Customer advocacy – what it is, and how to leverage it

March 25, 2022

Customer advocacy – what it is, and how to leverage it

Customers have always been the lifeblood of any business. But in today’s interconnected world, they have the power to make or break your company’s reputation with a few simple keystrokes. Earning their trust and loyalty has never been more important. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of customer advocacy and how you can implement it to boost your brand, sales, and reputation. Read on to discover:

But before we go any further, let’s define what we’re talking about.

What is customer advocacy? 

To understand what customer advocacy is and how it works, it’s best to think of it in two parts. 

Part 1. The company advocates for the customer

In practice, this means that the company focuses on what is best for the customer, providing them with the best possible experiences, support, and communication through their brand, products, and services. 

Part 2. The customer advocates for the company

In return for an outstanding experience, customers form an emotional connection to the brand and actively promote it to others.

In other words, if you want customers to become advocates, you need to put them first. 

Putting customers first – aren’t most companies doing this already?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But, while most businesses claim to put their customers first, only a handful actually get this right. 

In a recent Hubspot poll, only 12% of US respondents and 9% of European respondents believed a business when they claim to put customers first. Clearly, there is a huge amount of room for improvement when it comes to customer advocacy.

But why does it matter? 

Companies that succeed in meeting their customers’ needs at all stages of the sales cycle and beyond will have a huge advantage over those that don’t. 

When customers’ needs are met, those customers come back time and again to use your products and services. You gain their loyalty and trust. They form an emotional connection to your brand and become motivated to promote it, helping you recruit more customers.

Customer advocacy vs traditional marketing

This ‘word of mouth’ effect has always existed. But in today’s world of virtual communities and the countless platforms that connect them, it has never been more important to engage customers, meet their needs, and gain them as advocates. 

For the very same reason, failing to meet customers’ needs has never been more destructive to your brand and business. 

Think about it: when considering whether to visit a cafe, stay in a hotel, or buy a product, do you trust the companies themselves and the impressive things they say on their websites? 

Or rather, do you trust what other customers have said about those products and services, based on their own experiences of using them?

As you can see from these statistics, the answer is clear:  

People trust people, not companies. Yet many companies fail to understand this and focus solely on traditional marketing. 

Ultimately, you can have the best marketing department in the world, creating the most impressive campaigns, but without customer advocacy, you’ll fall short. 

Traditional marketing still has an important role to play, but it cannot guarantee success on its own. Rather, businesses should build a customer advocacy strategy alongside their marketing one – a strategy that aims to build strong and lasting relationships with customers, turning them from mere shoppers into powerful brand ambassadors. 

Customer advocacy vs traditional sales

As you can see, customer advocates effectively become an extension of your sales and support teams. They go out into the world and do the prospecting and converting for you – extremely effectively. 

But what about internal sales? Let’s look at how you can adapt your sales processes to better align with a business-wide customer advocacy strategy.

Rethinking the sales funnel

The sales funnel has been the go-to model for growing businesses for years. While it is effective at converting prospects into customers, it doesn’t address how those customers can then help accelerate growth for your business. 

Sales funnels are geared solely towards customer acquisition, but there’s no follow-up. All the momentum that went into gaining those customers is lost. It applies short-term thinking to a long-term issue, leaving no room for customer loyalty and post-sales relationship-building.

Instead, businesses should aim to adopt a sales model that puts customers at the center. 

One such model is the flywheel, which is designed to harness the momentum of the sales process to deliver future rewards, such as customer referrals and repeat sales. 

Unlike the funnel, which pushes prospects through a linear path to become customers – and then forgets about them – the flywheel puts customers at the center of a process designed to earn trust and loyalty, turning them into brand champions. 

As you can see, the flywheel is divided into three phases: Attract, Engage, and Delight. 

The Attract phase is all about making contact with potential customers through positive exposure to your brand. This can be done through traditional channels such as content, social, and SEO. The goal here is to earn people’s interest rather than force it.

