Like all good marketing agencies, we pride ourselves on producing effective strategies and delivering bottom-line results for our clients. This often generates a network effect – our client contact tells a colleague or friend in another company and the referrals generated lead to more work with new clients.
By doing a good job, we convert our client contacts into brand advocates that pass on positive word-of-mouth (WOM) messages to other people. This can build growth from an ‘organic’ perspective, but what if you want to create a more proactive brand advocacy strategy?
The ones you’re probably already doing
Most b2b brands in 2016 have some form of content marketing plan as part of the ongoing marketing strategy. These will have a basic brand advocacy programme such as:
Produce content with market insights
Outbound dissemination (social, email, DM)
The retweets, pins and comments are a form of brand advocacy – the retweeter is putting their Twitter handle behind your blog post, video or infographic and by retweeting, creating implicit endorsement. However, the advocacy isn’t as strong as WOM from a respected customer, professional peer or industry contact.
The next level up is the endorsement that arises from your company, product or services being featured in a respected trade publication, the consequence of a good content programme plus effective media relations within your PR strategy. The advocacy of independent journalists can be powerful – a classic is The Sun newspaper’s “IT’S THE SUN WOT WON IT”, referring to their self-perceived role in the Conservatives’ surprise victory in the 1992 election. However, you are still at the mercy of a journalist and editor who may not quite present your brand in line with your intended message.
Breaking out alone – your sphere of influence
Without sounding too House of Cards, for the best brand advocacy strategy in 2016, you need to be thinking about your sphere of influence.
I’ll demonstrate this with an example: many years ago, we worked with a supplier of outsourced payroll, finance and contractor services into the recruitment industry. As part of a complete rebrand process that encompassed staff workshops, brand values, graphic identity, all collateral and messaging, we realised that the company faced significant regulatory and legal pressure.
Legislation such as IR35 and press attention in their industry, meant it was crucial the company appeared respectable, legally compliant and was a positive example for their industry. In addition to an ongoing PR strategy for the rebranded group, we created an event series which we individually branded and organised to run jointly with a key industry body. We then provided our client with marketing support for the events.
Commercial partnerships developed as part of this series – banks, accountancy practices and other industry associations becoming brand advocates for our client, vital to their positioning in a space with some unscrupulous operators. It also provided the company with a platform for lobbying for positive reform within the industry on a wider scale.
Whilst you may not have the resources to create an association or event series, the logic still applies – where are your permanent relationships with complementary partners who become your brand advocates?
The Pepsi Challenge
Any child of the late 70s, myself included, will no doubt remember the Pepsi Challenge. A classic big budget consumer engagement campaign run by Pepsi, where a blind taste test provided ammunition for them that people ‘preferred their taste to Coca-Cola’. Within the b2c world, customer engagement with focus groups and A/B testing in different markets is the norm, and will often play a pivotal role in a company’s product development process.
In the b2b world, this tends to be the preserve of the larger organisations (with bigger budgets) – one of our largest clients has an entire division devoted to user experience for their online tools. For smaller organisations, without such resources, user engagement and outreach can be harder in b2b markets; for example, you can’t send industrial drainage equipment to online bloggers for them to review!
However there are customer engagement techniques you can use:
When you’re launching a new b2b product or service, can you involve a selection of current or prospect clients in its final development for validation of concept and launch messaging? Then either via a discount or value ad attached to their involvement, cement their association so they are proud to highlight and openly market their involvement with you.
I have one example from the pre-smartphone age: in 2006 I developed a Bluetooth marketing proposition for my first agency working with Manchester City Council. The marketing manager was keen to explore this new technology and worked closely as we went through our first hardware prototype, and when our new hardware and content support offer was ready, became the strongest of brand advocates, helping us sell extensively into the Police.*
Plans, collaborations and coffee!
Whilst the above suggestions involve an element of planning and structure, bonding with your influencers doesn’t have to be overly-organised. If you’re attending an industry conference or event, could you form a new advocacy relationship over a coffee or drink? As a producer or supplier, you may have insight that will be vital to the person you’re chatting to and conversely, they may be privy to market knowledge that will help you in your business endeavours.
As Bob Hoskins’ brand-repositioning campaign for BT mentioned, it’s good to talk!
*As a footnote, the use of Bluetooth marketing for B2C never took off as the marketing data – total addressable market of people willing to accept messages via Bluetooth – never existed, and the arrival of smartphones gave a more trackable platform for geo-located digital marketing.