When I owned a bicycle shop, I had a very limited marketing budget. I frequently asked myself how to compete without spending a lot. Over time I learned that effective marketing doesn’t need to be expensive. Helping your best customers become “brand advocates” is just as valuable as traditional marketing/PR/advertising campaigns and much less costly. Kathy Baughman in her blog post Brand Advocacy Redux defines brand advocacy as “the art of more continuous engagement through relationship building.” Here are four ways you can turn customers into advocates; most of these methods work just as well for events as they do for brick and mortar retail establishments.
1. Find out who your potential advocates are. Big “duh” right? Not really. “In order to excel at advocacy,” says Baughman, “brands need to understand and define their target, and find the six to eight percent who are truly passionate and want to interact, share who they are, and ultimately endorse your brand and products.” In other words, you might have some customers who frequently shop at your establishment or attend every one of your events, but if they aren’t willing to talk about their experiences then they won’t make good advocates.
2. Give them an opportunity to interact with you. Social media platforms are especially good for customer engagement. Share what they say about your event or your store. Allow them to post on your Facebook page, invite them to write guest blog articles and post photos/videos on photo and video sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube. In their article Marketing in the Round, Geoff Livingston and Gini Dietrich cite The Laughing Cow as a great example of a brand that engages its customers. The Laughing Cow and Mini Babybel Blog invites contributors to discuss topics that are most important to its target market: health, nutrition, fitness and lifestyle. “Babybel learned that brand ambassadors help increase sales because people buy from people they like and trust, even if they’re only acquainted online.”
3. Reward them in meaningful ways. If you don’t already have one, develop a loyalty program. Research shows, however, that not all loyalty programs are created equal. It’s critical to determine what type of program your best customers want as opposed to what is best for you. In Customer Loyalty Programs That Work, Harvard Business School author Maggie Starvish maintains that, “the most important component by far is customer engagement. Retailers should ask themselves, ‘how do I create a partnership with the consumer?’ instead of pulling one over on them.”
4. Connect them with each other. A great way to build a community around your brand is for your customers to get together, not just online but in person. SignMeUp client Philadelphia Runner hosted a free Olympics watching party at an Irish pub during the track and field events. If you’re a single event, you could offer off-season training programs or get togethers. Or, give your most loyal event attendee the chance to give away the awards on stage or be the official race starter.
Kathy Baughman provides a concise summary: the really “smart brands” understand “the needs, wants and quirks of their advocates. Without great, deep relationships with them, there is no brand advocacy.”
What do you do to find and nurture your brand advocates? Let us know!