Next, the Engage phase is where you start to build relationships with customers. You make it as easy as possible for them to access your products and services, and you do so in a way that suits them. The more personalized the experience, the better. 

The third phase, Delight, is about further solidifying relationships with active customers. You do this through continuous support and ongoing dialogues to help them get the very best experience from your products and services. 

The beauty of the flywheel model is that once you get it up and running, it needs relatively little energy to keep going. That’s because it’s designed to maximize the relationship between customer and brand, where the former – through a sense of loyalty and empowerment – does the work of marketing for you. As a result, sales take on a momentum of their own.

Building a customer advocacy strategy

To give you a clearer understanding of how to implement a customer advocacy strategy in your company, let’s look at two existing models. 

The customer advocacy framework

Designed by leading customer advocacy experts Captivate Collective, this framework breaks down the process into four key stages: Exploration, Motivation, Activation, Iteration. Let’s take a closer look at each one. 

  1. Exploration

Before you implement a customer advocacy strategy, you first need to know who your customers are and what they need. This is what the exploration stage is all about. It's a process of gathering data to gain a deep understanding of your customer base.  

  1. Motivation

You won’t turn regular customers into advocates without offering them something in return. By focussing on what motivates them to become advocates, rather than how their advocacy could benefit your brand, you stand a better chance of developing mutually beneficial relationships. 

Captivate Collective believes that all motivations relate to at least one of three categories: belonging, access, and status. Design your customer interactions and rewards accordingly.

  1. Activation

This is where you start to build and nurture relationships with motivated customers, turning them into brand advocates. It’s about creating a customer experience that is fine-tuned to meet their needs at all touch points with your company. You may find you need to level up processes in sales, support, and marketing to achieve this.

  1. Iteration

Once your customer advocacy strategy is up and running, it’s time to measure success. What is working, and what isn’t? What could you improve, and how? Getting this right will be an ongoing process, and you’ll need to make changes along the way. 

The customer advocacy pyramid

For a customer advocacy strategy to work, the relationship between a business and its advocates should be mutually beneficial. 

Your business gains an army of dedicated fans who actively spread the word about your products or services. In return, they have access to a broad range of benefits – everything from gifts and rewards to a sense of community, belonging, and purpose. 

Understanding advocates’ needs is key to keeping them engaged and motivated. As they progress through the advocate journey, their needs change and grow more complex. This process is reflected in The Hierarchy of Advocate Needs. 

Let’s break down each level of the pyramid in more detail.

Level 1 - Physical rewards

Early-stage advocates may be satisfied with physical, tangible rewards such as free swag, gift cards, or product samples. This type of reward is often enough to spark a sense of loyalty in a regular customer, giving them a stronger sense of connection to your brand.

Level 2 - Recognition  

For the next step up the pyramid, advocates look for something beyond physical rewards, starting with a sense of recognition. This includes being thanked or congratulated directly. Intangible rewards like this create a strong emotional response, especially when they are personalized. 

Level 3 - Empowerment

With advocates now fully bought-in to your brand’s story, they are highly motivated to make an impact. They want to be involved in the direction you take with product releases, events, and so on. Asking seasoned advocates for feedback and opinions is a great way to give them a sense of empowerment.

Level 4 - VIP Experience

At this point, advocates have made a real impact on behalf of your brand. They are active in the community and play an important role in brand promotion, communications, and even customer support. Quite rightly, they feel entitled to VIP treatment. That means invites to brand events, premium membership, and anything else that sets them apart. 

Level 5 - Influence

Advocates that reach this highest level seek to have real influence and a pivotal role to play as ambassadors of your brand. Not many will achieve this status, but for those that do, be sure to treat them like thought-leaders in your space. 

Examples of customer advocacy strategies in practice

Customer advocacy strategies can be embedded in processes throughout your business. Here are just a few ways you can transform internal processes to harness the power of customer advocacy, spark interest in the community, and maximize ROI.  

