Customers as brand advocates

We live in hyper-competitive times with numerous brands trying to capture the attention of the customers. With social media and internet taking centerstage in our lives, the customers of today are an evolved lot and are not the ones to be easily wooed by an interesting advertisement or a celebrity endorsing the brand. For customers, there is a problem of many to choose from and they rely on research and peer reviews to decide on the brand for their next purchase. Millennials and Gen Z , who are set to make the majority of the customers for brands across industries, value authenticity, and not salesmanship. They are not the ones who trust brands easily. Instead, they rely on insights from people as they find them more believable and relatable.

What is brand advocacy?

Simply put, brand advocacy is when a customer communicates positively about a brand across channels including social media, web forums, review sites, and many more. A brand advocacy will not always be about buying a product and/or sharing a review. It is about recommending the brand, its products or initiatives, because the brand advocate either had a great experience with the brand, or feels passionate about the brand’s purpose.

Brand advocates are the ambassadors of a brand. They unknowingly spread the brand’s message amongst their family and friends, by posting a simple note on their experience of using a specific product or sharing the latest initiative about the brand. By leveraging the power of social networks, such posts travel across an extended network of family and friends. 

Brand advocates play an important role in communicating the brand’s purpose that goes beyond selling a specific product. Brands like Royal Enfield in India and Harley Davidson have been successful in this regard with numerous brand advocates sharing their experiences, posting about the latest developments at the brand’s end or just talking about the communities who are passionate about the brands.

Brand advocacy is a very powerful tool because it can grow exponentially. Brand advocates have emerged as a new channel for customer- brand contact in the recent times, and more so with the rise of social media. There are numerous global brands like Apple, Body Shop etc. who have done really well in this space. 

Brand advocacy is not built in a day!

Brands need to understand that brand advocacy is not a quick fix solution. Brands need to invest in nurturing and building relationships with their customers. They should invest in generating high quality content, stories and experiences in a language that people connect with the brand. Also, there is a need to understand the target market and the nature of social media in the identified market.

Today’s customer is not only interested in a great product, but also wants to associate with a brand that has a clear sense of purpose. Brands with a distinct point of view about the social, cultural or even consumption fabric have a much higher chance of generating advocacy. 

Some brands have run successful brand advocacy campaigns on social media in the recent past. Take the example of Coca Cola and its very popular ‘Happiness Machine’. The  video campaign was viewed by over 15 million people on social media in the first week of its launch. The Happiness Machine was a vending machine that dispensed an unlimited supply of the popular beverage, and hidden cameras captured the excitement and pure joy of the customers experiencing this. Around the world, people smiled and laughed along with those onscreen making this a campaign that delivered on high levels of engagement and customer advocacy.  Another example worth sharing is the @tweetcoffee campaign by Starbucks in 2013. The Twitter users had to tweet to the handle provided, add the Twitter handle of the individual they wanted to “Tweet-A-Coffee” to and customers were able to order free coffee for someone else. When lucky recipients were gifted coffee, all they needed to do was to add the gift to their Starbucks’ account. Starbucks has other brand advocacy campaigns that have been successful too, like the #TreatReceipt campaign, where customer could get a discount for a coffee bought in the afternoon, if he had purchased coffee in the morning as well.

How can brands convert their customers to brand advocates?

I am sure brands, irrespective of their industry or years of existence, would want that more of their customers become brand advocates. While this cannot be done in a short span of a few days or weeks, a consistent effort over a period of time can deliver the required results.

Some of the ideas below can be instrumental in driving brand advocacy.

Understand the motivation 

Researchers have proved that emotionally connected customers are twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers, according to the Harvard Business Review. An emotional connect can be built only if brands understand the customers, their key drivers, and what resonates with them. Motivations tend to vary across industries, brands, customer demographics and the customer’s position in the buying cycle. Hence, an in-depth data analytics and insights will work for well for brands to get an understanding of the customers’ motivations.

Be honest and connect to the brand’s purpose

To ensure that the customers become as advocates of a brand, it is imperative that the brand is genuine. Brands need to be true to their vision and mission in all their communication. The company’s values should be kept at the forefront and uphold all brand promises. It is okay to accept mistakes as customers tend to respect such brands more than the ones who keep hiding the facts. The basis of brand advocacy is trust, and trust comes from authenticity.

Great customer experience and customer service are important

For brand advocacy, it is important that the customer service is no less than excellent. It is not only about reactive, adequate experiences. Brands need to go out of their way to ensure customer delight. They need to believe that every customer complaint is an opportunity and ensure that they don’t just meet expectations- but actually go beyond and exceed them.

Also, the customer experience is the key in today’s times. If the brand is running an online business/an ecommerce site or a digital payments app, it is imperative for it to ensure a seamless user experience across devices. A simple and user-friendly website navigation, a mobile responsive website, and easy checkout are some of the things that are essential. 

Needless to say, a great customer experience or a commendable customer service can easily transform the customer/s to a brand advocate who would not think twice before sharing their experience with the brand on their social channels.

Seek active feedback 

Brands need to be open to seek active customer feedback. Such initiatives help to position the brands as those who value their customers and the experiences. Additionally, it helps the customers to feel that they are heard, valued and respected. Brands can leverage the social channels to run a customer survey to get feedback. They can also explore the option of running an email campaign with a short questionnaire, or install a chatbot on their website requesting feedback about the purchase process. It is important to take feedback regularly and across customer touch points. This will help brands understand their customers better and in turn, help them do take the right steps to transform their customers into advocates.

A well-planned loyalty program

Loyalty programs tend to work well in case they give real value to their customers (and not the usual 1 point for a certain amount of money spent), drive home a sense of privilege to the loyal customers and keep the customers engaged at all times. Loyalty program should not be created as a marketing exercise or just because the company needs to have one in place. The loyalty program needs to be active with customer engagement activities like contests, promotions, interesting content, and treats.

An example of a brand that has been able to do well in this space is Amazon. The Amazon Prime started out as a paid premium delivery service in India, and now offers a host of other services including access to its OTT platform as well as to Amazon Music. The end result is a loyal and engaged customer base with millions of brand advocates who swear by Amazon, its product quality and its customer service.

Personalise communications

A computer generated message to all consumers on the list does not work well for brands. To build brand advocacy, it is important for brands to show their customers that they are valued. If a customer is passionate about the brand, he should be recognised and appreciated. If a customer posts about a great experience with a brand on a social platform, the same should be appreciated on the same channel. 

Also, brands should remember special days like a customer’s birthday, or the day when the customer first associated with the brand, and send an email or maybe a personalised letter with a small gift to celebrate the occasion and appreciate the association with the brand. 

To sum it up…

Today, people easily sway away from brands that are either too pushy or too self-focused. Hence, it is imperative for brands to invest in building long lasting relationships with their customers, centered around trust and providing unique value to their customers. Brand advocacy is a successful way of reaching the customer’s psyche and taking the brand’s message forward. It also helps brands connect with the customers who depend heavily on peer reviews and social media research. 

Brand advocacy can turn out to be highly impactful for brands in the post Corona world, as we restart our lives in the ‘new normal’. This is because the customers are expected to value brands with purpose and a strong social and cultural connect, over other parameters like advertisements across channels or superficial contests.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha heads PR and Communication at BharatPe. She has over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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