When respected marketers like Scott Monty, Eric Ryan and Porter Gale – all former guests of this very podcast – agree on something, I pay attention. In this case, they all raved about Rob Fuggetta’s recent book on Brand Advocates. The word-of-mouth / brand advocacy concept has been around for ages, but Rob delves into how brands can really leverage their best fans and turn them into a marketing army. Ford has a great example of this actually. In their web portal, they build their community and take customer-told stories and turn them into amazing marketing content. This is a practical episode for any marketer looking to find and leverage your customers.
We speak often of the ever-tightening marketing budget and we speak equally often of how fragmented the media world has become. One can’t just spray and pray with a large TV buy for example (though traditional media remains an important part of the marketing mix). Taking all of that into consideration, leveraging brand advocates becomes particularly appealing. It’s a cost-effective tactic, and one that can be measured. Win/Win.
Take a listen below and check out Rob’s book. Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear.
** New Brand Fast-Trackers feature ** We will now include a full transcript wherever possible for our podcast posts. I hope you find it relevant and useful. -KK
[Lead Image by Tom Fishbourne]
Complete transcript is below:
Brian: Hello, everybody, and welcome to another episode of Brand Fast Trackers. I’m your host, Brian Martin. When CMO’s were recently asked, thinking about all the challenges that they have, what would they consider to be one of their greatest challenges, one of their greatest opportunities? More than two-thirds of them said the same thing, and it was all around the idea of trying to better leverage brand advocates, word of mouth. How do they take consumers who are buying, consumers who are not yet buying and how do they rally them into a marketing force? How can they better do that?
We wanted to get some insight as to that because I found that answer fascinating, so we turned to Rob Fuggetta. Rob is the founder and CEO of Zuberance. He’s also the author of Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force. Rob, thanks so much for joining us today.
Rob: Hi, Brian. My pleasure to be here with you today.
Brian: You know, I found the new book to be fascinating and the title is Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force. Before we begin, what is a “brand advocate”? It seems as though it’s a . . . You know, when I was a brand manager many years ago, it wasn’t a term that we used but I’m seeing that term more and more frequently today. What is a brand advocate?
Rob: Well a brand advocate is a person who recommends a company, brand, product or service without being paid or given incentives. That last part of the definition, Brian, is really important. Brand advocates will go out of their way to evangelize and recommend brands, products, services, companies and you don’t have to pay them. When you start paying people to recommend or refer or write reviews, you’re really not talking about a true advocate for a brand. That’s more like maybe an affiliate marketer or some sort of paid referral program but that doesn’t meet our definition of what a brand advocate is if you have to pay them or give them swag in exchange for the recommendations.
Brian: I’m wondering though, not to go off topic though, it seems as though there are a number of bloggers out there that are taking either money or advertising on their site or rather extensive swag, as you call it, not just product samples, some pretty extensive product. Is that different? I guess that would be considered different then, yes?
Rob: Oh, definitely, yeah. Well first of all, there’s a big difference between professional bloggers, media, celebrity endorsers, people like that who we refer to as “influencers” but not brand advocates. So when a company pays or gives some sort of swag to, say, a blogger in exchange for a blog post, a couple of things have to happen.
Number one, the FTC now requires that the company has to divulge that relationship between the company and the blogger and the blogger has to divulge that relationship as well when blogging about that product. So if you’re a blogger and someone sends you a case of wine in exchange for a blogpost, you need to divulge that when you’re blogging about that. So that’s very, very different than what we’re talking about when we’re talking about brand advocates.
Brian: Brands have been turning to bloggers over the years for authentic reviews, recommendations, viewed almost as far more favorable than advertising, because it’s viewed as more independent. Is the blogger losing some of their perceived, I guess, independence?
Rob: Oh, well, sure. Anytime you are being paid or given incentives to create content and recommend something, then it’s certainly impacting your objectivity. I’m not saying that there isn’t room in marketing for blogger outreach. We do it here at Zuberance as well. We do reach out to bloggers who have large audiences and who reach our audience, which is marketing professionals, and we definitely do want to educate them about what Zuberance is doing, what our customers are doing with brand advocates, and we want to influence them so that’s an important part of most any marketing program.
