Whether we realize it or not, we’re all fans of something. Fandom is an essential part of our identities and a key ingredient to our everyday social interactions. One of the best ways to get to know someone is to learn about their favorite things—sports teams, bands, restaurants, movies, places to visit, etc.
When you ask a sports fan about their favorite team, you’ll see something more than admiration—more than respect. The fan is part of the team. They are in it together. The team provides something of value to the fan—be it an escape, something to take pride in, a community or just sheer entertainment. Every team in every sport is dependent upon their fan base in order to maintain its existence.
The same is true with a great musician, a comedian or even a renowned chef at a hot restaurant. The fan and the (for lack of a better word) “brand” are interconnected.
Now, think of your company. You’ve got employees and customers. Perhaps you have investors. Maybe a whole bunch of partners and suppliers as well. You probably even have a bunch of people who have liked your Facebook page.
But do you have fans? Or as we like to call them, advocates?
What makes an advocate? Everybody has the capacity to be an advocate. No matter who you are, once you leave your desk you go home and at some point in a typical week you buy something you love. The purchases we make for ourselves are inherently more personal. We all get excited about owning that new device, attending that exclusive event or booking that trip of a lifetime. We show these purchases and activities and encounters off to the world through social media. We advocate for brands through our developed personal interests. We’re happy and enthusiastic about making recommendations to friends for the things we truly enjoy and appreciate. Personal referrals and reviews are big sales boosters for brands. Word of mouth is the essence of advocacy marketing, in its simplest terms.
On the B2B side, creating advocates for your brand can be a bit tougher, as people generally don’t get excited about stuff their business uses in the same way. Yet, having an advocate can make a huge difference in the success of your company or product or service. Why? Because these days your new customers are out there on social media and tapping into communities of peers when they are looking to solve a business problem or adopt a new solution. The same mechanisms are at play and the same psychology exists.
— Emelie (@MissEmelie) October 28, 2015
Your target customers are looking for fans to help them select a new solution.
If you want to have a successful advocate marketing plan, you need to put your people first. Think beyond what your product can do for your customer’s business. Think about what your product can do for your customer’s individual career growth. Drive for the same interconnectivity that exists between a sports team and its fan base.
How do you do this? Start with setting goals.
Too often, people struggle with setting realistic goals, because the goals you may want are not the same goals your customers are after. Would anyone really care about a sports team that only asked its fans to buy tickets to a game and offered no sense of incentive, community or sense of giving back?
One of the most important things you can do to ensure the success of your advocate marketing program is to choose goals right from the start that align your customer’s interests with your own business objectives.
Here are a few examples of how that alignment can work:
You need to drive referrals → your customers want access to your team
One of the most common goals companies seek from their advocacy programs is referrals. If you can get your customers to drive leads on your behalf, you get one of the most authentic, not to mention cost-effective, lead generation sources possible. One way to make this happen is to open up access to members of your team. Referrals are a very personal activity, and people are much more likely to recommend a referral if they feel confident in the person who will be on the other end. Find a genuine way to open up access to your company, and you can really improve the effectiveness of that referral engine.
You need to drive awareness of your brand → your customers want to be seen as rock stars
These days, people are keenly interested in building their personal brands. They want to have a strong profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter—because there’s a good chance that those profiles are a reflection of their personal identities and may come into play the next time they are job-hunting or networking. A strong personal brand can catapult an individual’s career. As a company, you help make that happen by supporting your best customers and make them seem like rock stars in their careers and beyond. They will then carry your brand’s message through the market driving awareness.
You need to explain a difficult concept → your customers want to be educators and insiders
People like being in the know and the go-to person when it comes to their interests—just like the fan at the bar who knows every rookie of the year going back to the 70s. People generally like to teach and be helpful to others. So, if you have a highly technical product or even just a novel concept that requires a little explanation, you can align with those customers who enjoy being the go-to person in the room. Help them build their knowledge and share it with the world. Your customers are already doing amazing things with your product and if you can help them tell their story, your company can often simply hitch a ride.
You need to develop a self-sustaining community → your customers want to learn new skills
Ever tried to start a LinkedIn group or some other type of community, only to find that no one participates? Well, your customers aren’t just going to come unless there’s something in it for them. Developing a well-functioning community can be a great way to drive down customer support costs, while quickly developing your own list of organic content. Your community can serve as a platform to offer skills training and valuable education to your best customers, pulling them into the conversation and further driving engagement across the entire community.
You need to drive up-sell & cross-sell revenue → your customers want to network and engage with other fans
Never forget how important networking is to everyone in business. Your customers are no exception. And in fact, you’ve got an amazing community for them to tap into. If you organize your customers and help broker introductions and meetings where they can share ideas and experiences, you will find that a portion of those exchanges result in customers discovering new uses for your product or service, resulting in direct up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
Advocacy takes a commitment. Think deliberately about balancing your goals with those of your customers to make sure your overall program is achieving success that matters to the folks in the boardroom. This will keep the right people talking about your company.
Before you know it, you’ll see your fan base growing. And, ideally, your customer will be letting the world know about their fandom of your brand, because that association will speak wonders about their own identity and character.
Follow @BrianGladstein on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.