Today’s brands exist in a digital era and, by default, they are most concerned (or should be) with the question of interactivity, connectivity, and immediacy, especially as it relates to marketing. Brands invest a lot of money into making sure that their customers can easily find and connect with them, and they do that through inbound marketing.
Why inbound marketing?
Well, because inbound outperforms everything else in that hefty bags of marketing tricks. There are many reasons why brands made a substantial shift from traditional marketing methods but here are a few that paint the picture most vividly:
- Inbound yields 3X more leads per dollar than traditional marketing methods. Not spending your money where it does most good would (in the words of Guy Kawasaki) just prove that you have more money than brains.
- Close to 70% of online buyers spend time reading branded content before deciding to purchase. When was the last time you made a substantial purchase without consulting Google first? Hotel bookings, electronics, furniture, kitchen tiles – you name it, we’ve all googled it.
- 94% of B2B buyers research online before committing to purchase. Your industry is no longer an excuse – inbound is relevant in every single one. If you’re not doing it, you’re leaving money on the table.
Like we said, all these iron-clad reasons are difficult to pick apart.
However, the fact that inbound is so crucial these days makes it easy to forget that – for all its good sides – it also comes with a hefty price tag. Large B2B companies spend 55% of their marketing budget on inbound.
Just think about it – email, blog posts, article placements, social media – everything is an investment and being present in all the channels will quickly sap you of resources and ideas.
Luckily, there’s a way to bring fresh ideas and content in regularly without having to spend thousands of dollars on in-house production at every turn. It’s called brand advocacy, and it’s a marketing strategy that packs a pretty powerful punch.
Inbound marketers will be delighted to find that they can put it to a lot of different uses. Observed solely through the prism of inbound, a handful of brand advocates can help a brand by:
- Generating trustworthy content that’s genuine and resonates with their audience.
- Being a sounding board for all their inbound ideas.
- Serving as an army of evangelists who will spread brand’s content far and wide.
- Keeping their content-creation costs at an all-time low.
Instead of patting yourself on the back because of how good you’re doing inbound marketing, learn to pair it with this efficient strategy and start lowering your costs.
At the same time, you will be developing meaningful relationships with your top advocates- their suggestions, ideas, and help will prove to be an invaluable asset to your inbound efforts.
Who Exactly Are Those Elusive Brand Advocates & How Can They Help You
Brand advocates are people who are excited about your brand and positively impact all conversation about it – online or offline. They can be customers or employees, or even business partners such as suppliers, logistical support, and anyone else (your bank account manager, for example).
At the core, what makes them advocates is the fact that they are so happy with your brand (products, services, customer support, image, impact, whatever you have going for you) that they are ready and willing to invest time and effort to help it grow.
The most immediate benefit of brand advocacy that you will notice is the increase in word of mouth (online and offline). That’s the natural response of enthusiastic advocates- they’ll share their positive experience with others to help them solve their problem by recommending what they perceive to be the best solution.
However, there’s more to brand advocacy than people dropping your name willy-nilly in online and offline conversations. Here are a few other benefits that should convince you that brand advocacy a strategy worthy of investment:
- Brand humanization – Online conversations featuring real, flesh and blood people provide your brand with a genuine, human face. People are much more likely to buy from you once they see that you are making real connections and positively impacting the lives of others.
- Safeguarding online reputation – Every once in awhile, a brand will be faced with negative comments and reviews. Having brand advocates respond to those with their own positive experiences goes a long way toward mitigating that negative effect.
- Increased social media reach – Let’s face it – for the most part, branded content isn’t very sexy. Even if it’s great, most people will shy away from sharing it. Not brand advocates – they are 4X more likely to click that share button, spreading your content over social media networks more widely than you ever could.
- Positive impact on credibility – If your potential customers can only get information about you from your websites and corporate social media accounts, you won’t be seen as very trustworthy. On the other hand, conversations created and fueled by advocates offer powerful social proof and lend you a note of credibility.
- Content marketing boost (UGC) – User-generated content resonates with your audience more than most things that you produce in-house. It’s simply a match – content created for the people by the people. Not only does it drive sales, but it also lifts a significant burden from your inbound team (which has to supply content for numerous channels on a daily basis).
Not surprisingly, this last benefit of advocacy marketing is the most important one for inbound marketers. The truth is, brand advocates can have an enormous impact on your bottom line.
