5 steps to creating a successful customer advocacy program

customer advocacy program

In this article, you will get five steps to create a successful customer advocacy program.  For those who read the entire article, as a bonus, you’ll get ten ideas for showing appreciation in your customer advocacy program.

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

– Sam Walton, Walmart

What is your company’s greatest asset?

A lot of business owners and managers like to think their employees are their most valuable asset. Others think it’s their intellectual property that gives them an edge.

Sam Walton had it right: It’s the customer.

Why you need a customer advocacy program?

They say “the customer is always right” for a reason. It’s the customer that has the power to make or break our businesses, especially in the era of social networking when everyone is a potential influencer, and we’d be foolish to forget that. But many people see the customer as only a threat, and they spend their time trying to limit the potential for their customers to complain about them instead of giving them a reason to sing their praises.

In many cases, the customers want to help. They love your brand. And they want to spread the word by recommending it to their friends and family. It’s just that sometimes they need a little push, which is where customer advocacy programs come in.

What is a customer advocacy program?

A customer advocacy program is a marketing initiative that is designed to turn customers into spokespeople for your brand. A formal customer advocacy program does this by offering customer incentives. By doing this, you can encourage your best customers to take time out of their busy lives to spread the word about your company.

Don’t show them the money, show appreciation.

You can achieve customer advocacy through a variety of ways, but money is not one of them. In fact, it’s a bad idea to outright pay people. Doing so will send the wrong message and attract people with undesirable motives.

Instead of merely buying their loyalty, the goal is to offer a token gift of appreciation to reward the people who are already loyal to your brand. The goal is to make them take one more step by recommending you. Instead of looking at it as a transaction, treat it more organically like a relationship. You’ll find yourself developing the right customer advocacy program in no time.

Why turn customers into advocates?

Customers make for great advocates because they lend your brand credibility. Nobody trusts a nameless, faceless company when it tells them how great they are, but they do believe their friend Dave when he talks about exceptional customer experience in a Facebook post. It’s called social proof, and it’s the reason why we take the time to look at product ratings and to read customer reviews.

Another thing to remember is that a brand advocate will continue to spend money with your company. If you can take someone who’s just made their first purchase and turn them into a brand advocate, their lifetime value for your business will go through the roof. And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that they’ll also do your marketing for you at no extra cost.

All in all, creating brand advocates can be a low-cost way to spread your message through word of mouth to the people who it’s most likely to resonate. It’ll cost you less and be much more useful. What’s not to love?

How to Create a Customer Advocacy Program

Now that you know what a customer advocacy program is and why you might want to deploy one, the next step is to get started. The problem is that if you’ve never created a customer advocacy program before it can be difficult to know where to get started. That’s why we’ve done the hard work for you and distilled the approach down to five easy steps. Let’s go.

Step #1: Prepare yourself

One of the most common mistakes that people make with customer advocacy programs is that they dive right in without taking some time to prepare. For example, they’ll start up a customer advocacy program where they have to log the data manually, and then the advocacy program will take off, and they’ll end up processing vast amounts of data by hand.

Dedicate an employee to manage your customer advocacy program

On top of that, you’ll need a solid strategy in place which outlines exactly how the customer advocacy program will work, including how you’ll communicate the news about your customer advocacy program to the people who’ll be interested in taking part. You’ll need to do the same thing internally, too. In fact, you’ll need to pick out an employee and assign them the responsibility of managing the customer advocacy program and making sure that it happens.

Give your customer advocacy program credibility and resources.

For best results, it’s often a good idea to spread this responsibility across a team that encompasses employees from both marketing and customer service. Give them the time and the resources that they need to future proof your customer advocacy program and to adequately plan it out before you deploy it. Otherwise, you could be wasting your time and even doing more harm than good.

Step #2: Identify the right advocates

Ready to go out of your way to create and reward brand advocates? You’ll want to make sure that you’re targeting the right people. Not every customer will make a good brand advocate, and some will be more active than others. It’s usually a good idea to try to work with those who are already engaged in your industry. And if they are a busy and successful blogger or an expert with a following on social media you might just hit a home run without trying.

To do this, you’ll need to go to find people wherever they’re already spending their time. It might be social networking sites or on industry blog sites, and they might even be more comfortable to reach out to offline at in-person events. Creating a brand advocate follows many of the same principles as content marketing: you need to reach out to them at the right place at the right time with the right message.

The very best brand advocates will already have a reputation within the community. They’ll have an established history of participation from long before you reached out to them, and they should also have an existing social media following – if only a small one – that they can sing your praises.

