What’s Next for Consumer Advocacy Programs

Conversations about your brand are happening in every nook and cranny of the Internet — among friends, family, colleagues and individuals who influence the opinions of millions of followers. There’s value and risk, in those conversations, which is why executives around the globe are showing increased interest in adding consumer advocacy programs to their marketing mix. Why is this critical for your brand?

The Changing Relationship Between Consumers and Brands

Before social media, brands enjoyed one-sided communications with their customers. They pushed out messages, and the masses listened. But that changed when the Internet empowered customers to push back and talk not just to brands but to millions of a brand’s customers. This two-way conversation changed the power dynamic, and brands must be increasingly aware of, and responsive to, the expectations of their stakeholders.

Cultivating Valuable Relationships

Advocacy programs aren’t about membership — they’re about relationships; relationships with the brand and with other community members. Building a relationship with your advocates takes time, transparency and effective messaging. When you cultivate the right relationships, your advocates will influence their communities, recommend your brand to their followers, create content, share news and ultimately drive sales.

Like the conversation, the relationship should also be two-sided. In exchange for a stakeholder’s advocacy, you must offer something of value in exchange. The savvy brands are thinking bigger than just promotions and free products; they are aligning with their stakeholders’ expectations and supporting greater causes.

Real-Time Insights

Your advocacy community can provide valuable market insights — whether its features they’re craving in a new products, feedback on prototypes, or relaying what their communities are saying about the brand.

Real-time insights and direct access to community influencers are especially vital during a crisis. Whether it’s an online hoax, exposé about materials sourcing or a product recall, advocates are thought leaders in the communities that matter to you. Their credibility carries significant weight, and the power of their trusted voice can be harnessed to defend your brand, share information and dispel rumors to minimize damage.

Maximizing Marketing Budgets

Turning passive enthusiasts into passionate advocates can drive leads and sales at a significantly lower cost than traditional advertising. According to a Deloitte study on brand advocacy and social media, customers referred by other customers have a 37 percent higher retention rate. Not only is mobilizing your best customers efficient, it adds value to your other marketing efforts and increases you share of voice online in an authentic way. In the future, we’ll see more brands allocate a larger slice of their budget to advocacy activities to stretch their marketing dollars further.

At the end of the day, most marketing programs are evaluated on their ROI. Advocates will continue to have a staggering impact on your bottom line for a fraction of the cost of paid media. Whether your brand’s new products are launching or negative rumors are flying, the most costly aspect of an advocacy program, will always be not having one at all.

This post is part of “The Next 30,” a series by junior to mid-level staff in celebration of APCO Worldwide’s 30th anniversary. View all posts in The Next 30 series and subscribe via email here.