Today’s post is by Maura McCarthy, vice president of ITA Group’s award-winning Communication Solutions Group. Maura has nearly 20 years of experience in the event, incentive, and recognition arenas. Her vast expertise ranges from facilitating creative engagement strategy and execution for leading Fortune 500 organizations to directing corporate environmental branding efforts and fueling the progression of workplace cultures.
Customers today have more choices than ever, and loyalty is a moving target. Product and service satisfaction are no longer enough to guarantee sales growth – brands need to engage on a far deeper, emotional level.
This crucial emotional connection turns traditionally loyal customers into brand advocates or brand ambassadors – a powerful force for boosting sales.
Brand advocates are customers who are so passionate about your product or service that they credibly spread the word about it on their own volition. There is an innate credibility about these actions that simply can’t be bought. According to consumer intelligence research published in the Harvard Business Review, on a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable in terms of spending as highly satisfied customers. In addition, through social media and Website reviews, these brand advocates reach myriad other potential customers.
Transforming traditional customers into brand ambassadors is not easy, but it is achievable. Follow these four key steps to build and sustain brand advocates, who will then have a major impact on sales.
Step One: Encourage Employee Advocacy
Brand advocacy begins with your employees. They see what you have planned before the public does – and this exclusive access helps generate excitement and empowers employees to be brand advocates in their own right.
Use incentives and structure change management to transform your internal culture and encourage employees to live your brand message. This not only establishes a consistent and more uniform brand voice, but also improves your overall credibility.
Step Two: Relate to the Customer
Relating to the customer starts with understanding exactly what motivates them. Maybe customers want to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps they want to be part of a team. Motivations vary according to industry, brand, touch point, and the customer’s current step in the sales process. Rely on data insights and analytics rather than blindly guessing at your customers’ motivations, and you may be surprised what you learn.
Once you understand what motivates your target customers, present a clear point of view that will attract them to your brand. Strive to be sincere and authentic, ensuring that all messaging and sales interactions consistently align with your brand’s value proposition.
Step Three: Rally Your Tribe
According to a Nielsen study, more than 80 percent of online customers say they trust recommendations from friends and family members more than any type of advertising.
A strong community of customers is a well-connected “tribe” that will offer these valuable recommendations to other potential buyers.
You can create this tribe of brand advocates by giving customers unique ways to communicate with you and with each other, including online forums, polls, and apps. Also consider organizing live gatherings and experiential events to foster personal, emotional connections. Proximity to each other helps strengthen your tribe’s bonds, build brand advocacy, and increase sales.
Continuously engage with brand ambassadors so it is clear you and other customers hear and respect what they have to say. They will reciprocate by spreading the positive word about your products or services – an important component of the selling process.
Step Four: Offer an Immersive Experience
The human-to-human aspect of immersive experiential marketing cuts through the clutter and isolation of the digital age. According to the Event Marketing Institute, 74 percent of customers have a better opinion about a brand after attending an experiential marketing event.
Although live and immersive experiences require more resources, they bring people together and build the emotional connections that are an essential element of brand ambassadorship. Whether it’s a group or individual experience, it needs to be purposeful and personalized – and tie back to your product or services.
The goal is to design creative, unique event experiences that attract attendees and encourage brand interaction and social sharing. Support more elaborate events with smaller, related experiences such as games, social campaigns, or reward programs. These immersive experiences get people talking about your brand – both online and in person – ultimately attracting new customers as well as motivating established ones.
Sustaining Brand Advocacy
To establish brand loyalty you must live by your company’s core principles and go above and beyond customer expectations. Increased brand advocacy translates to less price sensitivity in customers, more impactful recommendations, and a stronger share of the marketplace.
Once you have carved out your identity, continuously engage with your brand community to help strengthen their sense of brand ownership. Prioritize mutual trust and respect to create genuine connections – and focus on the experience, not the transaction.
The result: authentic emotional bonds that turn ordinary customers into coveted brand ambassadors who are innately driven to spread the word about your brand and perpetuate an increase in sales.