Step #3: Develop a relationship

Now that you’ve got your infrastructure in place and a list of potential advocates to reach out to, the next step is to get in touch with them and develop a relationship. Don’t make the mistake of looking at this as purely transactional. Instead, think of it as a friendship and don’t be afraid to put some time in and to listen to what your advocates are saying. The conversation should be a two-way dialogue.

One way to develop a relationship is to show people that you trust them. Invite them to come to your office or allow them to try products before they are released. All you want in exchange is their feedback. You’ll also want to remember that relationships don’t spring up overnight. Just like a marriage, it’s something at which you’ll need to work. If you don’t put the effort in then, people will soon get bored and move their loyalty elsewhere.

Another common mistake is to think that you’re somehow done developing relationships. Building trust between your company and your customer advocates requires a continuous, ongoing effort. If you start to get complacent, then you risk allowing those relationships to stagnate. If you only ever reach out to people when you want something, they’ll notice.

Step #4: Facilitate communication

A customer advocacy program is all about communication. And that conversation can flow in different directions. Your advocates can act as a filter between your company and its customers by occupying the grey area in between, but they can also channel information the other way. Take this opportunity to listen carefully to what they’re saying. You’ll be able to take their feedback and pass it on to your research and development team. Hence the program will also allow your customer advocates can help you to improve your products.

It’s your job as the brains behind the customer advocacy program to make sure that your advocates have access to a platform that allows them to make their voice heard. This platform could be a blog, a forum or a Facebook group. It could be a mixture of all three and more, or a bespoke solution from a specialist software provider. Don’t just set it and forget it, though – you’ll need to invest some time of your own to moderate these communication platforms and to make sure that the information is up to date.

Remember that communication is vital, and that holds true even if someone’s unhappy. Negative feedback is still feedback, and you’d be crazy not to investigate it also if it turns out that there’s nothing in it. And you never know, you might examine a piece of critical feedback from one of your brand advocates and find out that they have a point. If that’s the case, you’ll want to take steps to fix it and to stop the problem from happening again.

Step #5: Make it the new norm

Once you’ve set up your customer advocacy program and started to see results from it, the final step is to fully integrate it into your way of working by making it a part of your protocols and workflows and offering full recognition to the advocates who change the way your business works for the better. Much of this will happen naturally, but you’ll also need to make a concentrated effort to keep the momentum going.

For B2C companies, this may mean inviting brand advocates to submit ideas for new products and even bringing them in-house to work with an R&D team. For B2Bs, it might involve empowering brand advocates to become public speakers and to attend events and conferences on behalf of the company. It looks different for every company, but you’ll know once you’ve got it right. Once customer advocacy becomes the new norm, it changes the way that you do business.

The great thing about customer advocates is that they’re a gift that keeps on giving. As long as you remember to put some time into your relationship, they’ll continue to use their voices to sing the praises of your company. After all, if you give someone a positive customer experience, then they tell their friends about it. A well-designed customer advocacy program just grabs hold of that concept and takes it to the next level.

Ten ideas to show appreciation in your customer advocacy program:

  1. Give recognition in the form of leaderboards and shout outs on social networking sites.
  2. Provide early access to new products and invite their feedback.
  3. Give them a t-shirt or other wearable promotion that displays your brand.
  4. Invite them to an exclusive event to meet your team
  5. Create unique graphics badges that advocates can use on their blog or in social media
  6. Encourage advocates to promote your company or product by asking them to post a photo on social media. Then re-post or retweet customer social media posts to show thanks and give recognition.
  7. Involve advocates to coming up with ideas for new products and give them credit when you use their approach. Yes even if you already had planned on doing it anyway.
  8. Ask for help to improve the way you do business. You might uncover issues you did not know about that are hurting your brand.
  9. Have an essay or art contest. Publish the creative works and results on your website and social media.
  10. Give thanks and show appreciation back for every effort your advocates make. Respond professionally and in a positive way to every comment.

Conclusion

Customer advocacy programs can be an exciting way to level up your marketing and to create a network of brand advocates who do your marketing for you. Just don’t make the mistake of relying entirely on a customer advocacy program. You’ll need a balance

Customer advocacy programs are best when used as part of a broader marketing mix.  This mix should include marketing automation and a process for managing the customer journey.   Used correctly, it can integrate with content marketing campaigns, SEO, social media marketing and all sorts of other online and offline marketing channels. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

As the customer’s voice continues to gain importance, it’s pretty clear that well-executed customer advocacy programs have a firm place in the marketing mix. This approach is most useful for companies that specialize in niches and dealing with specific types of customer.

If you sell Warhammer figures, for example, then the chances are that every gamer you reach knows a dozen more people who don’t just play Warhammer – they live it. All you need to do is give them a reason to sing your praises and your product will sell itself. Customer advocacy programs are here to stay.