Friday, May 10, 2013

Unleashing Your Brand Advocate Weapon, Consumer-Generated PR

Every so often I read an article or blog post that cuts through the digital clutter and states something intuitive, but not entirely obvious.

An article in The Next Web by Henriette Weber gave me my week’s “ah-ha” moment so kudos to her. Happy Friday!

As a PR professional I speak (and write) frequently about the need for content generation. Whether through social media, blogs, original thought leadership articles, client interviews and tweets, feeding the content beast is a never-ending assignment. And as we expand our client list, the beast grows hungrier still. Brands, too, face similar challenges. The larger they become the more they have to write about their expanding enterprise. According to Rob Fuggetta, founder and CEO of Zuberance and author of Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force (citing his own sources), 28%-33% of marketing budgets goes toward content marketing.

Brand advocates, as Fuggetta rightly argues, can become a brand’s most important and cost-effective weapon. How? True, brand advocates work for free and do some of the heavy lifting for you. But too often marketers today think of their brand advocates as people who require expensive loyalty program catering. Or that outsourced IT teams must design highly engaging gamified portals. While all of these techniques are a legitimate form of marketing and customer nurturing outreach, it’s important that technological wizardry doesn’t trump the fostering of genuine experiences – or obfuscate brand failures.

I’ve written about a number of my genuine brand experiences and so have several ThinkInkers (Honda, BlackBerry, etc). I was once a BlackBerry diehard, eager to defend against all naysayers. Even after I made my bittersweet goodbyes, it wasn’t until I received an absurdly belated email asking for my returned business (nearly a year after I left) did I fully renounce my brand advocacy badge. But I’ve also received personalized emails of late, actual handwritten letters and, yes, even sample perfume from other companies.

None of these outreach methods are expensive. In fact, they’re right in line with what traditional customer retention budgets go toward. But unlike in decades past, where I might have only told a select few people about my positive experiences, via phone or word-of-mouth, I’ve freely given brands hundreds of words of free online publicity. Do I expect something magnanimous from them like a Birkin handbag or a Cable Heart Chain Necklace in return? Absolutely not – only that they empower me with the brand advocacy tools I require. And yes, I would appreciate an engaging loyalty program too. But that’s not what I’m looking for first and brands need to remember that.

Instead of brands banging their proverbial heads against walls trying to figure out what to write and how to afford the effort, why not empower brand advocates to blog, vlog, tweet and post about their most positive brand experiences? Of course, you’ll still need a professional staff to vet and review copy. But if properly engaged there’s a literal army out there of consumers looking to continue your brand’s unique conversation across multiple channels.

And I’m one of your loyal foot soldiers – armed and ready to serve.

Are you a brand advocate? If so, what about the brand inspires your spreading their good word and how do you do it? Share your thoughts with the ThinkInk community in the section below.

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