One of the most important assets of any marketing program is a roster of satisfied customers willing to share their positive experience with your brand's products or services with the press, prospective customers, and analysts.
Even brands that have a ready supply of customer advocates sometimes fail to make the most of them. Sales people are connecting with prospects, and prospects are connecting with each other in more ways than ever, so marketing teams must provide advocacy and reference content to best showcase the customer and their successes.
Ready to shake up your customer advocacy programs? Here are 10 new rules that every marketer should follow:
- Move advocacy to the sharp end of the marketing spear--Who do buyers trust most? Sixty-two percent of buyers trust their peers, and 52% trust "regular employees." CEOs no longer have the most credibility (Source: Edelman Trust Barometer). Your prospective customers are more likely to trust the experiences of people who are like them than they are to believe your own CEO, or the CEO of a similar company. Brands that harness the voices of their customers to drive their marketing messaging will be better equipped to gain their prospects' trust and engage them in a sales conversation.
- Look for strong stories in unexpected places--Big client names are important, but so are big stories from less recognized brands. Further, smaller brands may be easier to collaborate with when crafting the story and getting it published. By taking a journalistic approach and asking probing questions about your customers' experience with your product or service, you can unearth powerful stories that will be relatable to other buyers at similarly unknown brands.
- Give your customers a good reason to be an advocate--Help advocates to tell stories that showcase their brand, as well as yours. Taking a mutually beneficial approach to your content will reap several benefits. Clients will be more enthusiastic about sharing the details of their internal processes and about promoting a story that benefits their brand. A customer reference experience will build greater loyalty to your business.
- Use data--Get specific about the impact that your solutions had on your client's business. Provide real quantitative statistics and results. Again, among the benefits of customer reference programs is their added credibility and the trust that is built by customer advocates. Use quality data, site sources, and demonstrate outcomes to bring stories to life. To that point, build analytics into your program's DNA. Establish qualitative and quantitative measurements of stories, advocates, and outcomes.
- Be creative in your storytelling-- Don't simply replicate your case study through other deliverables. Tell the story in the right way for each channel. How can each story be re-shaped for social media, events, or videos? How can the story be re-told to address different types of decision makers and influencers within a prospective business?
- Capture pertinent details once, amplify in many ways--Collect all pertinent information in the first interview, and then publicize the story with varying levels of detail. Minimize the disruption to the client by having a plan for the customer story from the onset.
- It's a two way conversation--Build a community of willing advocates, and use them throughout the sales cycle in authentic, meaningful ways. Clients should trust that you are interested in benefiting their brand as much as your own. Continually invite their input, demonstrate curiosity in their perspective, and show respect for their time and energy.
- Make your advocates the star of your program--Use evidence to lead sales and marketing campaigns. Potential customers want to hear these stories early in the buying cycle. Too often, customer references and case studies are provided late in the sales cycle, after many of the opportunities to effect the outcome of the sales effort have already passed. Customer stories should be used early and often.
- Focus on the quality of your stories, and not the quantity--Take a dynamic approach to storytelling. Customers respond to fewer, better stories, told in interesting ways. The customer reference field has a legacy habit of focusing on the volume of stories told, rather than the quality of each story. The energy should be put into improving story quality, rather than hitting an annual case study quota.
- Repurpose what you have--Every story is a versatile asset. Collect stories around a single theme, and repurpose content for different audiences. By breaking out of the case study rut and reconsidering the collective value of your customer stories will unearth new and interesting angles on stories that serve you and your clients.
An advocacy program focused on listening to your customers, creativity in storytelling and building reference strategies that help customer businesses to grow will deliver quantifiable marketing benefits to your sales teams and to your customers.