The “Marc Cowlin brand” has an amazing brand advocate: her name is Judi (and she is my mom). Good or bad, no matter what I do, she is there to sing my praises, defend my foibles and support me both publicly and privately. My mom is by far the best PR my “brand” could have. I don’t pay her; she does it because she loves me and, as she says, “It’s what moms do.” Brand advocacy – or what a mother naturally does for her kids – is exactly what you want for your company.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every brand had an army of moms/advocates? I say we call them mom-vocates.
Why You Should Care About Brand Advocacy
I recently read the fantastic Forbes article, “8 Essentials Of Creating A Sustainable Advocacy Program.” Not only does it cover the creation of an advocacy program, it also does a great job highlighting the value of an advocate. Written by Ekaterina Walter, the article curates key statistics as proof points for the value of advocacy, such as:
- Marketing-induced consumer-to-consumer word of mouth generates more than 2X the sales of paid advertising (source: McKinsey Quarterly, April 2010)*
- Customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate. (Source: Deloitte)*
- Brand advocates spend 2x more than average customers on favorite brands. (Source: Zuberance)*
- Brand advocates are 50% more likely to influence a purchase. (Source: Marketing Charts)*
I highly recommend this article; Forbes and Walter are spot on!
PR Impact on Brand Advocacy
As Walters points out, advocates have immense brand value – but how does PR play a role? A quick look at a standard customer purchase funnel helps to illustrate where PR comes into play at every stage.
- Awareness: PR drives brand awareness, which is the first step a customer takes into the customer purchase funnel. The PR that makes your potential customers aware of your product or brand have a significant impact to their initial view of your brand.
- Consideration – Loyalty: PR plays a major role in corporate image. As a customer moves from consideration to loyalty, the corporate image becomes a key component in how that customer feels about your brand.
- Advocacy – It is the holistic brand experience that builds an advocate. Elements include product experience, customer service, brand image and more.
How Brand Advocates Benefit PR
In PR we’re always looking for 3rd parties to sing our praises, its why we love it when a journalist or blogger writes about our brand. A 3rd party endorsement from an advocate is no different; they are telling the world about your brand.
I’ll offer a real life example that recently surfaced at Meltwater (even though I’m sure you’d get a lot out of the story about how my mom kept me out of trouble after the great lunch box incident of 1979).
Last week one of our customers, Alaniz Marketing out of Novato, California, published a blog post that we simply loved. It was a great piece about why they decided to work with Meltwater rather than one of our competitors. On the surface, the article was pointing to product advantages of Meltwater, and in their words, “features we couldn’t live without,” but more than that the article had true business value in brand currency.
Sure, it feels incredible to hear a client tell you why you’re great, but there’s a business benefit far greater than the warm feeling generated: this article is a ringing endorsement from a 3rd party and it will have value as other clients research Meltwater. Whether prospective clients read the Alaniz article organically after finding it through a search engine or after being directed by a sales rep, it has all the value of a 3rd party endorsement.
Have a look at their marketing blog to read the full article.
Organic vs. Manufactured – Brand Advocates or Brand Ambassadors?
Whenever the topic of brand advocacy comes up, I ask for clarity: “Are we talking about brand ambassadors or advocates, organic or manufactured?”
The difference is simple: are we paying them? If we are, they’re ambassadors. If not, they’re advocates.
Organic advocates become advocates on their own, based on their experience with your brand. These are the folks who have worked their way through the funnel (see above). My mom and Alaniz fall into this category.
Manufactured advocates (aka brand ambassadors) are the people you find and pay to advocate for your brand. They fall into many different categories, but the most common example would be celebrities, promotional models, spokespeople, etc. Michael Jordan may love Nike, but he doesn’t endorse the product for free – he is a paid ambassador.
Both have their merits, and both can be created and nurtured through PR (often in conjunction with social media). That said, since most of us like to think of PR as a free medium, I tend to direct more PR focus efforts towards nurturing advocates than ambassadors.
How to Find and Nurture Organic Brand Advocates
The good news is that you probably already have advocates. They are your customers, employees and partners; and there’s a good chance they are already talking about you online. A good social media monitoring tool will help you identify organic advocates already in action.
The best steps to take in building relationships with advocates are generally the same as those you’ll take to build a strong business, amongst them:
- Thoughtfully listen to what clients are saying
- Be helpful
- Have great products
- Have great service
- Have differentiators customers care about
- Be appreciative and thankful
- Build social media communities
Why PR Should Care About Brand Advocates
As a customer moves through the purchase funnel, they encounter PR in various forms along the way – but the magic happens when they reach the end and become advocates. As a customer evolves into an advocate, they go from consuming your company’s PR to helping to create PR for your company. A strong advocate becomes an influencer, and – as we’ve discussed -in today’s digital world an influencer can be just as valuable as a journalist.
I’m wondering what it took for my mom to make the journey through the same customer purchase funnel for the Marc brand. Certainly her journey started with awareness, but I have a feeling she became an advocate in that same moment. I guess that’s one reason moms are so special: they skip quite a few steps and enthusiastically accept that they are your advocate. If only it was that easy to nurture brand advocates!
* Statistics originally published by Forbes in the article “8 Essentials Of Creating A Sustainable Advocacy Program.”