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By Adam Goran, Divisional Director of Customer Engagement at Grass Roots Group and Paul Bartlett, Divisional Director of Employee Solutions at Grass Roots Group

In today’s digital age, peer to peer recommendations are one of the most powerful tools available in the modern marketing mix. Loyal brand advocates are vocal, loyal, passionate, and engaged customers who as well as recommending brands to their friends in person, also inhabit various blogs and social media sites, from Twitter to Facebook and Trip Advisor. They will happily share their thoughts and experiences of a brand with their community, significantly helping to shape and influence actions and attitudes towards the brand, and open up valuable customer feedback channels.

As a result, brand advocacy programmes, when successfully implemented, have far reaching benefits including, but not limited to, an increase in sales, an increase in customer loyalty amongst a broader section of customers, a happier workforce and a greater share of voice.  It’s no wonder that CMO’s see customer loyalty and advocacy as their top priority in the digital era, according to insights from IBM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Study[1].

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But creating a brand advocacy programme can be a daunting challenge for even the most seasoned marketing or customer engagement professionals. Many assume that customers are the only port of call when it comes to recruiting brand advocates. In fact, the first and most obvious place to start to recruit brand advocates is employees. There is a direct correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction, proving that simple brand alignment across employees and customers is the key to commercial success. Both experience and insight has shown us that successful employee engagement produces strong customer satisfaction, which in turn creates a culture of brand advocacy that delivers long-term customer retention, attracts new customers and fends off fierce competition to recruit the most elite talent.

Employee engagement is about collective and shared behaviours that represent the brand and in doing so, deliver commercial objectives for a business. It is these behaviours that provide employees with the tools and the motivation to truly understand the business they work for and the investment that business makes towards their career development and wellbeing. If brands activate these employees, they are even more valuable through their ability to grow awareness and find new customers in an authentic and personal way. Critical to the bottom line however, is a workforce who is completely in tune with the customer brand values and offerings; whether that’s in-store or online.

Although brands looking to create brand advocates should start with employees, it is vital that each and every brand lives and breathes both customer and employee engagement. Brand activation – the alignment of all parts of the employee value proposition to the brand values – requires a relentless desire to measure and challenge. It’s only by understanding and improving the employee values before it becomes customer-facing, can brands see a real boost in customer satisfaction whilst, at the same time, giving their employees a real sense of pride and ownership.

When the employees are on board the customers will naturally follow. The value of any brand advocate, employee or consumer, should not be underestimated. It is a widely accepted philosophy that word of mouth recommendations are one of the most effective forms of advertising. 92% of consumers (according to Nielsen research[2]), will trust a brand advocate’s opinions. And if we consider that the internet has facilitated the self-educating buyer, then it is fair to say that today’s customer wants access to useful content that will shape their buying decisions before they’ve even left home. Advocates are often the savvy shoppers’ first point of contact, reading their posts and watching their videos before making a purchase decision.

If a brand can earn the trust of its audience of potential brand advocates, and engage them in a meaningful way, for example, providing them with the right information and content, as well as exclusive, personal benefits and discounts, the inside track to upcoming new products and exclusive access to events, it will deliver a community of advocates that will drive increases in recency, frequency and value. Of course, get this correct and there is another potential benefit for the advocate community. Ask them what they want from the brand. Use them as a barometer on new product development. Crowd source advocates’ ideas and turn these into realities to drive even further advocacy, loyalty and spend. The opportunities are limitless!

[1] IBM Global Chief Marketing Officer Study 2015. IBM conducted face-to-face interviews with 1,700 Chief Marketing Officer’s spanning 10 industries and 64 countries.

[2] Neilson – Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages Report 2012

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