There's one ingredient that no business can survive without: trust. You count on your loyal buyers, day in and day out, and they count on you too. It's your job to keep them satisfied, and in turn, they'll keep buying your product for another year -- or the rest of their lives.
But there's a way to turn that loyalty into something more: an authentic marketing campaign that can help your brand grow even stronger. How? You can start by appealing to the customers who take their brand loyalty a step further than the checkout lane.
Here are a few differences between these two types of dedicated customers:
A traditional customer is a brand loyalist. New releases and new product lines are must-haves for them, but their relationship with your brand doesn't extend much further. They're an essential part of your customer base, but you won't find the same interaction you'll have with a brand advocate.
A brand advocate is a brand disciple. You can count on your brand advocates to take their experiences and bring them to a larger audience. For example, if you're launching a new product, your brand loyalists will buy it and enjoy it. But your brand advocates will take it a step further: They'll amplify your marketing initiatives into something bigger by extending your message into their network, giving you authentic, meaningful marketing at no cost at all.
That being said, how do you convert a loyalist into a disciple?
Step 1: Encourage enthusiasm
There's no magic formula to turn a loyal customer into a brand advocate, but there are a few ways to inspire that transformation. Start by taking a good, hard look at your customer base. You'll notice that there are a few key differences in behavior between brand loyalists and brand advocates -- and they're all small, simple actions that you can easily encourage in your customers.
A brand loyalist might write a review, but a brand advocate will definitely write a review. A brand loyalist might read an article, but a brand advocate would think of a specific person to share it with. Your brand advocates feel obligated to pass information on, not just use it themselves. How can you inspire that kind of action? The answer is simple: by showing your customers how to make that extra connection -- and then giving them words and examples to do it with.
First, it's important to build a good relationship based on open communication. Start by asking how your customers like a new product, and ask if they would be willing to give you a review or an opinion -- whether that's on TripAdvisor, Yelp, your Facebook page, etc. By genuinely nudging your customers, you'll begin to change the terms of their relationships with your brand. Education goes a long way; it may not occur to your loyal customers to spread the word about your brand in a public forum. The simplest way to start is also the most intuitive: Just ask.
Step 2: Start a conversation
Today, engaging your brand advocates is easier than ever before. Even the smallest startups can connect with tech-savvy customers through social media, engage them in a public forum, and start a positive conversation about their companies' brands. This connection is invaluable, especially for smaller businesses: Brand advocates have the power to spread a marketing message in a real, organic way that a limited marketing budget simply can't do.
An excellent way to encourage brand advocacy is to start by following vocal, active customers and fans on various social networks. That's how to find a particular customer who is reviewing your products as they are released. Reach out with new products and offer to let the individual review them -- positively or negatively -- with full disclosure. The result is a genuine and positive online presence created by letting a brand advocate propel your message forward.
Advocates will help you build and grow a presence in the social marketing world by "liking" a Facebook page or product. They'll subscribe to your email newsletters, looking to learn more about what's coming next from your company. And, if you engage them in a smart, entertaining way, they'll begin to push your message beyond the limits of your marketing budget. However, there's only one sure way to fully tap into the power of your brand advocates: by telling them what you want from them -- and starting the conversation first.
Mark Regan is the chief marketing officer for PowerChord Inc.
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"The word 'Advocacy' handwritten" image via Shutterstock.