It’s the holy grail for modern businesses marketing themselves in a globally competitive arena. Turning those who interact with your brand from ‘customers’ – implying a casual, transactional relationship – to ‘advocates’ – those who will choose to return time and again, identify with your values rather than just your pricing strategy and even do a great job of marketing for you to others with the power of social media channels and good old fashioned word of mouth. The fact is, the sales funnel is completely different these days to how it looked a decade or so ago. The unstoppable rise of social selling, global connectivity, the myriad of customer information and choice and the inescapable transparency that Internet-based buying has created cannot be ignored. Consumers no longer trust brands blindly to act in an ethical manner or to hold their personal data safely. They paradoxically both expect less and more of us as businesses. Start-ups have a unique opportunity to gain trust through listening, giving exceptional service and catering to niche demographics – something that frequently puts them in a better position than scandal-hit, purely profit-driven large blue-chip corps. However, converting your customers into advocates is not the easiest thing – it takes hard work, perseverance and a genuine connection with them, their concerns and even their self-image. It can be done if you dedicate the necessary time and effort, and the rewards will be more than worth the investment.

Make It Personal

In this highly individualistic culture we have in the West, people do not like to be seen as just another number, especially when they are handing over their hard-earned cash. Humans crave recognition and connection, and successful brands who attract large followings are able to recognise that and leverage it for mutual benefit. The more personalised you can make each customer interaction the better for strengthening the connection. Things have moved far beyond the realism of adding their first name into an email. A top-quality CRM system is absolutely essential to capture a person’s order history, preference and other details and use these to transform communications into personalised missives which speak the right messages at the right time for the customer. So do your research to find the right fit for the needs of your business, from sitting down to compare Hubspot to Copper to mapping out the customer journey and what touch points there are along the way which are crying out for a better connection. Big data analytics are constantly driving up the standard within marketing for companies to know their customers better and understand what will be relevant to them. Your marketing strategy must involve drivers to communicate with customer based on the individual pain points they have and how you can solve them, as well as taking account of the device or channel that they prefer to communicate on. Get the mix right and your messages will never seen intrusive, merely helpful and timely.

Focus On Customer Experience

The way that you make someone feel far out weights how much your product or service costs. Sure, some purchasing decisions have an element of price sensitivity attached, but equally you’ll find there is a definite leeway there if people buy into your brand. When you focus on interactions, you move the discussion away from the constant focus on sales and discounts, which is always a race to the bottom with your competitors. It becomes more about the service you can provide and how you leave someone feeling fabulous  – whether they are buying auto parts, getting their nails done or purchasing graphic design services. Experiential marketing drives a focus on creating smooth, seamless transactions and little moment which surprise and delight customers – from quirky instructions on product packaging to interesting stories brought to life on your website and social media channels.

Like Breeds Like

Showing the love to your customers is a great way to go about getting it reciprocated. A lot of brands have found success with putting customers at the heart of their marketing communications – featuring their positive comments in ads, including testimonials on their websites, promoting guest blogs or even developing long-term relationships with influencers who have a genuine connection with what they do. This provides a compelling narrative that helps enormously to guide others over the barriers to purchase.

Reward And Refer

It’s also important to reward your loyal customers rather than overlooking them in favour of constantly chasing new ones. If someone takes the time and effort to recommend you, appreciating that and acknowledging their effort can redouble their loyalty and cast your company in a positive light. There are a number of ways to do this – full-on referral schemes where you reward the customer with money off, competition entry or free product is one route, but if you don’t feel you have the resources for that, even a thank you direct message, a shout out on your social feed or a personalised thank you email can be highly effective.

Are your customers feeling the love?

Plan Some Surprises

A way to get plenty of bang for your marketing buck can be to surprise customers at random. From choosing someone deserving to upgrade to sending a handwritten thank you note, bonus product or little free gift, gestures like this can have an outsize positive impact on the customer relationship, as well as providing great material for social channels. Customers who have had an extreme experience – be it positive or negative – are the ones who will talk about it, in person and online.

Use Your Database

When it comes to identifying who your brand advocates are, data will always steer you in the right direction, while a bit of social listening can quickly show you who is shouting about your company. Find those people and use your platforms to amplify their comments and empower them to share their enthusiasm for what you do more widely. Use Yelp or Google Plus to track conversations about your brand and thank those who are sharing the love. Customer advocacy can sound like another mountain to climb, but it doesn’t have to be. Simple steps and genuine actions will allow you to build your following, maintain great visibility, reward those who already love you and get through to those who are yet to meet you.