Building brand advocates in a connected world

I saw the graphic below in a Facebook post the other day – take a look at the image below and ask yourself how do you relate to this?

my-generation

I’m almost 60 and I certainly identify with the upper photo. But then it hit me – I actually live like the lower photo.

As I thought more, I realized both photos are the same:

  1. Both are shared experiences: in both, the experience is connecting people.
  2. Both are mental experiences: no one is actually looking at anyone in either photo.
  3. Both are reflective of current technology: the bass is electric.

What is really more significant is the comment written across the combined photos; it implies a values judgement based on generational differences in what it means to be connected – this matters from a business perspective.

To be sure, people of various demographic groupings do in fact use social technology in different ways, but equally, the use of social technology cuts across traditional demographics as well. It’s less important how people connect than that they do connect. Given the ubiquitous nature of social technology, people – all people – do connect.

Connections between people are built around shared experiences; people don’t just connect to connect, they connect to share. Where interaction used to require physical proximity (like playing music in a park) the equivalent interaction now only requires network connectivity, enabling customer experiences to be shared widely and quickly. This has purchase funnel implication at the mid-funnel consideration phase in ways that trump advertising – or the top of the funnel – that undermines point-of-sale and similar bottom-of-funnel tactics.

From a strategic marketing perspective, it’s important to understand that shared experiences, particularly experiences shared across digital networks by contemporary, tech-savvy consumers are as real as any shared physical experience. But too often marketers still approach the task of conversion from the perspective of a prior generation; that interruptive advertising (think “TV”) remains effective among a generation of cord-cutters and increasingly cord-nevers.

Marketing based on shared experience – the new norm for information exchange – is much more accurately modeled by the loyalty loop, rather than the purchase funnel. The loyalty loop, shown in the figure below, is a construct that considers the role of advocates and influencers connecting via social media as critical to the conversion process.

my-generation-2

The purchase funnel is a linear concept based on an outdated understanding of consumers:

  • Drive awareness.
  • Capture share-of-mind.
  • Convert.

Want more conversions? Drive more awareness. Sure, you could also increase conversion efficiency, but in a medium that protects and promotes exaggerated claims – legally, it’s referred to as “puffery” – why go to the trouble of actually improving your product? Just claim that it’s better. Right?

Wrong. In the more modern view, the loyalty loop makes clear that advocacy – which are customers willing to actively recommend your product – are critical business success. Advocacy is built on the customer experience, not advertising. Consumers have redefined their media streams, limited their interruption via ad blocking, and now routinely share experiences with each other. Your active development of advocates by providing a superior customer experience is therefore key.

Assuming you have the loyalty loop working – think of this as your advocacy engine – the marketing question is, “How do you attract prospects into the loop?” Again, the answer is social technology.

Create a space where customers and potential prospects can ask questions

Have a place where consumers can get answers about your brand or product concerning what works, what doesn’t, how to fix things, how to upgrade, and so forth. By doing so, you can gain a significant SEO advantage and thereby attract new prospects. When someone searches for a specific brand, product, or service, very often, the top-ranked results are mobile-friendly discussion forums, blogs, and similar support sites – you can build on that.

birchbox-convo

Find and join other conversations already happening

With literally billions of people using social networks, there are nearly always conversations happening that are relevant to your business. Using your social engagement tools, you can find these conversations. You can review the content, authors, and other metadata associated with these conversations to spot potential sales opportunities as well as issues that prevent advocacy. Additionally, you can spot potential advocates and them share their experiences. All of this can be used to build participation in your developing loyalty loop.

In conclusion

The end result is worth the effort. Create the kinds of experiences that people enjoy sharing and that they will naturally talk about between themselves, and you’ll gain an advantage in a connected, networked marketplace. Whether it’s guitars in a park or smartphones in a backseat, the result in the same – when advocates talk about you and when your own customers share their experiences with others, you win.

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