The Advocate - Your Brand's New Best Friend
‘The Advocate’ – a derivative of the social age and your brand’s new best friend. Traditional marketing focussed on pushing a corporate message to a relatively contained and static market. Reaching a prospective audience was achieved by using demographic data and bought or owned media. The relentless rise of social media has changed that model forever and businesses are still struggling to either recognise and/or keep up with social buying behaviours and preferences.
It has always been hard to ‘buy’ a customer’s loyalty by pounding them with corporate propaganda – even more so since social media enabled customers to form their own networks of trusted and reliable sources of information outside of the corporate ‘approved message’. They are now able to share opinions with others, compare experiences, offer alternatives, learn and adapt their thinking and, increasingly and importantly, make buying decisions based on the influence of their social networks.
The networks can be big or small, niche or generalist – the point for businesses is that they exert considerably more influence on customers and prospects than the traditional marketing and communications methods. Any business attempting to sell without a robust and dynamic social presence is putting itself at an immediate disadvantage – because whether they like it or not, their customers are social.
‘The Advocate’ is therefore the goal that all businesses should seek to achieve in an emerging social landscape. Businesses talk about their focus on customer service, and many deliver it – but they need to channel that customer focus through social channels for it to have future brand value.
By engaging prospective customers online, businesses have the opportunity to nurture relationships and demonstrate their commitment to their marketplace. Not ‘selling’, but sharing. Being available, responsive, having an opinion, offering advice – creating customer experiences around the brand rather than shoving it down someone’s throat. That activity alone will create support for a business online. More importantly, it will attract Supporters. Supporters of a brand create value by communicating within social networks more than traditional marketing ever could – every interaction is visible to, and shared with, like-minded people who represent the prospective customers. It’s also searchable by the whole world so the potential reach for the brand is significantly improved.
Within that group of Supporters will be ‘Fans’. Fans do the work that traditional marketing used to. They have established a social relationship with the business (which doesn’t necessarily make them ‘customers’) and will go out of their way to amplify the business message by repeating and distributing the brand conversation online. Fans spread the word in a way that no advertising can and a growing fan base attracts more fans.
At the top of the tree is the Advocate. The Advocate is not only a Fan and Supporter, but they have influence within social spaces already. If someone you trust strongly recommends you take action on a certain point, you probably do. Advocates exert the same influence online. Finding and nurturing advocates of your brand is the most effective form of online marketing.
Businesses need to recognise that they can no longer force, buy or brainwash customers into ‘believing’. They have to support, demonstrate and interact with them to earn trust and advocacy. It’s probably a step too far to say that traditional marketing methods are dead – but any business seeking to improve its position in any marketplace increasingly needs to invest in social and online strategies not just to remain competitive, but to be at all relevant to its customers.