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’s forte is enterprise content strategy, content marketing and thought leadership. Over the past 40 years, she has worked with both emerging brands and large enterprises in developing content and thought leadership strategies. She has written several research reports, white papers and has been a key contributor to Forbes Publish or Perish Report.