Get product onboarding right

It may seem easier to focus on customers who are already loyal to your brand. But in reality, the customer advocacy journey can start with the very first click. 

In today’s digital world, our lives are saturated with new products and services. It can be difficult for brands to stand out and differentiate themselves from others. The ones that do get the customer experience right from the very start. 

We all know how frustrating it can be to battle with new products or services. Likewise, we all know what a joy it is when we encounter seamless, frictionless processes that guide us intuitively towards clear outcomes. 

If you want to create new advocates, you need to get product onboarding right. After all, first impressions really do matter. 

Seek product feedback

How do you know that your product is meeting your customers’ needs? How do you know what areas could be improved, removed, or rethought? It’s hard to answer these questions without consulting the people who know your products the best – your customers. 

Customer feedback is an excellent way not only to improve your product but also to engage with customers and build relationships. Giving customers a chance to share their experiences, pain points, and motivations shows them you care. It builds trust and loyalty, giving customers a say in the direction your product takes.

There are various ways to go about collecting customer feedback – from surveys and forms to online chats. Perhaps the most important aspect is the way you communicate. Show genuine interest in your customers and their problems. Be human.

Build a passionate community

One of the most effective ways to implement customer advocacy is to build an active community around your brand. Communities are an incredibly powerful tool for customer advocacy, support, relationship-building, and feedback.

If you run a successful company, you’ll already have a group of people out there who love your brand. The key is to bring them together. Then, not only can you engage them directly, they can also engage with each other. 

Communities can exist on one or multiple digital platforms – from social media and public message boards to company-run forums. Whichever platform(s) you choose, be sure to engage with community members regularly and reward them for being active. 

For more on community engagement strategies, check out this article.

Level up your customer services

Don’t underestimate the importance of outstanding customer service. You might have the best product on the market, but if customers have a terrible time communicating with you and getting help, they’ll eventually jump ship.

This can be extremely costly. According to Invesp, investing in new customers is 5-25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones.

If you want to retain customers and turn them into brand ambassadors, you’ll need to level up your customer services to ensure that their needs are understood and met at every touch point. That means going above and beyond to make customers feel heard and supported.

How to measure customer advocacy

Implementing a customer advocacy strategy is one thing. Understanding if it’s working is another. If you don’t understand what metrics to track or how to measure them, you’ll be left in the dark. 

There are multiple approaches you can take to measuring customer advocacy success. Let’s look at a couple – one old, and one new.

NPS

NPS, or Net Promoter Score, is an old-school metric for measuring customer satisfaction and advocacy. For this, you need to know: 

  1. The percentage of customers who actively promote your brand
  2. The percentage of customers who actively talk down about your brand

To get your NPS, you subtract value ‘b’ from value ‘a’. The higher the score, the better. 

The issue with NPS is that they vary greatly from sector to sector, making it difficult to find a suitable benchmark. They are also greatly affected by demographics – younger customers are much more likely to recommend a company than older ones, for example. 

Lastly, NPS says little about the reasons behind a customer being a promoter or a detractor, making them hard to put into context. 

Community measurement

If you have a vibrant, active community of customers that interact with each other and your brand, you already have all the information you need to measure customer advocacy. The trick is accessing it. 

By using a dedicated community engagement platform like AhoyConnect, you can connect multiple community channels – Slack, Discord, Twitter, Github, and many more – to one dashboard. You can harvest data from these channels, combine it with internal company data, and receive actionable analytics that allows you to visualize how much value your community is bringing. 

As well as the bigger picture, you can dive deeper to identify potential brand ambassadors, as well as community members that aren’t engaged. You can then use this data to refine your marketing and sales strategies. 

Summary – the benefits of customer advocacy

Now that you know how to implement and measure a customer advocacy strategy in your company, let’s sum up the key benefits. 

A successful customer advocacy strategy: 

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