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Brand advocacy: How to build an army of brand advocates for your e-commerce business

illustration of a person holding a product and a shipping box next to other products: headphones, apparel, water bottle, and a bike

Brand advocacy. It sounds fancy… like brand advocates should be holding some sort of golden shield, ready to protect their favorite brands at all costs.

The truth is, brand advocates are typically normal people (sans golden shields) who really love a company and aren’t afraid to say it. They help create social proof and trust in a brand, usually by word of mouth.

A brand advocate is the type of person who will tag their favorite buys in social media posts, share a post on LinkedIn about their company’s latest exciting news, or rave to their friends and family about a new product they can’t get enough of.

And in the e-commerce space, they’re the kind of people you want (and need) to be invested in your brand.

What is brand advocacy?

Brand advocacy is simple. It’s any consumer behavior that involves supporting or recommending a brand. Some may call brand advocates “stans” or superfans.

Followers sharing your products on their stories? Brand advocacy. (And UGC!)

A friend chatting about a new fashion subscription at brunch? Brand advocacy.

An employee posting about positive company culture? That’s brand advocacy too.

Brand advocacy can include everything from formal referrals that fall within a company’s loyalty program to simple engagement and positive reviews from everyday consumers.

Oh, and one of the best things about brand advocates? They are more than willing to provide customer feedback and insight into the overall buying journey.

For e-commerce brands, having a loyal base of advocates helps expand customer reach and fosters an environment where change can be made based on actual customer experience.

Why does brand advocacy matter in e-commerce?

We live in an ultra-saturated, digitally-driven world. For every e-commerce brand that a potential customer is interested in, there are 10 more to choose from that likely look very similar to the first. This is where brand advocacy comes in.

Brand advocacy helps differentiate online merchants from a sea of other digital storefronts, without having to use any robust marketing strategies. Just simple and organic brand visibility. Let’s dive in:

Word of mouth marketing is a powerful force

When our plates are full of decisions and a plethora of different options, what’s one of the first courses of action? Research and recommendations. It might be a call to a friend asking what subscription service they use for streaming, or a quick Google search for customer reviews.

While personal recommendations take the lead on the most credible forms of referrals, the online review is almost as effective, with over 88% of consumers trusting reviews as though they were from friends, families, or coworkers.

The customers who are leaving positive reviews on your site and recommending your products or services to others are your brand advocates, and they hold the power to convert potential customers faster than you can send an email or chat message.

Brand advocacy builds brand awareness

Brand advocates talk about your brand with passion and pride. They expand your reach and boost brand awareness organically and (most importantly) without any overly-aggressive sales language. Their opinions come from real experiences and have a bit more weight than what a brand itself can put out there.

For example, a brand’s language might revolve around how their products are the top tier, “best,” or highest value – but this rhetoric might not have the same impact as consumers stating the same in a review or post.

Why? People trust other people. In today’s digital world, there are more than enough scams around in e-commerce to create skepticism over what’s real and what’s not. Brand advocacy helps decipher the real from the fake.

Advocacy campaigns provide you with a rich source of content

In many ways, brand advocacy campaigns are all about spreading some joy. Usually, the content is light, friendly, and genuine. This means it’s perfect for most social media channels and can be used in a variety of ways.

Take Coca-Cola’s Happiness Machine.

The world-renowned beverage company strategically placed vending machines that delivered a never-ending supply of Coke to unsuspecting college students. The results? A ton of delight and happiness was captured on camera – plus a healthy dose of word-of-mouth marketing as consumers ran to tell their friends.

Plus, 1.25 million more younger people bought Coke following the campaign and sales rose by 11% in the US.

Brand advocates have the highest levels of customer loyalty

A loyal customer will return to your brand again and again. An advocate? They’ll shout your brand’s name from the highest mountain top (to the largest social media following they have).

While loyalty and advocacy are two distinct concepts, they are incredibly intertwined. A brand advocate is likely a very, very loyal customer.

Think of it this way: Someone who is 100% positive that your product or service is something they want to promote or suggest to their friends has probably tried it themselves on a few different occasions.

When developing brand advocacy programs, turn to your customers who are scoring high on customer satisfaction metrics like Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), and Customer Effort Score (CES).

Some of your biggest brand advocates could be ready to share their feedback to audiences that you haven’t even begun to reach yet.

Who are your brand advocates?

C-suite

Company leaders are some of the most influential people in their respective industries.

A VP of Business Development or Director of Marketing may have hundreds of professional connections within their current vertical and whatever other industries they’ve worked in. That’s a huge reach of professionals in the workforce and an opportunity for increased brand visibility.

All it takes is a simple LinkedIn or social media re-post/post of your company culture, products, new initiatives, or press.

Employees

A brand advocate doesn’t have to be someone outside of your company’s organization.

In fact, you may not realize it, but your employees could be some of your biggest brand ambassadors. They know your business inside and out. They understand your audience, they could be a part of your loyal customer base, and between LinkedIn and other social media platforms – employees have connections!

Many of them applied for their positions for a reason: perhaps they enjoyed your products themselves or found the company growth and culture something they wanted to be a part of. Whatever it is, members of your internal community are perfect candidates to develop a successful employee advocacy program.

Partner brands

Business partners are usually other brands that complement your company’s strategy. For example, Ryder E-commerce by Whiplash offers end-to-end fulfillment services, partnering with return companies like Loop and Happy Returns to ensure a more seamless reverse logistics experience.

