Customer marketing is an essential component of every local marketing strategy, as well as one of the most sustainable ways to grow your business. Specifically advocate and referral marketing in particular are tremendous opportunities for businesses to expand their reach, and build credibility. An overwhelming number of businesses report that word-of-mouth continues to be the number one driver of new revenue and customer acquisition. And, as third-party review sites continue to play an increasing role in the beginning, research phases of the customer journey, the most fruitful efforts will combine both online and offline outreach.

Repeat Customer vs. Brand Ambassador

A few weeks ago we created a guest post about ways to adapt to evolving customer expectations around the concept of loyalty. We pointed to a nuance noted by many experts and researchers that distinguishes between two groups. The first group are the repeat customers, who may be frequent shoppers, but are swayed mostly be external influences, such as pricing, convenience, and location. These are not the type that you should be tapping for advocacy or loyalty efforts, and includes the dreaded persona of the dealseeker.

The second type are  brand ambassadors, who you hope to identify and activate. They are responsive to internal factors that win them over, and motivate them to become promoters of a business. They often form deep, emotional connections with the brands that continue to provide delightful experiences. Increasing your interactions with this impassioned segment can help to amplify word-of-mouth, and inspire their commitment to loyalty. Keep this latter group in mind, as we explore ways to keep them active and advocating!

Commit to the Entire Customer Experience

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it still remains the vital first step. Having frequent interactions with your business, both online and offline will help create a stronger relationship and affinity for your brand. Take the time to send followups in the form of feedback requests, or thank you notes after a service. Build in ways to delight them throughout the entire customer journey.

Start with discovery, and ensure that your website, social profiles, and third-party reviews are all in order, and optimized. Direct the prospect along the path you want them to take. Call out links to social pages, current promotions, quote/estimate requests or other form fills, and reviews or testimonials. Each of these touches helps build trust and credibility, and moves them to purchase.

It’s all about the follow-up

In order to create advocates, you need to build deeper connections with customers. This means keeping them engaged in between visits or purchases. The more touchpoints you can provide, the more ingrained your brand will be in their lives, and positive affiliations your advocates-in-training will have with your business. Brainstorm creative ways your brand can use these micro-interactions to start dialogues and build stronger foundations.

A great way to get started is with both feedback requests and thank-you notes. After a purchase, send them an email to see how their experience was, and to ask if there’s anything you can improve in the future. Of course, you’ll have to take some of this anecdotal feedback with a grain of salt; it’s impossible to please everyone, all the time. But, do try to remain receptive to genuine areas of opportunity, and anything that is easy to action and could make a difference in elevating the customer experience.

Try to make these followups as personal as possible. You may choose to send a handwritten notes through snail mail, but even if not, take the time to include their name on emails, as well as any details you remember discussing with them that can help forge a connection. Don’t forget to thank anyone who provides feedback (no matter what!), and make sure they feel heard. Whether or not you choose to implement their recommendations, it’s vital that they know you’re committed to their satisfaction and that of all your customers.

Identifying and Activating Advocates

As you’re sifting through all your newfound feedback, keep an eye out also for any responses that cite emotional responses to your business, products, or services. How do these make them feel? What was their first impression when they walked in? Do they voice any excitement or passion (lots of happy !!!’s)? These sentiments can be great indicators of a potential advocate (vs. the “dealseeker” or other customer types that aren’t as ideal for advocacy). Make a note of these as you come across them, so you can remember to tailor your next steps accordingly.

When you’re responding to these potential candidates, be sure to include a next step or action that you’d like them to take. Try linking to your business’s profile on popular review sites, like Google, Yelp, or Facebook, and requesting they leave a 5-star review. Don’t be afraid to remind them how important these reviews are to your business. Alternatively, you invite them to an upcoming event, to nurture their love of your brand even further, or simply provide a discount/free gift with next purchase. Time box any incentives, so they return in a timely fashion and keep your business fresh on their mind.

It’s critical that you make it as easy and frictionless as possible for advocates to spread the word. This process should never require multiple steps, or manual inputs. Put direct links to profiles, and don’t make them jump through hoops. This follows with referrals, and should apply to both the referee as well as the new prospect that was referred to claim or redeem the offer. This not only increases the likelihood that they’ll complete the action you want them to take, but also shows you respect their time.

Spotlight Their Impact

There are a myriad of reasons why customers fail to follow through on specific actions. In the case of testimonials, reviews, and referrals, it is sometimes as simple as the thought not occurring to them. That’s why the ask remains so important. Oftentimes, customers don’t follow through because they mistakenly believe it will have no tangible consequence.

Let them know how important they are, but also how much reviews and referrals mean to your business. Consider sending out a celebratory email or hand-written thank you note when you hit goals, such as 100 5-star reviews, or 50 referrals! Invite them to an exclusive event, and offer some sort of thank you reward, such as a discount or small free gift. This makes them feel good about taking the leap to advocate for your brand and allows them to celebrate success with you, while feeling appreciated.

Similarly, don’t forget to highlight the great reviews and advocates. Try embedding a selection of 5-star reviews on your site, or quote from your feedback responses and reviews (don’t forget to request the customer’s permission, first!). You can set aside a day each week to share customer quotes across your social pages as well. Such small acts will signal to them that you care about your reviews, and underscores the importance they have on your business.

Social Caveats and Advantages

We see far too many companies putting stock in social shares, alone. While it is certainly a best practice to include social sharing buttons, across your site and to strategize unique ways to encourage clients to share experiences and promote your brand to their social followings, it is a familiar trap to think that alone will check the box for advocacy marketing. Social is one channel of many through which your brand can activate their advocates to spread digital word-of-mouth. However, it is often more fleeting and confined to the immediate radius of their social influence or circles.

Pre-populated posts are seldom compelling; the content must be targeted and powerful. Otherwise, it’s the same problem as traditional advertising of the past, and just casting your line out into the noise and hoping to get a bite. Focus efforts on campaigns with social components or contests to ensure you stay on track.