This post was guest written by Michael Ansaldo, a veteran journalist and content marketer with 20 years experience covering technology and business.
You heard it here first: 2016 will be the year advocate marketing breaks through as a top priority for marketers.
What is advocate marketing? It’s having your top customers making recommendations, referrals and references, resulting in more authentic customer content, extended social reach, customer-driven innovation and more.
Reason No. 1: Consumer behavior supports the trend. (“Like” anything lately?) And we know people trust recommendations from people they know above all other forms of advertising.
Reason No. 2: A number of advocate platforms have arrived on the scene to support it. Software like Influitive and Crowdly help companies identify and organize their most ardent customers. TapInfluence helps brands manage their influencer marketing efforts. And Dynamic Signal enables organizations to mount employee advocate programs.
Reason No. 3: Marketing budgets also appear to be shifting to support customer retention and advocacy.
So as you make plans to draft your own advocate army in 2016, we offer lessons from three high profile advocate-marketing successes.
In 2008, Walmart recognized that mothers—a demographic that controls 80 percent of household spending — didn’t identify with the “supermom” image presented in most advertising.
The retailer responded by creating Walmart Moms, a community of mommy bloggers, to bring a more authentic voice to the brand.
Walmart Moms provide tips on real-world family and work issues, referencing products only when relevant. Even without an explicit push, it’s easy for readers to connect the tips to Walmart’s selection of products.
Studies show women are more likely to trust information in online women’s communities than from other Web sources. The Walmart Moms have become powerful brand influencers—their clout even extends to Washington, where they’re considered a formidable voting bloc in the upcoming elections.
Takeaway: Identify influencers whose audiences align with your brand’s, then let them support the brand with organic content. People can perceive brand value without a hard sell. Ultimately, the trust your influencers have built with their community will transfer to your brand by association.
Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign has been one of the best-performing in the brand’s history. The annual summer promotion—which replaces the logo on its bottles and cans with the popular names of American teens and millennials—turned around a decade-long sales decline.
The campaign was built for social media. Coke invites fans to share the personalized drinks with friends and post about the moments using the #ShareaCoke hashtag. In summer 2015, the hashtag graced more than 500,000 photos, and the brand picked up 25 million more Facebook followers.
Share a Coke taps into younger consumers’ values of self-expression and social connection. Sharing a personalized can (and posting about it) feels less like a brand promotion and more like a natural interaction with a loved one. As a result, the brand assembled an army of Coke advocates who are extremely active online.
Takeaway: Make a personal connection. Consumers are more interested in building a relationship with brands that create unique and personalized content. Share a Coke enabled the brand to create one-to-one connections with millions of people, and made it easy for them to talk about it on the social web. Traditional advertising rarely has that kind of impact.
Sometimes your most powerful brand advocates are found inside, not outside, your organization.
That’s what IBM found when it got staffers from across the business to start conversations about its products and share promotions on social media.
Big Blue started an employee advocacy program in 2014. It pulled together subject matter experts from across the company and provided them content via a virtual hub. Employees can share the content via their social accounts.
A year into the program, 1,000 IBMers had participated, generating hundreds of millions of digital impressions.
Takeaway: Employees are often a brand’s biggest marketing asset. Studies show that rank-and-file employees have more credibility than chief executives. Posts from knowledgeable, passionate employees can ring truer with customers than the most well-crafted messaging. And those employees have exponentially greater social reach and engagement than your company does. Harness their voices to amplify your message.