Encouraging Brand Advocacy

In the battle for customers, marketers today are doing something radically different. Instead of asking how they can reach more eyeballs, they are asking how they can create more customer advocacy. A brand advocate, by some definitions, is a customer who will spread the word about your company, brand, or products to his or her circle of influence. If you are a marketing leader, the best way for you to earn, engage, and reward advocates is by providing the kind of customer experience that knocks their proverbial socks off.

But here's the challenge for marketing leaders. "Customer experience" includes realms beyond the traditional boundaries of marketing. If I'm your customer, my experience with your brand is influenced by what my friends are saying about you in social media, what your sales rep knew about me when I called, what your marketing people said to me in their weekly email, what your e-commerce site knew about me when I visited, when your delivery arrived, and what happened when I needed help. All of these experiences shape people's perception of your brand—and they aren't departmentalized, they're just "the experience." Therefore the CMO, as brand ambassador, has to be concerned with the quality of the entire customer experience—including sales, service, marketing, and beyond. No weak links allowed.

The customer's perspective

This is what an amazing experience looks like from the perspective of Ally, a fictional customer. Ally gets an email from Fern, a fictional home furnishings brand. The email includes an offer to participate in a Facebook sweepstakes. Ally goes to Fern's Facebook page and "likes" the brand's page so that she can sign up for the sweepstakes. The next time Ally gets an email from Fern, there's an offer for 15 percent off a custom-upholstered couch and a message that they've even got fabrics in her favorite color. Ally remembers having volunteered her favorite color in the sweepstakes form, and is pleased that the brand seems to care about what she cares about. When she walks by the brand's new flagship store a few days later, she receives a text inviting her to stop by and say hello for a free gift. She does. The sales rep is prompt with fulfilling the gift and reminds Ally that she only has five days to order that custom couch at 15 percent off. Ally places the order and leaves the store. Later that week, she visits the brand's e-commerce site to purchase a small gift for a friend. While there, she checks the status of the couch she ordered in the brick-and-mortar store.

Ally's couch arrives the following Tuesday. That night, she spills hot chocolate on one of the cushions. She posts about it on Twitter, and within a half hour, she gets a tweet back from Fern: "Sorry about the spill! Blot your stain-resistant cushions with mineral water and let dry. If that doesn't work, give us a call." Ally replies: "Wow. @Fern is amazing" and retweets the exchange to her entire social network.

The brand's perspective

If you, as a marketer, are in pursuit of brand advocates, you need to have a system of interrelated capabilities that are invisible to the customer but that enable you to deliver an unrivaled experience to customers at every stage of their journey. What's interesting about this is that marketers are now thinking about sales and services processes as key to their overall brand—and by extension, they're looking at a number of exciting new tools and technologies. Together, these tools create a customer engagement ecosystem.

Components of an effective customer engagement ecosystem might include:

Social intelligence. These solutions allow you to turn billions of social media conversations into insights about what people are saying and feeling about your brand and products. Social intelligence solutions can help you manage your brand perception, make messaging decisions, and gain a deep level of customer understanding.

Social engagement. FanAppz, an SAP partner, is an example of a social engagement solution. With this kind of tool, you can use social games to grow your fan base, then engage with those fans more effectively through, say, your drip marketing efforts.

Marketing automation. Marketing automation services, such as Marketo,make it very easy to communicate with and nurture leads as they progress along the buyer paths that you define. They also bring greater alignment between marketing and sales.

Omnichannel engagement. Customers interact with your brand on a number of channels—in person, online, on their mobile devices. Omnichannel commerce solutions connect these touchpoints in a unified platform so that you can offer customers a consistent experience every time.

Knowledge management. Customer service is a critical brand differentiator. Knowledge management solutions give customers the ability to resolve their own issues by accessing the wealth of knowledge already contributed by other customers with similar issues.

Whatever solutions you decide to add to your customer engagement ecosystem, make sure they can speak to each other, to your CRM system, and to your back-office systems. To give your customers a seamless, integrated view of your business, you have to have a seamless, integrated view of them.

Jeff Lautenbach is the president of SAP Cloud, and is responsible for leading the end-to-end business of the Customer (CRM) and Suite pillars for SAP Cloud globally. He has more than 20 years of experience in sales and strategy. Most recently, he was the senior vice president for North America enterprise commercial sales at Salesforce.com, where he led the company in its efforts to bring the power of cloud computing to large enterprises.


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