Advocating for Your Loyalists

During a webinar recently entitled “Using Social Data to Build Deeper Customer RelationshipsSusan Etinger of the Altimeter Group pointed out that 60% of social media discussions about a product or brand occur after a purchase. 

For a consumer, this makes perfect sense. “Absolutely loving this pair boots I just got from Cole Haan” appears more often than, “OK, so I need a new pair of boots. Any recommendations?

Marketers tend to monitor for pre-purchase social media signals to gauge the consideration set.  But post-purchase is just as important to move the customer along their lifecycle to a brand loyalist and utlimately, an advocate.  So, what’s the difference between a loyalist and an advocate?

In our experience, a “loyalist” is one who will repeatedly purchase the same (or new versions) of a product from a brand (and no other competitors'), and will consider a new product offering from the brand before looking to another. 

Similarly, we know an "advocate" is one who is generally a loyalist and who - without prompting - will favorably speak of, promote, or "advocate" for the product at least, and often the brand in general.

(We'll save the reason for suggesting "generally" above for another time ;-)

Importantly, of these two types of regular customers, only one will tend to speak up for the product without being asked or prompted.

To that point, in a C[IQ] meeting last week, a principal raised the issue of whether a loyalist can evolve into an advocate on their own (even in light of social media).  In other words, if an advocate is willing to speak up without prompts or incentives to do so, how do we move a loyalist to that next stage?  You see, the differentiator is simply that loyalists, while valuable they are for their RFM, generally need prompting to speak up.

Returning to our example of the pair of boots. With this model, an advocate would say, “I just bought a pair of Blundstone boots, and love them;” the loyalist, however, would likely respond to a request for recommendation as, “I’ve bought several pairs of Blundstones…they are my go-to fashion boot.”

Converting customers into brand advocates is a much-discussed topic in marketing.  And last week an HBR blog post offered ideas to help with the transition, among them these three: bring customers together; give them a venue to showcase their knowledge; and promote your "customers," not your "brand."

We submit loyalists are often overlooked as the best candidates to become your brand advocates.  This is important because of the pop trend in "social CRM" to become overly enthused by social signals and status alone.  However, these talkers may not be your real loyalists, let alone your best advocates.  So, here is our suggestion of how to identify, access and engage your real loyalists for advocacy: 

  1. Determine the criteria for a loyalist
  2. Analyze your house file to extract this group
  3. Study their characteristics, qualities, and shopping behaviors
  4. Choose a mechanism for advocacy (e.g., the HBR blog post)
  5. Prompt your loyalists to become your advocates.

We'll assume you have your criteria for what constitutes a loyalist.  The step of qualifying those loyalists requires a bit further (or deeper) analysis -- that's step 3.  But, no need to panic, this is the art (and science) of developing your customer IQ.  The science is extracting and correlating data from the house file, your web analytics, and other sources.  The art is interpreting that data to identify those you wish to prompt.

The key is the prompting. By properly identifying customers who are most likely loyalists, and determining how best to approach them, you now can encourage them to become advocates.

We cannot over-emphasize the importance of prompting.  If you fail to pro-actively reach out to your best customers (who you have permission to contact) and encourage their conversations, you're missing an opportunity to engage those who may ultimately be your greatest advocates, but are simply waiting to be asked.

We can't leave without at least an elementary example.  Shown here is an eMail "prompt" for a customer to consider speaking up on behalf of the brand; not waiting for her to (maybe) do so on her own.  Cleverly worded, this prompt suggests her sharing will be heard by not only other customers or potential buyers, but the brand as well (i.e.,  the designers).

Are marketers over-training on advocates? At the end of the day, how important do you think it is to move loyalists to advocates?  Please share your thoughts below.  Enlighten us.