Since close to 88% of consumers trust online reviews and opinions more than they trust other sources of information (like influencers, brand website, or ads), a mere 12% increase in brand advocacy can result in doubled revenue.
And that’s just with a handful of brand advocates on your side.
Get 3X Better Conversion Rates With User-Generated Content
That’s right – user-generated content outperforms anything a brand can put out by close to three times. Bllush tested this by pitching a real Instagram photo of a woman wearing a Nike sports bra against a touched up version that appears on the brand’s sales page (the testing was done via Facebook ads). The conversion rate tripled.
This is not only true of ads but other content as well. User-generated pieces resonate better and have a better chance at making a connection with customers. They are real, untampered, and, executed in an entirely human way.
Posts are not copyedited, images are not photoshopped, videos are not cut and pieced together – while all of this makes for great promotional material, it also makes content look fake and ‘salesy’, thus less appealing to customers.
Figuring out how to activate your brand advocates is not too difficult because they can contribute all over the inbound marketing spectrum. Still, here are a few ideas which worked for companies in the past and might work for you as well.
Social Media Campaign Opportunities
Let’s take the broad view first. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it has become increasingly easy for customers to give their two cents about brands. With the addition of #hashtags, steering that conversation became even easier for social media savvy brands.
Just think of #ShareACoke campaign – Coca-Cola didn’t give any special instructions to advocates on how to do it. They just unveiled the campaign and invited them to participate in any way they saw fit – with videos, images, content, whatever they wanted.
After trending down for years (if not decades), Coca-Cola saw a 2% increase in sales, as well as millions of pieces of social media content.
Quality micro campaigns can help you leverage advocates to plug holes in your social media strategy. Since being everywhere in equal measure costs money, why not have your customers create content for Twitter, for example?
You’ll spend less time managing that particular community and more time focusing on Instagram, Facebook, and blogs.
Regardless of the social media platform, you’re using, images that go along with posts are the real drivers of engagement. Facebook posts with images perform 2.4X times better than those without them; as for Twitter, engagement increases by 150% if a tweet is paired with an image.
Instead of creating your photos or using stock imagery, activate your brand advocates through a photo contest. This doesn’t have to be limited to use on social media – you can use the photos on packaging, collateral materials, ads and so on.
Photos can show customers interacting with your product, using your services to solve a particular problem, or simply enjoying life that’s made easier by you being in it. The creative part is up to you and your advocates.
Once you have the photos (and the rights to use them), you can plan your Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook campaigns around them. Depending on the type of photos, you might be able to put them to a lot of different uses – Variety Planet’s online store got a 24% boost just by featuring user-generated Instagram photos.
Bongo, a subsidiary of Smartbox (a company selling gift boxes), used this type of advocacy campaign to great success. They invited fans to flood their social media pages with original photos of their pets which could be used on product packaging.
Bongo encouraged advocates to vote for their favourite photo, sending the finalists to a professional jury. Ultimately, the jury selected the winning dog, and they participated in a professional photo shoot.
In the end, Bongo approached their brand advocates again to vote for their favourite picture of the shoot. That picture became the cover photo of a Bongo gift box. Fans had fun, advocates participated and encouraged engagement, and Bongo got a nice little backlog of amateur and professional photos for use in the future.
Guest Post Opportunities
Give advocates a chance to talk about their experience using your product or service. While getting a 1,000-word post from them might be too much to hope for, some might be inclined to put their thoughts to paper, especially if you make it interesting.
A chance to be featured on your blog can sometimes be enough of an incentive for people to sit down and write.
These pieces can be opinions, personal stories, or even how-to guides; it depends on your brand and the proclivities of your advocates. Remember, it’s not just customers who can act as advocates in this particular activity.
You can also prompt your employees or suppliers to do the same. In short, everyone who has a personal stake in your brand and wants to build a closer relationship (usually influencers within your vertical) will be more than happy to participate.
They get exposure, and you get quality, user-generated content that has an SEO benefit to it – a win-win for all.
Reviews and Testimonials
It can easily be true that the most commonly used differentiator in Google searches (those that are purchase-oriented) is the word ‘review’. We stick it everywhere – hotel reviews, restaurant reviews, destination reviews, product reviews, you name it.
Here’s the trick – brands can’t really write the reviews for themselves. They depend on customers to do it for them.
Fortunately, close to 70% of customers are more than willing to leave a review when asked. Make sure to ask them, especially the satisfied ones, because they usually tend to be less forthcoming on their own.
