Few have stopped to think how to use advocates to amplify it. Fewer still know how to use their content as a stimulant for conversation. And, many still think of Facebook as their hub for brand advocacy.

    Social measurement is starting to get more sophisticated and allows brands to better gauge the impact of their advocacy marketing or engagement campaigns, and use the insights they glean to calibrate programs. The really smart brands use social business intelligence to better know the needs, wants and quirks of their advocates. Without great, deep relationships with them, there is no brand advocacy.

  • Kathy Baughman

    Content Marketing is the New Social.

    I’ve seen the above headline a few places now and at first I sort of scoffed; after all, content marketing has been an accepted marketing practice for decades. In fact, some believe it’s been around since the cave dwellers.“Modern day” content marketing began in 1895 when the John Deere Company began publication of the first known custom magazine, Furrow. Today, the magazine has over 1.5 million circulation and is distributed in 40 countries.

    Still, content today is a very hot topic. The popular content conference ConFab is sold out for the second year in a row and this year WOMMA’s WOMM U conference will feature many sessions about content including three keynotes. Last year, every time I looked at my email inbox, I had at least 20 appeals to look at a new social measurement tool. This year, content is the top topic of unsolicited emails. Recent ones include:The History of Content Marketing, Ad Age’s Content Marketing Best Hope or More Hype, Content: The New Marketing Equation, and B2B Content Marketing. In fact, ComBlu published an e-Book about content supply chain last summer.

    Content marketing is not only a much written about topic, but it is one that is on the minds of many brands. As we chat with major brands about content, many seem to understand a few key things:

    • Content marketing is not actually the new social, but social has fundamentally changed how content is consumed and shared. This means that organizations need to understand that people—not digital assets or campaigns—are the most important and compelling amplification channel at specific points of the buying decision journey.


    • Equally important is getting the content mix right. Brand created, socially created and curated content all have a role. In fact, part of the log jam in my email box is info about new tools, new curation services, and content creation services. Yet, few lay out which type of content aligns best with different points along the decision journey. That topic resonates with most brands that I talk with.


    • Content is a key asset of brand advocacy. According to Steve Knox, brand advocacy has two distinct levers: people and disruptive events. If done right, content can disrupt and break through the clutter. The challenge? What constitutes disruptive content? How do you grab the attention first of the people you want to amplify your content and secondly the people who receive and consume it…and hopefully keep the message pass along cycle active? Many brands claim that they have the “magical content” part figured out. My skepticism creeps in when they can’t back up this bravado with replicable processes and systems. They blindly create content without understanding the psychology of influence. Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, gives valuable insights into the art of persuasion and the fundamental principles that drive human behavior. What’s missing from many content marketing strategies is the rewards structure that helps keep the content sharing cycle alive.


    • Predictive modeling will become a more integral part of content marketing’s DNA. If the Content Marketing Institute is right and brands spend 25% of the marketing budget on content, then that content better perform. The wonderful thing about content marketing today is we can measure it more granularly than ever before. I can easily track which pieces of content lands the most people back at my site and what they do after they arrive. Today’s tools also allow me to follow the hops my content takes after it’s shared and compare the network effect of each individual. Better yet, I can also use content patterns and trends to predict buying behaviors. This allows me to better target new content and promotions at very specific points along the decision journey. I can also use a recommendation engine to suggest other content that I know has proven in the past to stimulate deeper consideration or preference, and even purchase. Once this system is firing on all cylinders, cost and inefficiencies can be pared from the content supply chain.


    • Content lives outside of the walls of the WCMS  and the digital properties it feeds. In order to take advantage of all the places a brand’s content lands, we need ways to connect disparate systems and view content dynamics across a vast social ecosystem. Connecting the dots requires the ability to automate the confluence of CMS, CRM and campaign automation. Understanding how people engage with and change content is just as important as creating content in the first place.


    Content may not really be the new social, but certainly is part of the lexicon of a social business. Deconstructing old content models and operationalizing them to take full advantage of today’s social channels and tools drives customer affinity and impacts business outcomes. It takes storytelling to a whole new level.

  • Jennifer Voisard

    Brand Advocates Are Hot Again [INFOGRAPHIC]

    Part One: Who are advocates and why they matter.

    Brand advocates are hot and trending—again. Conversation about brand advocates and their business value is buzzing, because we have more collective experience under our belts. Advocate programs are beyond the proof of concept stage. There are real metrics available to us that quantify the business impact that advocates yield. Maker’s Mark (and their ambassador program) is a great example of an early adopter that has been running an advocate program for years. Whirlpool and Mom Central launched a pilot program in July and recently presented the results at WOMM-U earlier this month. The risk finally outweighs the reward.

    So what have we learned about this small but powerful group of brand fans? Our infographic helps visualize who advocates are and why they matter.


     Click to Download Full Infographic
    clip_image002 First, the “who.” Advocates make up just six to eight percent of your customer base. But, remember you can do a lot with a few. A relatively small group of engaged advocates can have enormous impact on the business.Advocates can play multiple roles. Most importantly they are the new voice of the brand. They love and defend you, because you market with them and not to them.


    Be prepared to have a genuine relationship with your advocates. It will pay dividends.

    Not all advocates are created equal. Your business mission will determine the right type of advocates to identify and recruit for your program. It is important to understand which advocate segments will activate for what program, and how to engage with them in a meaningful way.


    Brand advocates play a starring role in sales, product innovation, customer care and market research. They are our content creators and amplifiers, recommendation engines, campaign accelerants and support agents. And, they generate serious impact. This is the “why!”


