Advocate Marketing Has Big Benefits

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Advocate marketing can turn recommendations into revenue opportunities and help companies unify traditionally separated engagement programs, but many companies are falling short on using it to its full potential, according to a recent study by Forrester Research.

Advocate marketing, as defined in the report, is "the use of marketing strategy, budget, and resources to encourage customers, employees, or partners—or any combination of them—to do something on behalf of your company, with or without the expectation of mutual benefit."

In the past, advocacy for a brand was seen purely as a gesture of goodwill, and it was widely believed that rewarding advocates would somehow breach that credibility, according to Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst covering B2B marketing at Forrester. Today, those views are changing, she observes. "That has shifted a lot with social media and with the idea of applying gamification to allow companies to thank, reward, and recognize customers for doing things for them," she says.

Companies that employ and encourage advocate marketing can expect several benefits related to the customer life cycle, Ramos concluded in the report.

First, advocate marketing encourages buyers to share best practices and help each other thrive. With businesses increasingly relying on social media for customer support, having advocates who actively share examples and assist newcomers is highly valuable.

The report cites Salesforce.com's MVP customer program as a successful example of this strategy: The program has more than 180 advocates contributing roughly 80 percent of community content and answering more than 35 percent of online forum questions.

Second, advocate marketing rewards loyal buyers by enhancing their reputations. According to the report, prospective customers want to know that the endorsements on a site are real, more so than in the past, and simply adding a customer logo on company collateral isn't enough. Now, prospects want to see the people and the process behind success stories. Advocate marketing can provide a deeper, more nuanced view of these people and decisions, infusing customer engagement with a much needed human element.

Third, and perhaps most important, advocate marketing can transform customers' successes into new business opportunities. Customers can raise awareness about business problems and provide evidence that businesses can overcome these problems. In this way, businesses continue conversations with customers and establish new connections.

Currently, many businesses are struggling to effectively manage customer feedback, usually as a result of disparate programs or internal disagreements. The report identifies three areas of improvement for businesses.

First, many brands' programs provide only sporadic interactions. It can be difficult to forecast referral supply, and sales or business partners often delay asking marketing for references. Advocate marketing resolves these issues by cultivating relationships with customers instead of simply reacting to urgent requests.

Second, corporate policies often cause different departments to guard customer relationships, resulting in disjointed customer experiences and underutilization of customers who provide positive feedback. Advocate marketing improves the customer experience by actively managing customer profiles and enabling all departments to have access to the customer responses they need.

Finally, junior staff often lacks the experience that senior advocates appreciate. It is essential for companies to hire expert marketing managers who know how to create lasting connections with customers.

"If the customer journey is a cycle, then advocacy is the chain drive that keeps the wheels spinning," Ramos says. "Without advocacy, you're not going to multiply marketing's effects. You can have much greater reach at lower cost versus traditional reach tactics by having customers advocate for you." 

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