Turning brand advocates into community builders

We’ve all heard the quotes and statistics about how much harder it is to acquire customers as opposed to retain them. One source says it’s six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer rather than retain one.

There’s one strategy your company can employ that is effective at both acquisition and retainment: turning brand advocates into community builders.

This is a virtuous cycle strategy that, if properly managed, can lead to stickier retainment of customers as they have incentives to become brand advocates, and better outreach for the purposes of customer acquisition through brand advocacy.

Brand advocates are valuable to your business, especially as a way of building organic and lasting communities of interest. The first step is to start identifying your potential brand advocates. These are your super fans. The people leaving positive comments about what you do, liking social media posts, and even blogging about your company, brand and products.

The concept of brand advocacy is not new, but it has been supercharged by the internet, and even more so, by social media. Have a look on the back of an old vinyl record and you might see an address for a band’s fan club — that’s old school brand advocacy. The analogue methods of brand advocacy have of course been supercharged by online and social media.

Along with that, the power of building brand community has been ramped up.

Your brand advocates are the people who are going to take the lead on getting your name out there to new customers, validating and evangelising what you’re doing. They will be posting content to your social channels, tweeting about how good your products are, and telling people in online forums about new ways to use your products.

You need to keep your end of the bargain though.

Brand advocates stay loyal when you show appreciation for their support and when you don’t let them down. This is because much of the social cachet brand advocates get from supporting your brand is in the affirmation it brings from other people who come on board. There’s an unwritten social contract between your brand and its advocates, and it’s about sharing in the reflected glory of the brand. Don’t tarnish that.

Negotiating the relationship between you and your brand advocates can be tricky. It’s not really a commercial relationship but there have to be some benefits, a few perks you can throw the way of your advocates: the occasional thank-you letter, free tickets to a movie launch, or maybe a small product here and there for people blogging about your company.

A certain distance needs to be maintained in order to keep things authentic and above board, but there are ways to keep people engaged as part of your brand community.

The eventual result should be a community of advocates. Think of the type of devotion companies like Apple or even Harley-Davidson get from their fans. Brand advocates for these companies spread good word-of-mouth and positive social media feedback, which encourages potential customers to come on board.

Your task once these new customers come on board is to make them super fans and brand advocates, ready to go out and bring more people in. Retain and acquire, and on it goes.

Think of it as a small fire: tend to it carefully and watch it grow. Before long what you have is a community built on the passion of your brand advocates. Do the right thing by them and they’ll do right by you.

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award. 

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