How To Build Sustainable Relationships With Your Advocates

by Contributor on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 in Marketing Efficiency

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes courtesy of Jim Williams, VP of Marketing at Influitive, the advocate marketing experts. This post is the third in a three-part series advocate marketing. Check out part one and part two

In a world where modern marketers use cloud software for just about everything these days, it’s all too easy to forget that there are real, live human beings on the other side of the apps we’re using.

Whether it’s marketing automation, social media or content marketing, success can’t be found in the technology alone - you have to understand who you’re marketing to and what motivates them as individuals.

This strategy is even more essential to the success of a B2B advocate marketing program, though. People become advocates because they’re hardwired to connect with others and build relationships through unsolicited support.

Unfortunately, innate human behavior only stretches so far. Your customers won’t keep on advocating for you forever if you don’t work on a sustainable, long-term relationship by starting small, building up to more challenging asks, and recognizing and rewarding them appropriately.

Advocate marketing is (sort of) just like dating
I think we can all agree that proposing on a first date is way too much, too soon. You risk scaring away the object of your affection before your relationship goes anywhere.

If you start with the basics, however - a smile, some engaging conversation and maybe a kiss at the end of the night - you're much more likely to start something that lasts.

The same goes for your advocates. It doesn’t take much effort to follow a company on a social network, like a post on LinkedIn or Facebook, or retweet a tweet on Twitter - most people do this all the time, both as consumers and professionals.

But how many would also sit on a reference call, write up a user review, chat with an analyst and provide a high-quality referral right off the bat?

These activities require a much greater investment of time, energy and sometimes even risk - a surefire recipe for advocate churn when they’re just getting started, so save these for later.

Recognizing and rewarding your advocates the right way
As in any relationship, advocates love to know that they are valued and appreciated and as individuals, not just for their individual acts of advocacy.

This is especially important in the business-to-business world where advocates aren’t just in it for the discounts, samples and swag. Your biggest fans are also busy professionals who advocate for their favorite companies and products for non-monetary reasons. Therefore, a tit-for-tat reward strategy isn’t the best way to build a sustainable relationship with them.

We typically recommend that the advocate marketers we work with take a look at the gamification world and adopt Game-Based Marketing author Gabe Zichermann’s “SAPS” rewards model to keep their advocates engaged over the long haul.

“SAPS” stands for Status, Access, Power and Stuff. It describes, in descending order, the most to least effective ways to recognize and reward advocates for everything they do for you.

While Stuff (including cash and gift cards) can be a quick and easy way to dole out recognition, it can eat away at the credibility of your advocate marketing program, put a huge dent in your budget, and max out your advocates’ expectations pretty quickly.

If you do use Stuff to reward your advocates, it should always be a highly personalized token of appreciation that they will treasure -- not tit-for-tat compensation. All modern marketers should familiarize themselves with applicable laws and guidelines, such as the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guides and the Social Media Disclosure Guide published by the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).

The other three types of rewards - Status, Access and Power - provide your advocates with the opportunity to essentially become part of your organization.

These rewards turn advocates into VIPs who get the best treatment as customers, partners and conference attendees; who can influence the design, development and execution of your products; and who have the ear of leaders at your company. Status, Access and Power rewards may include special seating at your user conference, getting the first look at your latest product, feature or marketing campaign, or going out for dinner with your CEO.

These exclusive interactions with your company are part of what keep most advocates coming back again and again, but there’s a lot more to keeping advocates engaged.

For tips on how to build a complete advocate engagement and recognition strategy, download The Advocate Marketing Playbook.  The five-part Playbook is the senior marketer’s blueprint for building a successful advocate marketing program from scratch, and contains helpful, actionable advice and resources, such as worksheets, spreadsheets and calendars.

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