Why does this matter in brand advocacy? Your partner community is an incredible ecosystem of brands that are likely already working with your target market. Why not leverage them to build brand awareness through co-marketing, testimonials, case studies, and more? It’s a win-win for both companies.

Customers

Customers are easily a brand’s most influential and important advocates.

They are the most likely to positively affect purchasing decisions through reviews, peer-to-peer referrals, and word of mouth. Why? Simple – what current customers have to say is much more impactful than traditional marketing techniques.

Rather than spending an incredibly high percentage of the marketing budget on paid advertising, brands that build an army of advocates have a greater ROI, more brand recognition, and a broader reach.

What is the difference between brand advocacy and social selling?

We’re talking about customers selling a brand through their social channels, right? Isn’t it just social selling? Not exactly.

First off, social selling isn’t only about “selling” a product – it’s more about building relationships with customers (therefore, generating leads).

Brand advocacy and social selling are similar in the sense that they both utilize social media to build a brand image and develop relationships with prospective customers. The difference is that social selling comes from internal stakeholders within a company with a goal of business growth.

Brand advocates aren’t getting paid to post, they don’t have to reach certain KPIs throughout the year, and they don’t have a specific target market they’re looking to reach. They’re everyday customers who want to share their experiences in the hopes that friends, family, and more can have a similar one.

How to design a brand advocacy program that grows your e-commerce business

1. Decide how you’re going to measure brand advocacy

Due to its illusive nature, brand advocacy can be quite difficult to track – there isn’t a tried and true method of X + Y = good or bad.

Instead, e-commerce brands will need to track a plethora of metrics, including content-based numbers like social media follower counts, engagement rates, and web traffic as well as sales, conversion rates, retention rates, and customer satisfaction.

The best thing to do is choose the set of metrics you’d like to track and begin organizing your data as soon as possible, keeping in mind any advocacy campaigns you have lined up for the year as well as how many brand advocates you have.

2. Work out who your best brand advocates are – and where they are

Start with social listening. Track your brand mentions, especially those containing positive keywords. Scan your customer reviews. Send surveys via email to your customer base.

Understanding where your most engaged and loyal customers are is essential. Are they on social media? Are they posting reviews to Google or your website? Gathering as much information as possible will help your team better understand your community, where outreach is needed.

3. Incentivize user-generated content creation

UGC isn’t going to magically happen. Not every customer wants to post and tag on their personal pages; however, developing the right strategy can help encourage a brand advocate to speak up.

For example, creating a fun branded hashtag to use in a social media campaign might get some of your advocates posting more, and recognizing their content on your brand’s page helps develop a positive, two-sided, relationship.

4. Find ways to reward your best brand advocates

It’s always polite to say thank you. The same can be said for brand advocacy.

A brand ambassador might love a particular brand so much that they can’t stop talking about it. But if that brand doesn’t do anything in return, they might lose some of their enthusiasm. Avoid this by giving your brand advocates a sort of VIP treatment. Maybe you provide them with some exclusive content, a shout-out on social media, special events, and discounts.

The goal isn’t to buy anyone out for positive reviews and social proof. Instead, it’s a simple way of acknowledging your gratitude for their continued support.

5. Make sure your brand advocacy program is scalable

If a brand is only able to work with a handful of brand advocates and track a few metrics at a time without getting completely overwhelmed, it may be time to reconsider the approach. A powerful brand advocacy program should be able to scale quickly and seamlessly.

As your loyal customer base grows, your brand advocates will increase as well. Ideally, you’ll want software or a report that automatically tracks the numbers you’re keeping an eye on, as well as a team of associates and leadership that can develop internal and external advocates and advocacy initiatives.

6. Always ask for feedback from your brand advocates

Like we said before, brand advocates are some of the most loyal customers. They want to bring new customers onboard and see their favorite company’s growth climb. This means they’re the perfect candidates for feedback.

They aren’t going to give you a big old 0 with no explanation. If they’re unhappy, they’ll explain and offer suggestions. If they’re satisfied, they’ll tell you why.

The feedback from advocates is invaluable. Make sure you’re identifying who your best advocates are and go above and beyond to get their feedback. Send them a personalized DM or email. In some cases, it might be worth setting up a quick call or video chat.

Brand advocacy examples to inspire you

Glossier

Glossier leverages its loyal customers (both everyday consumers and social media influencers alike) for a heavy dose of user-generated content across its social channels.

a glossier instagram post featuring a customer brand advocate

Lululemon

Lululemon has brand advocacy down to a science. Not only do they engage with essentially everyone who directs a tweet their way, but they also have a stellar, worldwide brand ambassador program.

lululemon page advertising how to become a brand ambassador
tweets from lululemon brand ambassadors with responses from the company

Peloton

Peloton asked its Instagram community to show off their workout regimes. With a branded hashtag, #ShareYourStreak, they were able to find and celebrate some of their most engaged members and re-share their awesome content.

peloton instagram story calling for customers to hashtag their peloton stories
peloton instagram story reposting a customer’s three-year streak

Starbucks

Starbucks has created an entirely separate Instagram account, @starbuckspartners, along with a branded hashtag #ToBeAPartner, for its employees. The goal? To celebrate their employees and give their customers a behind-the-scenes look – green apron style.

instagram profile for starbucks partners’ account

Is brand advocacy really all it’s cracked up to be?

Without a doubt, brand advocacy contributes to the greater success of a company. There’s no marketing strategy that can compare to genuinely enthused customers and employees, sharing authentic opinions with their communities.

Having an effective brand advocacy program boosts sales, brings in new customers, and above all, builds a community of loyal members who want to see their favorite brand thrive.

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