But at the same time, the data shows and research shows that professional bloggers, while they reach large audiences, are not as influential as word of mouth recommendations from friends and peers, especially friends and peers whose opinions you trust in that particular category. Just to give you one data point, Nielsen says 92% of consumers trust word of mouth recommendations online and offline from friends and peers and only about 22% trust bloggers. So your friends, when it comes to a brand generating real influence and real clout, really the number one way they can do that is find people who are just everyday consumers and who are enthusiastic about their brands and products and services and enabling them to tell the brand’s story to their friends. Word of mouth recommendations have always been the most influential form of marketing and they continue to be so today.
Brian: Got it. What is it about brand advocates? Obviously, you understand the motivations of bloggers. What is the motivation for someone who just simply enjoys sharing their opinion, who wants to go out of their way to talk about brands or services or products that they like? What separates these people from people who do not? Why do they do it?
Rob: Well there’s been a lot of research into that topic, Comp Score and Yahoo! did some research several years ago. Since then there have been other studies. We just did a study through a firm called “Loyalty Wins.” We asked a couple thousand people who recommend brands and products regularly, “Why? Why do you do this? What’s your motivation?” The number one reason in our research that we commissioned and also the research by Yahoo! and Comp Score and others, the number one reason that people recommend brands and products is because they themselves have had a pleasing experience, a positive experience with that product or service and they want to share that with their friends. They want their friends to benefit from that same positive experience as well.
That makes a lot of sense to me. If you think about it, if you go to a restaurant and you really enjoy the meal that you have and the experience that you have, it’s very likely that you’re going to tell others about that. You’ll tell your friends or peers or when you get that question that you inevitably get every Monday, “What did you guys do this weekend?” and if you went out and enjoyed a great restaurant or you saw a fabulous movie like “Lincoln”, I went to see that movie Lincoln; I must have told about 12 people about that movie and recommended it highly and neither the theater owner nor Paramount Pictures, I think it was Paramount that produced that film, neither the theater owner or the movie production company paid me for that recommendation.
By the way, Keller Fay, a word of mouth research company says that that happens 3.5 billion, with a “B”, billion times each and every day people recommend products and brands and services to each other without getting paid. So the motivation really is simple. It’s just you’ve had a great experience, you want to share that with your friends.
Brian: What’s interesting is you used two examples there that I think everyone can identify with. Who hasn’t recommended a restaurant and enjoyed doing it, right? Who hasn’t recommended a movie and enjoyed doing it? It seems as though those two examples are commonplace. It’s almost popular culture. Has that transferred over to the other, call it 40 or so categories of marketing, everything from airlines to consumer packaged good to sporting goods? It seems as though these two examples are really unique in our culture that we always share those things but do we share as much about the other things? And if not, why, and do you see that changing?
Rob: Well, actually the reality is that there are about a dozen categories of products, Brian, that are most recommended and they include categories like hotels, restaurants, consumer electronics products, software. Moms do a lot of recommending of products like strollers and child care facilities and even things like diapers. But word of mouth really impacts everything. It’s not just consumer categories, it’s also business to business categories.
Virtually nothing gets purchased in a B-to-B setting without a buyer asking for references or a buyer querying his business network to ask, “What was your experience like with Zuberance?” for example. So word of mouth, while it’s definitely pervasive in consumer product categories, it’s also very influential in business-to-business categories as well. So we believe this passionately that business today, in fact all of business, has become a battle for word of mouth and that’s true across both B-to-B and B-to-C categories.
Brian: Interesting. The example you used also, I like a lot, for me it’s very comfortable to recommend a restaurant or a movie, maybe even another product as I’m using my voice talking to different people. But in the past three years, of course, that’s changed. Obviously it’s changed because word of mouth has in some way become electronic with so many of the different social options.
I’m curious, are you finding that there’s any hesitation for consumers to authentically share their reviews, opinions, thoughts, not even so much reviews, just opinions and thoughts about brands? Or are you finding that, as commonplace as it was to just tell your friend verbally, it’s now just as easy to tell them electronically with typing?
Rob: Well, I mean, there are millions, hundreds of millions of product reviews online. TripAdvisor alone, has over 30 million traveler reviews on its website and that’s one website. Now, of course, Amazon, Yelp, Best Buy, other sites carry millions of reviews but now it’s gone beyond online reviews. Consumers are being prodded by brands to “tell us your story”, whether that’s Citibank or Rubio’s; a popular fast casual restaurant in western part of the US. Lots of other brands are reaching out to their consumers. Fat Tire beer did this recently.
