The process of turning prospects into customers through the use of word of mouth marketing via advocates has been a time tested measure and it continues to gain prominence. The trend is necessitated on account of customers across the board becoming savvier and the asymmetry in information diminishing, especially on the back of increasingly available information on the web and the propensity of customers to research about a product prior to purchasing it.
The emergence of communities around themes and products have fast emerged in both the online and offline world, which has further led to the use of word of mouth/ advocacy for marketing.
A robust advocacy programme begins with the process of identification of advocates based on their reach and credibility in the target segments. For example, through their social media presence, reputation in target groups, prior association with brands, etc. The demographic characteristics such as profession, education, position, and history also have a bearing on their reach and their propensity to hold sway in the target consumer segments.
Various methodologies have been employed for identification of such advocates; for example through scans of blogs, interviews, social media feeds and in some cases even events held in target groups – an automotive enthusiast in a college could be identified through an auto quiz or a riding event for instance.
Thereafter, with the initial set of people identified, reaching the most influential in this set requires a deep dive into understanding their reach and reputation within the sub segments of the customers. Analysing the spread of their social media posts, etc. in the groups can also give a measure of their influence.
The aim is to reach the right set of advocates, who can hold sway over the majority of constituents of the target sub segment. In certain cases, it is also seen that the advocates so identified may necessitate a relook at the segmentation of the company’s current and prospective customers for a micro level targeting.
Engaging With Customers
Post identification of advocates, the engagement stage is as crucial to ensure that the influence holders get to experience, and based on that spread positive word of mouth about the organisation and/ or its products/ services. The engagement programmes need to be devised keeping in mind the key logical and emotional characteristics that need to be influenced to create brand advocates.
Continuing on an automotive example, the logical characteristics could be around performance, reliability, design, value for money, etc, whereas the emotional ones could be around brand ethos, tag line, and elements as per the brand’s user identity. The engagement levers should be designed around these elements and could include a mix of offline and online ones.
The advocates could be invited to see first-hand the manufacturing and testing of the product and may also be given the chance to test out themselves in the company’s test track. That way if they actually experience the characteristics of the products for themselves, they will talk aloud about the same. Also engaging the advocates in conversations, including offline ones, also helps build trust and make then openly ask more about the product/ service and if convinced, enables them to give a more emphatic endorsement for the firm or its product/ services.
Even sponsoring events like off-roading campaigns and rides have been known to build advocacy in the automobile sector. Online interventions like travelogues, competitions, picture with product campaigns such as ‘Shot on iPhone’ or bike and rider pictures with a theme, etc are also known to have a marked positive influence. The engagement with the advocates must be regular and focussed on ensuring the key attributes of a product/ service, and this must be realised by the advocates in a fair and free manner.
The third and the just as important step is measurement of the effectiveness of the advocacy programme. Clearly listing down the measurable and non-measurable factors governing the changes brought about by the campaign is essential. The use of indices is usually quite helpful in ascertaining the impact of the change and these could range from measurement of affinity, advocacy, loyalty, etc.
The use of control and test groups is able to clearly bring out what’s working and what isn’t, which can then be used to fine tune the advocacy programme. At the same time, it is also essential to understand the reasons that are preventing customers or non-customers in the target group from becoming advocates as their inputs may also give key insights into tweaks needed in the product/ service characteristics and even its positioning.
In today’s day and age, wherein the consumption of content is constantly on a rise and the noise created by brands is also ever increasing, the time tested word of mouth/ advocacy – including through digital voices – could yet again be a key differentiator for success of firms and their products/ services in several consumer focussed sectors.
A case in point for this could be the several new products in the electric two-wheeler (e2W) space that are all talking about their features, extended charging ecosystem, etc. But with limited vehicles on the road, an advocacy campaign could well be the differentiator for products and brands that enter the consideration set of consumers and make it big on the sales charts.
About the Author: Ashim Sharma is Partner & Group Head at NRI Consulting & Solutions, India Pvt. Ltd. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org