A targeted brand advocacy campaign can significantly boost your average review score, as well as deal with negative reviews on review sites and even Facebook. Another benefit is the SEO boost that you’re getting when your site receives mentions and traffic from review sites.
Similar to reviews, testimonials are another piece of content brands can’t generate for themselves but desperately need. Formal testimonials can be included in web copy, sales letters, and more.
They can also be featured on your social media pages as a credibility booster. Collect diverse types of testimonials on a regular basis and invest some time to go through the creation process with advocates writing them, so you get what you’re looking for (hint – offer pointers, not full-blown copy for them to sign).
Pay Special Attention to User Generated Video
Last, but not the least, are user-generated videos. They deserve a special mention because how influential they are in our increasingly visual world. User-generated videos pick up 10X more views on YouTube than anything that a brand puts out.
When used with branded materials created in-house, they can boost social media engagement by 28%. That’s a huge number considering that the only thing that’s changing is the fact that brands are adding free content to their video marketing mix.
One of the best-known use cases is NatGeo’s and YouTube’s Life In a Day video campaign. It gathered thousands of hours of video clips from people all over the world, creating a universal snapshot of a single day.
Ultimately, it resulted in a beautiful, full-length documentary, the message of which resonated across the globe (and possibly boosted NatGeo’s subscription rates considerably).
How To Keep Your Brand Advocates Happy, Motivated, and Churning Out Content
For a long time, brand advocacy was something that just happened. Brands would do everything right – products and services, delivery, customer care, complaint handling – and the result would be satisfied customers who would (sometimes) recommend their services to others.
The whole advocacy effort was not really directed and it lacked focus. What was also missing were the processes through which brand advocates could be nurtured and directed. These days, brands know better – or at least they should.
The concept of brand advocacy as something that can be managed allowed brands to use its full potential.
The question on everyone’s mind right now is probably: ‘Why would customers (or employees, or suppliers) go through all that trouble to help us out, especially if they are getting nothing for it’?
In a sense, it’s true that they are doing this (mostly) for free, without any financial compensation. Paying them would turn them into influencers or corporate shills.
So, what motivates advocates?
Easy – it’s their internal triggers (willingness to help others, among other things) coupled with brand’s active participation and guidance in the process. Most of the time, it boils down to engagement and community.
Brands that make participation fun and easy benefit the most from brand advocacy. Rewards exist but, for the most part, they are not monetary:
- Participation in a vibrant community that gathers around a brand
- Ability to influence and enact change (service, product, policy) within a brand
- Opportunity to better one’s social standing within a given community
- Affiliation with a well-known brand (for brand’s immediate stakeholders such as suppliers, or influencers)
- Helping out others who are trying to solve a particular problem that advocates had
Tangible rewards, if there are any, can include minor discounts, surprise gifts (limited series access, branded material, something that doesn’t have an extravagant monetary value), participation in events, and so on.
Different things will motivate different types of communities. This will depend on the brand, the industry, and on the people involved in the process, from both sides of the equation.
It requires a bit of fiddling, especially at the start, but be ready and willing to play with it. Remember, money and gifts will work up to a certain point – to go beyond it, you’re going to have to find a way to awaken advocates’ internal motivators.
Brand Advocates Are Readily Available Fuel for Your Inbound Campaigns
Unless you’re completely new to the market, it’s highly likely that you already have brand advocates somewhere on the stands. It’s just a question of how to find them and put them to good use (for tips on campaigns, check out Ambassify’s activation post). Brand advocates are a valuable resource that will not only be beneficial to you as an inbound marketer but to your whole organization on so many different levels.
On the other hand, if you are a market newbie then brand advocacy will give your inbound marketing a leg up right from the start, so make sure to follow the tips laid out here.
In the meantime, let us know how you’ve used your advocates in the past in an effort to boost your inbound marketing.
What are your favourite campaigns and what do your advocates react to best? Also, if you have any questions about advocacy marketing in general, leave a comment below and we’ll be more than happy to help you out.
Koen Stevens: Word-Of-Mouth Director @ Ambassify. Loves advocate marketing during the day and owls at night.
Koen created an online advocate marketing platform that helps b2b companies turn their super fans into their social sales force. Harnessing the power of your brand advocates results in tons of social buzz, an immediate increase in sales figures and a trustworthy brand image.