Who Are Advocates?
Advocates are an organization’s or company’s customers who then become the company’s best sales representatives. Advocates are effective because of their independent third-party validation of your company and credibility. They support and defend their favorite brands—even if those brands are not perfect—because they are relationship- and affinity-driven. Who do you trust more: your friend who recommends a car brand or the car dealership salesperson who needs to make a sales quota?
Advocates proactively influence other people’s purchase decisions. How many times have you voluntarily defended Apple versus Microsoft or vanilla versus chocolate? Advocates can be like mother bears—they protect, support, and defend their favorite brands.
Advocates are willing to put their reputations on the line for their favorite brands while forgiving the brand for an occasional subpar performance. How many times have you gone to Starbucks for your favorite drink even though on your last visit, that drink just did not taste exactly right? Did you drop Starbucks altogether and never go back? If you are a loyal brand customer and forgive that slip, the answer is most likely “no.”
Most important, true advocates cannot be bought. They can be encouraged and rewarded in many ways, but a true advocate cannot be bought except through excellent products and services that ensure their loyalty. Certainly some companies deploy gamification programs through which customers earn points and, thus, products and value in their opinions. LinkedIn provides a good example: Members earn influence and prestige through their written contributions, thought leadership, and many connections.
Advocates can be divided into three categories that describe their motivation for brand engagement: earned advocates, owned advocates, and paid advocates. Each category offers unique benefits that can support your advocate marketing goals:
- Earned advocates—The most valuable—and scalable—source of advocacy is from actual customers, who are regarded as earned advocates. They are loyal, highly trusted customers you have earned organically by your products and/or services and who will defend and recommend you publicly. The process of earning the devotion and support of advocates is the result of the hard work of providing great products and services that are well supported along with a brand narrative that tells a compelling story. This combination is the foundation for the very best source of marketing—the authentic and voluntary expression of countless pleased and engaged customers.
- Owned advocates—These are company employees who are voluntarily involved in advocate programs. Business partners and suppliers can also be owned advocates because they have a stake—and a powerful insider’s perspective—in the success of your company. Owned advocacy is particularly important in the middle of the sales funnel, as customers try to ascertain specific product and service details as they get ready to fully engage.
- Paid advocates—Paid advocates are influencers, not advocates who are paid for their efforts. They include celebrity endorsers, sponsored athletes, and other influencers who are paid to represent the company’s point of view. Influencers are particularly effective at aspirational amplification and starting the customer engagement process, even if their motives may be at odds with the company’s. What is interesting to see is the rise of astroturfing in today’s marketing. According to Wikipedia, astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious, or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participant(s). On the Internet, astroturfers use software to mask their identity. Sometimes one individual operates over many personas to give the impression of widespread support for their client’s agenda. Politicians and celebrities have been known to hire fake supporters, fake fans, or fake paparazzi for events. But this should not be surprising to us. The Bible refers to professional mourners. Even today in some African countries, China, and Middle Eastern countries, it is tradition to hire professional mourners. You can rent mourners for your loved one’s funeral.