When one of my friends was in college he had several friends who were advocates of Converse© sneakers. One evening we were hanging out with our friends, walking through the Legends mall to Dave and Buster's arcade when he saw the Converse© store and insisted that we go inside so that he could finally get some Converse© sneakers! His friends had always told him how great these sneakers were but there wasn't any place to buy them in the town where he went to college. So as soon as he had his chance, he remembered that this was something he needed to try. The same friend eventually married one of my best friends and even when I see him now, years later, he is almost always wearing Converse© sneakers. I must admit that he drew me into the brand as well because on my next visit to the store I, an avid stiletto fan, bought three pair of sneakers.
This story perfectly illustrates the effectiveness of brand advocates. Some of this young man's friends in college were serious Converse© advocates, unpaid of course, and they introduced him to the brand. He, in turn, became a Converse© advocate and introduced me to the brand. I also became a devoted customer of Converse© and have convinced several other people that those sneakers are something that they should have. Converse© has made literally hundreds to thousands of dollars without spending a cent on advertising to any of the customers who spent the money in question. Our chain of advocacy has extended on its own and reached many now devoted customers.
So the point is that brand advocacy is very effective and; therefore, very important. Converse© is a well established brand and already had many devoted customers before any of us even heard about Converse©, let alone before anyone of us became advocates ourselves.
The All-Star Advocates
So how does a start-up company establish brand advocates? Well let's look more closely at what an advocate actually is.
The advocates in the story were originally just customers of the brand. The original advocates were probably drawn in by some sort of advertising or maybe a promotional deal. They bought the sneakers, wore them, liked them and recommended them to others. So they liked a product? What's new? There are lots of people who like certain products, but what distinguishes an advocate from just another satisfied customer? Well they obviously like the brand well enough to recommend it to others but they take the recommendation to another level. Much like a salesperson, they actually convince other potential customers that they should buy it and love it! As a satisfied customer, the advocate basically guarantees the potential customer of his or her own satisfaction.
So in answer to the questions, what is an advocate? The answer is an ultimate fan of the product, service or brand who encourages others to become customers of the brand.
Finding Your Advocates
If you know that you need advocates and what they are, the next logical step would be to find your advocates. So how do you do this? Well, to make an example of Converse© again, one of the things that they did was that they created a place for customers to upload pictures of their unique sneakers. How does uploading photos help you find advocates? Well the truth is that the people uploading the photos obviously like their sneakers well enough to spend the time decorating them, taking interesting pictures of them and posting them online. So there is a good chance that these people are already spending their time advocating and Converse© just found them.
Many other companies have photo, video and blog contests. Forums also open up the avenues of communication between you and your customers. These are all great ways for your brand to communicate with customers that they are invited to share their experiences with your brand. Those customers who are most excited about your brand are the ones you should target for advocates. Their enthusiasm for your brand is already built and all they need is something to sustain their enthusiasm which is much easier to do than to build it from the ground up.
You Found Your Advocates! What to Do Now:
Rewarding advocates for their loyalty can be as simple as providing exclusive information, exclusive membership or ability to purchase exclusive products and services. There are several options to pursue when encouraging your advocates to continue to spread the word about your brand.
Some companies offer exclusive forums or website features for qualified members. When Google© started its Gmail service, it was by invitation only. Other similar tactics include offering special codes to get exclusive discounts on products and services. Have you ever heard of loyalty rewards cards? Have you ever received a discount on rent or your next visit to a salon for referring a new customer? Other companies encourage loyal customers to become commission-based representatives. This rewards the advocate with monetary or in some cases product compensation for a job that they were already doing.
Many advocates will be happy with any further interaction that they get with a brand. For instance, if an Apple® advocate were to have the opportunity to meet Steve Jobs, this would probably be motivation enough to continue advocating for the brand. Other advocates may get a lot of motivation from exclusive company news such as product development news, the first notice of upcoming company events, etc.
If You Are In Need of Further Inspiration
Bands are a great example of identifying and utilizing advocates. Band advocates are more than just fans. They buy all of the albums, go to the concerts, buy the band t-shirts and stand in line for hours to meet the band members. Bands also reward their advocates with exclusive track previews, exclusive news, and tour date information for being part of a mailing list or fan base on Facebook©. Some bands even offer pre-sale information for upcoming tours so that their advocates can be the first to get in on the action.
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