Spread the love, keep the loathing on hold…

When you think about advocacy marketing, a brand like Apple springs to mind. Not only do they have a lot of word of mouth recommendations. They have the diehard fans who share everything new that Apple can do via social media. That’s worth more than any gazillion dollar advertising budget could achieve. And let’s not forget the fans who queue up overnight for the latest Apple gadget and take to the web about it. That’s true brand love and there could be no stronger message.

According to Gartner, advocacy marketing is a hot topic in the marketing space. The fact that social media has provided a new medium for word of mouth means brands are quickly trying to adapt and leverage advocacy using technology.

featuredI recently heard Pierre Woreczek, Outgoing Senior Vice-President, Chief Brand & Strategy Officer at McDonalds speak about this at a recent gathering of senior marketers. He said “Marketing is not about increasing market share, but growing advocacy. That in turn will grow market share. It’s not about creating customers, it’s about creating fans.”

And he’s touched on exactly how the role of marketers has changed. In the past, it used to be about building brands or designs. Now it’s about building experiences and spreading that word of mouth via the medium of the social web.

An interesting study in the Harvard Business Review analysed why people talk about their favourite brands. Here are the top 4 reasons that people share:

1. The brand experience is so enjoyable that they want to tell their friends.

2. It shows that they are “cool” and “in the know” about a certain brand.

3. They have an innate desire to help other people.

4. The brand’s content or campaign is funny and entertaining.

This study was actually carried out in the sixties. So it just shows that not much has changed in terms of why we, as consumers and people, want to share. But there has been one seismic change: technology and the medium through which we share. Brands had it easy for many years. But now they could be on the back foot if they’re not taking advantage of advocacy marketing.

So if it’s SO powerful then why aren’t all brands rushing to embrace this kind of marketing?

Mark Organ, CEO of advocate marketing software firm Influitive says marketing strategies need to change: “I think you’ll see a lot of companies that are investing in inbound marketing are also going to marry that up with a more organised advocate program and not leave it to chance, which is what’s largely happening today.” He adds that as companies start to understand that buyers want to be surrounded by peers, not messages from marketing, they will start to take advocacy marketing more seriously.

Steve Sponder at content marketing agency Headstream talks about the importance of capturing advocacy. He says “It’s about processes and platforms. Brands have to capture and store positive sentiment in a way that can be accessed and interrogated with speed and accuracy. And that leads to the next stage, where that sentiment is repackaged so that the array of sound bites, reviews and anecdotes together form the content that underpins a marketing campaign.” Which also brings into question the aspect of distribution. Advocacy content can be transferred between platforms relatively easily. But those platforms themselves are not always so joined up.

Finally, the loss of control and the potential to open the floodgates for criticism are two factors that might be holding brands back. But shouldn’t brands be able to handle some negative press? Apple may get all the social media love, but when it unveiled a smart battery case recently (retails for £79 FYI) which was – according to one user “seriously ugly” –  its fans didn’t waste any time taking to Twitter to bemoan Apple’s lack of taste. FYI other comments included: “Is this some kind of sick joke?” and “How the hell did this get past Jony Ive?”

Yes, well nothing in life comes without risks. So, if brands can weather the storm of bad press magnified by a thousand and take the plunge into the advocacy marketing pool, they may reap the rewards.

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