Ask most business service providers where most of their customers are coming from, and you’re likely to hear the most typical answer — “Word of Mouth”. WOM is a powerful marketing strategy, but it doesn’t just happen on its own. As marketers, we can’t sit around and wait for our customers to recommend our businesses, can we?
Back in 2011, Boston Consulting Group published a Focus Report as part of their Digital Economy publication series. Within the report, BCG included the below survey results, clearly showing what drives business purchases.
People tend to trust advertising less and less, and pay more attention to recommendations from people they trust — friends and people they know, or consumer opinions (reviews) they find online.
As marketers, this trend makes our role quite challenging. We can’t just create advertising campaigns to increase sales — cutting through the clutter is getting harder every day! So what should we do? How can we encourage people to buy our products/services, without pushing it down their throats?
Companies like Harley Davidson & Apple, have created devoted armies of fans, who use those brands as a self-identifier, and who will go to extreme lengths to promote the brand they identify with, and love so much. From tattoos to forming clubs, die-hard fans are fantastic brand ambassadors, and are an invaluable asset to any company.
WHAT ARE BRAND AMBASSADORS
Contrary to popular belief, true brand ambassadors can’t be bought. We all know what happens when companies hire high-profile celebs to promote their brand. We can all recall great flops like Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong — Nike and Tag Hauer have paid millions of dollars to have those people recommend their brand to their fans. People love those celebs, and trust them, until those ambassadors stuff up. Then the trust goes away, and the “credibility by association” goes away with it.
True brand ambassadors are people who deeply identify with your brand. Their credibility comes from a very different level – not fame or fortune, but friendship!
Famous author Tom Clancy is famously quoted, saying:
Never ask what sort of computer a guy drives. If he a Mac user, he’ll tell you. If not, why embarrass him?
Quotes like this show real and deep passion for a product — not something you can easily buy.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO DEVELOP SUCH DEVOTED FAN BASE?
1. Find your existing advocates
You must know the difference between a fan, who may “like” or “follow” your brand for selfish reasons, to an advocate, who is a “believer” — someone who’ll actively promote your brand, without prompting. Fans and advocates aren’t the same, and it’s vital for companies to distinguish between the two levels of customers.
There are many platforms to monitor online conversations, from simple social media monitoring platforms which can “listen” to public online chatter, to more sophisticated platforms, monitoring customer reviews of products and services. Let those advocates know you are listening, and find opportunities to engage with them.
3. Make them feel special
Being an “insider” or a VIP will strengthen the bond between you and your advocate. Invite them to be a part of the inner-circle, let them feel appreciated, and they’ll respond — early product launches, closed events, rewards and badges. You’ll be amazed how these little gestures will affect and strengthen their loyalty.
4. Delight them
Do something unexpected and surprising. Give them something to talk about, and they will! Think of the difference between sending a bunch of flowers to someone’s home, with a thank you note. That would be nice, right? Now imagine sending a large bouquet of flowers, with 25 balloons, delivered by a courier wearing a clown’s outfit, to the person’s office, where 100 of their peers will witness that special delivery. Wouldn’t that be the story of the week??
5. Make it easy
People like to share their experience with others. Brand ambassadors want to share even more! Make it easy for them to share their experiences, by asking them for testimonials or ask for product endorsement — take a picture of them with a product, preferably one that you’ve provided them as a sample. Do whatever you can think will prompt them to be authentic about their experience.
6. Embrace communities
Use forums and online groups to collect valuable insights shared by your customers and encourage your brand ambassadors to share their great experiences. This is an opportunity for the ambassadors to create a name for themselves as experts, and an even greater opportunity for your company to leverage their knowledge and experience to better yourself!
One of the platforms I found to be quite interesting is Tribe — it’s a platform for brands to discover influencers who can amplify their messages, and for influencers to engage with companies and brand they already use and love. Building on the second-last point above — Make it easy — TRIBE makes it very easy to create and share promotional messages, which are both real and authentic, and rewarding for the advocate at the same time.