    Brand advocates are the go to person for purchase advice from peers. Unless you have been living under a rock, everyone knows that today’s consumer trusts the recommendation of someone they don’t even know.

    It is all about the social graph. You are not engaging with an individual—you are engaging with a network.


    So now that we get the who and the why, let’s focus on the “how.” There is a lot to get your arms around, so it is important to take a process approach from the beginning.


    First, start with your key business objectives and define the mission of your advocate. You need to know what you want them to do first.

    Next, you need to identify the right type of advocate for that mission. Start by leveraging social listening tools like Sysomos to drive your recruitment—this will help you find passionate fans already creating and sharing content outside of your own social ecosystem. Down the road, listening will also inform your engagement, messaging and content strategies.

    You will also want to tap into your owned assets—best practice is to fish in your own pond. How will you use your existing infrastructure to reach loyal customers?

    Now, in order to identify the right advocate for the job, you need to qualify them based on key criteria, such as:

    • Advocate segmentation (Creators, Critics, Connecters, Collectors)
    • Loyalty and affinity
    • Product experience and expertise
    • Social graph

    Over the next few months, we will tackle the rest of the process—advocate activation, engagement and measurement:

    • How to get the most out of your advocates using a faceted engagement strategy
    • ComBlu’s approach to advocate scoring, predictive modeling and program performance

    In those upcoming blogs, we’ll share some brand examples we think epitomize best practices in advocate deployment. In the meantime, if you have any great case studies or innovative brand advocate programs to share, please do!

  • Pam Flores

    The Social Side of the Olympics

    My entire life I have been an Olympic Games junkie. No matter if it was the Summer or Winter Games, I found myself counting down the days until the opening ceremonies, and would then watch as much of the competitions, athlete personal interest stories, and news from the Games as I could fit in without causing serious concern among my friends and family (I don’t ordinarily watch much TV).

    While waiting for the London opening ceremonies (July 27, BTW), I began looking into ways to be even more plugged in this year, and knew the impact of social media would be key. Olympic organizers have dubbed the London games the world’s “first social Games” and I was thrilled to learn that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created an online hub for the “ultimate Olympic fan” (they mean me, right?).

    The main purpose of this community is to strengthen the digital connection between fans and competitors. This is great, especially for star athletes in non-mainstream sports like Greco-Roman wrestling and modern pentathlon, or those sports you may only follow during the Olympics, like diving and fencing. Social media offers these athletes a way to connect with—and stay connected to—a fan base long after the games are over.

    The Olympic Athlete’s Hub pulls together the verified social media feeds of 1,000+ current and former competitors, across a wide variety of sports. The community offers fans the ability to follow their favorite athletes, and to learn more about and connect with new athletes as they follow the game.

    The hub also posts content directly from Facebook and Twitter accounts, and incorporates gamification. Fans can play “Game for the Games” and earn virtual medals, as well as real rewards (e.g., collectable pins, autographed T-shirts, etc.) when they follow athletes, watch videos, etc.

    Just like women athletes, coverage of the Olympics has “come a long way, baby.” Take a look at this infographic published by the IOC showcasing the evolution of the coverage of the games. To my delight, this year it will be more sophisticated than ever before.


    The Olympic Games have always brought the world together. Thanks to social media, this connection is stronger than ever before, and will continue long after the closing ceremonies.

    I am already earning medals on the Olympic Athletes’ Hub as I wait for the Games to begin. And, I am happy that I can now make it look like I am online “working” and not just watching the games.

    How much Olympic coverage do you plan to take in? What role will social media play? I’d love to hear and learn of any other fun Olympic-dedicated sites you plan to engage in.

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  • Peter Duckler

    It’s Just a Matter of Time


    I’m one of those people who needs to have the latest and greatest right away. So, when Facebook introduced Timeline, its much-anticipated massive overhaul to user profiles (think curated digital scrapbook), I upgraded immediately. I didn’t bother reading what it was all about or how it worked. I simply had to have it.

    Then the holidays came and my Facebook life was put on the backburner as I spent quality time with friends, family and Hollywood’s latest blockbusters (if you haven’t seen Hugo, by the way, you are missing out on a true masterpiece). I completely overlooked the seven-day review period where I was supposed to work through my Timeline to get things ready before going public Little did I know that after the review period, there’s no turning back.

    As is the case with any major upgrade, the new Timeline requires patience and commitment. Since I don’t have a lot of time these days, my initial instinct was to look for the “go to static view” button. But, I couldn’t find it. Certainly, Facebook wouldn’t require us to live with this change, right? Wrong.

    (Really? Really? Do you really need to rush us into such a dramatic change?).

    So, I turned to Google and found pages upon pages of strategies for turning back time. Apparently, I wasn’t alone.

    According to InsideFacebook, scammers are exploiting the negative sentiments surrounding Timeline by prompting the disenfranchised to Like, download or watch videos to deactivate, remove or disable it. I was one of those suckers.

    I’ve now come to accept that resistance, my friends, is futile. While only a fraction of Facebook users have already adopted Timeline and it’s still an option, pretty soon it won’t be. According to the Associated Press, “There’s no sense in holding out. Timeline will eventually go live for everyone on Facebook, whether or not the user has taken the time to prune and optimize the Timeline view. It’s best to be proactive and make sure what people will see is what should be seen.”

    So, I’m in the process of curating my new look to the world and preparing myself for my Facebook makeover. And, I admit, the more time I spend with it, the more I like it. I just needed time.

    It will be interesting to see how marketers will embrace Timeline when it becomes available. To date, there has been no official release date for brands, but Mashable offers an interesting glimpse of what we might expect. How about you, have you revealed your new face to the world?

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