Creating Brand Advocates: 6 Steps to Attract Raving Fans Organically

In 2008, I survived the unthinkable. A World Series in Philadelphia. I was in my junior year at Temple University, and my fellow Philadelphia Phillies fans were ecstatic that we made the series. It was the first time we had made it since my mom had gone to school at Temple. We were ready to crush the Tampa Bay Rays. And by the end of the series, we had. But along the way, some of the more committed fans had also broken windows, overturned mailboxes, and danced on cop cars.

You get the idea. We were a passionate bunch. That kind of diehard loyalty is standard for most sports teams. I was born into my love for the Phillies, a fan since birth.

In business, however, it’s not so easy to acquire fans. It's even more challenging to make them advocates. Customers won’t necessarily enthusiastically refer you to all of your friends or write glowing reviews. That kind of loyalty only exists for the most feverish of fans, a ride-or-die community of customers that will sink with your ship. However, with the right approach, you can start to turn your customers into brand advocates and turn mailboxes over for you, too.

(Well, maybe not to that extreme.)

Creating Brand Advocates From Customers

You're already investing time in attracting and retaining customers. Why not put in the extra effort to turn them into advocates? And basic facts about your CAC (customer acquisition cost) make a case for brand advocacy programs. On average, it can range from $400 to $5,000 to attract a single customer. When you’re not finding a way to convert those customers into fans, you’re wasting your money.

It's pretty straightforward. A customer loves you, or they don’t. Anywhere in between, in the grey area between is dangerous. At any time, you can eventually lose your customer to a better competitor or disinterest. Then, you will spend even more on acquiring new customers. That’s why you need a plan to create brand advocates, and with our process, it will be easier than you think.

Step 1. Determine What Behavior Could Trigger Advocacy

It’s important to understand that not every single customer will be a brand advocate. Even if a customer loves your product and appreciates your customer service, brand advocacy might not be their thing, and that’s fine. That’s why you need to determine what actions and ongoing behavior would indicate a customer could become an advocate.

From there, you can focus on creating a referral strategy for that audience. When you base that on real insights, you can craft a brand advocacy plan that will work and grow.

Step 2: Identify Why A Customer Would Become An Advocate

Starbucks doesn't have to motivate customers to take pictures of their lattes for Instagram, and Apple doesn't need to add any incentives for people to rave about their products. They do, and because of that, I believe that bribing customers with Amazon Gift Cards or discounts to get their advocacy is short-sighted. When you have to cheapen your loyalty, you won’t seem valuable or spectacular in their eyes.

That's why you need to go beyond freebies and build an engaging brand. You need to create reasons for a customer to become a fan. You can start by evaluating every point of your buyer journey, and figuring out what action would blow your customer’s mind. What would you need to change about your product, process or support to give that experience?

Step 3: Create A Referral Strategy

If you can get your customer to refer you to a co-worker, friend or family member, you’ve done very well. You’ve struck a chord with them, and they’re driving qualified leads to you. But usually, this doesn’t happen unless you have an exceptional product or extremely impressive customer service. Ideally, you will have both. However, even with both of those boxes checked off, you can’t coast on referrals.

People are busy. Even if your product or service comes to mind when making a recommendation to someone else, they can quickly get distracted or forget to pass your along. As a result, you need to do two things. First, you need to ask customers to make a referral on your behalf. Second, you need to find a way to incentivize them to do so.

It starts with a referral strategy that feels intuitive and natural and ends with the customer enthusiastically referring you to someone they trust.

Step 4: Find Advocates In Your CRM

If you organize and maintain your CRM, you know who your customers are, how long they've been customers and the history of their engagement with your brand. For instance, from our HubSpot CRM, I can quickly study customer behavior, and use that information to segment the customers that are the most likely to become brand advocates. However, to accurately target those people, you need to set some criteria.

You can study the frequency of their engagement, the amount of time they’ve become a customer, and more. The goal is to find the most active candidates based on the information you have at your disposal. From there, you can curate email workflows to ask them for reviews or referrals, and call them to action.

Step 5: Facilitate An Automatic Follow-Up

If you decide to set up workflows, there are a few marketing automation systems that will enable you to set up triggers and enroll qualified brand advocates in workflows. When they take a specific action, or sequence of steps, you can send them an email requesting a review. You can automate a portion of your advocacy program and get brand advocates in your sleep.

However, there should also be a human element as well. Whether you're engaging on social or sending an email, you should say thank you for promoting your brand, no matter how small it may seem.

Step 6: Surprise and Delight

The best brands wow their customer. Whether it's a free upgrade, a gift, or a shoutout on social, you need to do something that makes them feel appreciated and heard. My favorite resource for this is Giftology, a book, and methodology that reinforces surprising your clients with gratitude. Giftology author John Ruhlin talks about how radical generosity can transform your relationship with your most loyal customers.

A few years ago, a friend of mine bought me a small, leather wallet at a thrift store. It has “petite bonfire” burned into it. She said it made her think of me, and even though it couldn’t have cost her more than $10, the thought behind it felt personal. That’s the same kind of reaction you want from your customer. They won’t remember a mug or a pen with your logo on it, but a more insightful gift can make a more significant impact.

Making Brand Advocacy Inevitable

A few weeks ago, I canceled my service with Spectrum. Since Hurricane Florence blew through my hometown, I've been without internet, something to be expected with a natural disaster. However, even before the storm, I wasn't happy with their service. My internet would disconnect intermittently. Whenever I spoke to customer support, they would say they lost my phone number and address, and ask me to reconfirm. It was endless.

The storm was the last straw. They couldn't give me any idea when service would return. They were impatient. I switched to AT&T who in minutes, signed me up for new service, waived every installation fee, and set an appointment date for the following weekend. Since then, I've told at least three or four people about their exceptional service, many who are Spectrum customers.

So, if you want to create a brand advocacy strategy, start by answering one question. When is the last time you exceeded your customer's expectations? When is the last time you completely blew their mind? If you can't answer because you don't know, it's time to make a change. To learn how to create brand initiatives customers will rave about, check out our free guide, The Inbound Marketing Mountain. 

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