Best practices for turning customers into brand advocates

If you build it, they will come. Before rallying advocates, you’ve got to first identify who they are. And surprisingly, a brand’s best advocates are not always the customers who buy the most. They are the customers whose word-of-mouth brings the most profitable new customers to your door, regardless of how much they themselves buy. Identify those advocates by sending inquiries to your CRM database on their likelihood to recommend your brand. You can also scan the social web for evidence of brand advocacy — like testimonials on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks.

Once you’ve identified your advocates, give them what they need to go out and spread the word. Keep in mind, though, not all brand advocates are alike. Some are willing to create content, while others may prefer to share offers and still others may only be willing to give a testimonial. Develop a learning system that identifies what your advocates are willing to do. — And by all means, don’t annoy them by asking advocates to do something multiple times they’ve not responded to in the past.

Create community from within. You can’t think about your customers without first thinking about your own people. Your employees are your first advocates and the best marketing tool you have. They understand the brand culture more than anyone. Find ways to involve employees in reinforcing the brand through customer engagement, such as talking about the brand, catalyzing conversation and connecting with customers through online and offline networks.

“Be people–centric and personalize.”

Find ways to identify with individual customers and their experience and build a strong sense of community between the brand and its audiences — customers, employees and key stakeholders. Reinforce the brand experience and reward brand engagement by showing genuine appreciation for the work your advocates do on your behalf.

“If you want social media, have a social mission.”

Use your expertise and influence to push beyond the pure self–interest of the brand and focus on a social mission that complements the business model. This engenders goodwill with core audiences and builds brand loyalty. Within the context of the mission, define a muse and a monster — and offer an alternative to the monster. This gives brand advocates a focus for their activities that helps to strengthen their sense of community and identification with the brand.

Transparency is key to authenticity. The growth of the Internet has given consumers a more transparent and trusted marketplace for exchanging information with their friends and peers about the merit of a product or service. Brands, then, have no choice but to be transparent in their dealings with the customers. Filtering? Come on. Your customers are already talking about you all over the Web. You can’t control what they say, but you can use it to your advantage.

Embrace technology. Brand advocates have been around forever. Today, though, thanks to the growth of social networking and its enabling technologies, companies are creating brand advocate programs that are on a scale not possible years ago. A decade ago the largest programs were engaging a few thousand brand advocates. Today, they can potential involve millions. The sheer size of these programs requires companies to use new technology that helps identify, energize, and track brand advocacy results.

This has been Part 1 of brand Summit Best Practices,  from Marty Neumeier