Monday, November 28th, 2016 | 7 min read
Many brands are building advocacy programs only to end up frustrated when they don’t hit their KPIs after a few months. You may be tempted to give up on your advocacy program when you don’t see the results you expect, but this isn’t the right approach. Why? For one, expecting your consumers to become passionate brand advocates within a couple months is unrealistic.
Customers advocate for your brand because they believe in it, trust it, and love it. They’ve spent time with your products, relied on you for support, and have had numerous positive experiences. In short, it’s a relationship. And like most, the relationship between a brand and a consumer advocate is a delicate dance that needs to be nurtured over time.
If you want your customer advocacy program to work, you need to start treating consumers like a close friend whom you care about. Here are three things for brands to remember when building relationships with consumer advocates:
Let’s look at relationships between people. While you might form a quick bond with someone based on a shared interest, you typically don’t become best friends with someone right away. According to the propinquity effect, people develop relationships with other people they encounter frequently. It takes time to get to know someone, build trust, and form a genuine relationship that you can rely on.
Businesses can learn from this. Your brand can’t expect to gain loyal customers overnight. It takes time—and ongoing exposure to your brand—to build trust and loyalty. But it’s not just about pushing out a lot of content or ads to draw people to your brand (especially considering that 64% of people use ad blockers because they believe ads are annoying or intrusive.)
In order to create meaningful, long-lasting relationships with consumers, brands must spend time understanding, engaging, interacting with, and celebrating them throughout the customer lifecycle. Just like any relationship, you have to put in the effort to make it work. As your consumers continue to have increasingly positive experiences with your brand, they will become loyal advocates who speak up for you, share your content, influence others, and generate leads.
You don’t typically interact with your friends in exactly the same way, right? Just like each one of your personal relationships, your brand has a unique bond with each customer. Your consumers have different backgrounds, lifestyles, and goals; they each have their own needs, interests, and issues that they expect your brand to recognize, meet, or resolve. Lumping consumers together may affect your business—according to Forrester, 77% of consumers have recommended or paid more for a brand that provides personalized experiences.
It’s also important to be genuine and authentic at all times. Much like a conventional relationship, when you’re dishonest with consumers, you run the risk of violating the trust you’ve worked so hard to build. And if you don’t deliver on your promises, your consumers won’t count on your brand as a trusted source.
That being said, no one expects your brand to be perfect. If you make a mistake, apologize. Be upfront and honest about what happened and why it happened. Trying to hide the mistake or avoid it might only make it worse. There may also be times when your product or service disappointed your customers. Use social media to listen to your consumers and ask for their feedback. Address their concerns, resolve their issues, and implement the changes they’ve asked for.
Remember, new consumers don’t know you and have no reason to trust you yet. According to Cohn & Wolfe, consumer cynicism is currently high; their recent global study found that—on average—only 22% of consumers surveyed see brands as honest. The good news is that nine out of 10 consumers surveyed say they are willing to reward a brand for its authenticity. By giving consumers accurate and honest information, reliable products, and excellent service, they will learn to trust your brand. That trust will transform into loyalty—and loyal consumers are the ones who will advocate for your brand.
If your goal is to convert customers into advocates, there’s an expectation that this will help your brand. You might think that you’ve already put in a lot of time and effort to get customers to this point, and now you can reap the rewards. But it doesn’t quite work that way—or it shouldn’t at least. Like any relationship, it’s about give and take.
According to Robert Cialdini, an emeritus psychologist at Arizona State University, the rule of reciprocation is a powerful factor. Cialdini says we feel obligated to reciprocate a behavior that we’ve experienced from others. This may explain why consumers become so passionate about a brand in the first place; the effort you put into creating a quality product, delivering outstanding service, and, ultimately, developing meaningful relationships with your customers motivates them to speak highly of your brand. You reciprocate their advocacy by giving them something in return, and the cycle continues.
If your customers are advocating for you on social media, you can simply thank them, retweet their posts, or respond to them in clever, thoughtful ways. If they create user-generated content, remember to give them credit. And if you’ve used a consumer’s feedback to improve a product or service, let them—and everyone else—know. You can also reward advocates, whether it’s through a point system, giving them promotional codes, or letting them know about exclusive events.
Cultivating a community of advocates is especially important since brand advocates are highly trusted, and as a result, influential. Consider that 92% of customers trust peer recommendations over ads.
Not only do passionate advocates raise brand awareness and influence purchase decisions, they also spend more themselves. According to a recent study by Rosetta, consumers buy 90% more frequently, spend 60% more per transaction, and are five times more likely to choose that brand for future purchases.
The key is to continually engage your customers, put in the time and effort that’s needed to create a genuine relationship, be authentic to build trust, and show them—through words and actions—that you value them.