Framework of Advocacy Marketing Strengthen Brief
If you want to drive more sales, the question is simple: Who are your most influential advocates and how do you make them better at recommending your products?
Could the answer really be just as simple? We think so, and that it ultimately boils down to this: Your most influential advocates are the experts consumers trust for advice on what to buy. And you make them better recommenders by providing them with product knowledge and firsthand experiences. Before we jump into how to improve a recommendation, let’s look a bit deeper into what a recommendation is and where recommendations happen.
Where do recommendations happen?
Product recommendations happen everywhere - retail stores, ecommerce sites, in the field, social media, even at the dinner table. While where you go for product recommendations is no longer as siloed as it was 20 years ago, the recommendations ultimately either happen online or in-person.
Online reviews and recommendations are becoming an increasingly important part of every company’s commerce experience. Research shows that 82% of smartphone users check their phones before making in-store purchases and 56% of online shoppers read reviews before making a purchase.
While digital recommendations are on the rise, personalized face-to-face recommendations aren’t going anywhere. In 2018, ExpertVoice surveyed more than 1,000 credentialed experts — retail sales associates (RSAs) and experienced pros — on their recommendation behavior; 78% said expert recommendations happen in a face-to-face environment. Seem high? Think about it, what was the last item you bought that required thoughtful consideration? Whether it was a bike, a TV or a tent, you probably started the process with a few options in mind, did your due diligence with some online research and then talked about the options with someone you trust. People trust people, and no matter how far behind our screens we shrink, in-person conversations will continue to be a powerful source of recommendations.
The foundation of advocacy marketing is authenticity. In order for your advocates to give authentic, credible endorsements of your products, they have to know, understand and believe in your brand. Ultimately, when product recommendations are personal and authentic, they’re more powerful. The two easiest ways to improve authentic recommendations are through education and product seeding.
According to the same recommendation behavior survey, 87% of experts need to have knowledge of the product to make a recommendation. And it’s not just the recommenders who want the knowledge, consumers trust RSAs who intimately know the products they’re selling. In a 2018 U.S. census weighted survey of more than 500 consumers, 80% indicated that sales associates must have product knowledge in order for them to be considered helpful.
This knowledge is more than just the specs on the back of the box. Your advocates need a look behind the curtain. Provide them with a sneak peek to an upcoming product line, a deep dive into the latest innovations, a behind-the-scenes pass to your new facility. Reward their passion and expertise with experiences that makes them fall in love with not just your products but with your brand story.
In short, product education is giving your brand’s advocates detailed information about your brand and the products you sell. That in-depth product knowledge provides them with the tools they need to better recommend your brand. In fact, a detailed and personalized product recommendation is less likely to be returned. And according to a study by Marshall Fisher and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the more training a retail sales associate has, the more they sell. An increase in sales and a decrease in returns — that’s the product of product education.
The most powerful recommendations come not only through extensive category and product knowledge, but also through hands-on experience. In fact, according to the recommendation behavior survey, the most important factor in likelihood to recommend a product is having a positive personal experience with the product.
Product seeding doesn’t always mean giving away free product. We’ve actually found that advocates are happy to buy a product at a discount – and then the motives behind their recommendations are not questioned. That’s why brands should provide a compelling discount to advocates, so they’ll be more likely to buy it, try it, and recommend it.
“We know that if somebody uses the product and has had a chance to see the quality and functionality, they will be advocates for it,” Kent Hawkins, Channel Marketing Manager, Americas, Arc’teryx. Kent continues, “We may lose money on that transaction, but the reality is if that person wears the product themselves, they’ll sell 3-5 of them over the season. We aren’t losing money; we’re providing an opportunity for a floor staff person to authentically talk about it.”
More and improved recommendations aren’t the only reason you should be seeding product. Product seeding is a great way to receive honest feedback from some of the most knowledgeable people in the field.
Back to the beginning
While finding your most influential advocates and improving their recommendations may be one of your biggest initiatives to increase sales, it doesn’t have to be your hardest. By educating your advocates on your brand, products and values, and by providing them with hands-on experience, you’ll increase the strength of their recommendations and the likelihood that the consumer will make the purchase.