Humans are obsessed with trust, and for good reason. It defines relationships, allows us to confidently leave the house every morning, and leads to peace of mind. Trust makes us happier, more stable individuals, and is pivotal for any self-actualized human being. Not sold? Well, you must not have watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood when you were young. Don’t worry — you can catch up on Amazon.
As critical as it is, trust is tough to come by today, and not just for those in the business of advertising. The internet has made skeptics of all of us, where information gleaned from a search engine result, rather than a degree or actual experience, has contributed to the dilution of true expertise. Transparency is a double-edged sword, particularly for consumer facing brands, but as a brand, you still need to communicate your message. You still need to advertise. You still need to sell your products.
In this age of limited consumer trust, what’s a brand to do?
Influencers vs advocates
Let’s consider everything you know about influencer marketing. If you currently have a strategy in place, think about a recent campaign you ran and the influencer(s) used. If this isn’t applicable to you, scroll through your Instagram feed and find a campaign (it shouldn’t be too tough to find one). Consider the person used to tell the story, their caption, their images, their FTC required hashtags. And replace them with someone you know. A friend, a coworker, a former coach, a sales associate you often go to. How does that campaign shift? How does your perception change?
There’s influencer marketing (which you’re probably familiar with), and there’s advocacy marketing (which you’re also probably familiar with, but isn’t as big of a buzzword). They’re extremely similar. Both use people outside of a brand to help tell the brand’s story. Both involve some level of communication and connection between the brand and the person telling the story. And both are intended to help a brand sell more products.
The differences are in who you use to tell your brand story. Influencer marketing often involves social media personalities whose large followings can be attractive to brands looking to draw more brand, product, or campaign awareness.
We think advocacy marketing has a leg up on influencer marketing, because while social media influencers can be excellent for awareness, it can be tough to account for the level of confidence a consumer feels after interacting with the campaign.There may be eyeballs on the campaign but what about the conversations happening between the consumer and whomever they’re talking to about their potential purchase?
An advocate connects those dots. They take part in the conversations, offer personalized recommendations, and help a consumer determine whether or not the product is the right fit. The one-on-one connection they create with a consumer makes the recommendation more impactful, not just because of the personal nature, but also because of just how relatable a real person is.
Steve Knox of Boston Consulting Group states that if you grow your advocacy, you grow your business. It makes sense, considering that 92% of consumers trust personal recommendations from someone they know and trust – more than any other form of marketing. So how do you find these advocates?
An advocate can absolutely be a social media influencer, but you’ll find a much broader view when determining who is an advocate. We typically think of them as a retail sales associate and a category professional, but even a weekend warrior fits the bill, too. The most important determination is trust. If a consumer trusts that the person providing the recommendation is doing so, not because of contracted requirement, but based on their passion, experience, and knowledge about the category, brand, or product, then that person is an advocate. The consumer doesn’t necessarily stop and say, “oh, hey, you – advocate over there, thanks for the product recommendation!” But the consumer does buy more confidently, and that’s something everyone can be happy about.
Once you’ve identified your advocates, it’s time to implement a strategy using the following formula.
- Give them information about your brand, information that goes beyond what can be searched for on the internet.
- Provide them with first-hand product experiences that enable them to give more authentic recommendations.
- Create a feedback loop. Your advocates will not only help you sell more products to consumers, they’ll help you make future products even better.
Using advocates takes time, preparation, and investment, but the influence they have on consumers will absolutely be worth the cost. Like any trusted relationship, when viewed altruistically, the return is considerably impactful for all parties involved.