In today’s digital age, when consumers are increasingly relying on peer testimony and word of mouth spread via social media channels to make purchasing decisions, customer goodwill is more important than ever. That’s the principle behind “advocate marketing,” a marketing strategy that seeks to leverage the support of individuals who are fans of a particular brand (these are the “advocates”) to help companies better retain, serve, and win customers.
An increased focus on advocate marketing as a critical element of business success is one of the many changes that digitization has brought to the world of business-to-business (B2B) commerce. B2B businesses, long accustomed to thinking of their customers as companies rather than as people, are now finding themselves in the position of having to reorient their strategy to meet the needs and expectations of customers who use the same approach, and expect the same quality of experience, when making purchases on behalf of their companies as when making purchases for themselves. In such a context, B2B businesses need to focus on people as individuals and work to drive engagement by developing lasting personal relationships.
A recent report by Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, makes a clear case for how vital customer goodwill is in a digital economy, and how advocate marketing techniques can help B2B companies harness this goodwill to drive engagement and create business value. Specifically, the report outlines the following key benefits that advocate marketing can bring to B2B business:
Expanded brand reach at a lower cost
Today’s consumers are significantly more likely to trust information they receive via word of mouth than messaging that comes from traditional promotional methods such as paid advertising or direct marketing. This is part of the phenomenon of “social proof”—essentially the positive influence created when someone hears about something other people are doing and wants to participate—which is an increasingly important part of customer behavior and something that can only come from other customers, not directly from a company. Advocate marketing can therefore help B2B businesses send a more genuine message to a larger network of people than is accessible via other means.
Stronger and longer-lasting personal relationships
When B2B businesses use advocate marketing programs to engage their customers, they help those customers build a stronger emotional connection with their brand. These connections are more likely to lead to long-term engagement, something that’s particularly important for B2B companies that are based on subscription services and thus continually needing to prove their worth to existing customers. In addition, a customer who feels a stronger personal attachment to a B2B business will be more likely to continue as a customer even if he or she changes jobs and moves to a new company.
Greater employee satisfaction
Customers are not the only advocates a brand can have. Employees can be valuable advocates for a B2B business as well, and good advocate marketing programs work to engage both customers and employees in building a brand’s success. Employees who feel directly connected to building the success of their brand are more likely to feel personal satisfaction from good job performance, and are therefore more likely to provide better service to customers.
Clear links between advocacy and revenue
The majority of B2B marketers interviewed for the Forrester report stated that their businesses could see a clear correlation between advocate participation and revenue. The marketers found that implementing advocacy programs led directly to higher conversation rates, increased sales efficiency, and more qualified leads, all factors which boosted business revenue. In addition, the strong customer relationships and greater customer-retention rates that resulted from advocacy program use helped to increase both cross-sell and upsell sales.
So how can B2B companies effectively implement advocate marketing programs?
While ad hoc advocate marketing efforts can still serve B2B companies, a formal and cohesive advocate marketing strategy helps businesses achieve better efficiency and scalability. The Forrester report offers the following useful tips on how B2B companies can create and implement an engaging advocate marketing program:
Celebrate existing advocates—At the start of a program, it can be helpful for companies to focus on those advocates who are already doing work on the company’s behalf—sharing, networking, and engaging with other customers—as these are deserving first candidates for the exposure and benefits that an advocate marketing program can offer.
Tie advocate benefits to business goals—No program will be effective without specific, defined goals, so it’s important for companies to clearly establish the desired business outcomes of an advocate marketing program, such as expanded social media advocacy across more channels, and then link those objectives directly with experiences that will be desirable for advocates.
Make a long-term communication plan—An effective advocate marketing plan depends upon consistent, ongoing communication with advocates: this is not the place for a “set it and forget it” approach. This may require interdepartmental collaboration between marketing and other customer departments in order to identify advocates and keep them engaged and active over the long term.
Don’t focus on monetary rewards—B2B businesses may offer financial rewards or incentives to brand advocates, but it’s important not to focus too much on this aspect of an advocate marketing program, as it can have the effect of diminishing or cheapening an advocate’s genuine engagement with a brand. Instead, companies should emphasize their real gratitude and celebrate genuine advocate achievements.