So we’re inviting consumers to tell us their stories about their Kodak moment, their experience, how Citibank helps you grow your business or when did you eat your first Rubio’s fantastic fish taco. So it’s not just reviews, it’s the content created by advocates and other consumers in the form of reviews, stories, testimonials and even things like Facebook posts and tweets. There are some estimates that more than a third of the content on the Internet today is created by consumers, and a lot of that content is people recommending things to each other.
Brian: That’s wild. So the brand advocates are not only being invited in more by brands specifically, but they also are just utilizing new tools that are available to them to electronically do what in the past, was very natural to just do with their voice.
Rob: Well I think we’ve become a nation of armchair critics and product reviewers. So it’s not enough anymore just to go to a restaurant, you need to Yelp about it as well. When you see a movie, suddenly you become Siskel & Ebert. These reviews and commentary, by the way, by advocates and even by detractors are not limited to those types of product categories. We’re now reviewing each other online on places like LinkedIn; where now LinkedIn is asking about specific areas that you recommend a peer or fellow professional in. So, no, we’re all being invited to take part in the conversation and it’s happening in a big way.
Now, a couple things I will share with you and that is what Zuberance does is that we’re very sort of emphatic about this. We want to reach out and help a company identify its advocates and then give those advocates the tools to create content and share that content with their social networks. So I can share with you, if you’d like, some of the data around what happens when we actually identify advocates and we give them the opportunity to create content because this is happening with Zuberance in a more structured way. We’re not leaving it to chance. We’re the company working with brands, going out there and inviting people to tell their stories and to share their content with others.
Brian: Well, I wanted to ask you the question, from a brand stand-point, I understand how brands buy paid media. It’s very simple. They buy media impressions, whether it’s digitally, whether it’s through print, whether it’s through television. They’re buying media impressions. That’s very simple. How are brands leveraging these earned media impressions? Are there networks where they can go out and buy them? How are brands seeking to leverage the power of advocates?
Rob: Well, advocates are unlike paid media. You won’t find them on a rate sheet; and if you ask your ad agency to go out and buy some advocates for you, like they can buy some online advertising, they’re not able to do that. But through Zuberance and, frankly, through some other companies that are in the space also, what we do . . .
Brian: These companies are all considered influence or marketing platforms? Is that what they’re considered?
Rob: Yeah, Brian, a number of these companies have a slightly different approach than Zuberance. They focus on what’s known as influencers, so those are the top 100 bloggers in a specific category or bloggers and other influencers who, say, have a high clout score and their approach is to go out and find those influencers and get them to say something positive about your brand or product.
Zuberance is different than that. We really believe that the power, and the data shows that the true influence and the true power is with consumers rather than with professional bloggers; so we do customer advocate programs. What we do systematically through our technology and services is we help brands identify those consumers, those customers of theirs who are highly likely to recommend that brand or product or company. Then we give them the tools to create content and recommend the branded product and share that content with their social and business networks, so we have sort of a different approach. But, yeah, it’s really about taking the advocate and empowering the advocate as a content creator and as a marketer for that brand or product.
Brian: How can a company identify their brand advocates? How do they do it?
Rob: Well, you know, we do talk to some marketers and they’ll say, “Well, we know who our advocates are. We can see them recommending us on Facebook or Twitter or on Amazon or Best Buy or TripAdvisor or Yelp.” But really what you want to do is you really want to be able to identify advocates by a name and/or e-mail address. The reason that that’s important, you have to sort of build a database of your advocates; is that you want to be able to continually engage those advocates and reach out to them and make them a part of your marketing and a part of your brand. So you have to identify them in a way that you can reach out to them continuously, and that typically is to capture a name and/or e-mail address or Twitter handle so you can reach them individually and collectively.
Brian: Then as they do that how is it that your firm, how is it that Zuberance helps them in particular? Because I know you guys work with, just from reading the book, a number of significant brands, big case studies, how is it that you identify it for a particular brand? What’s the process you use?
Rob: Well, we’re big fans of using something called “the ultimate question for customer loyalty” and this comes from Net Promoter, which is a customer loyalty metric. We reach out on behalf of the brand or company and we ask customers, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this brand or product?” Those customers who respond 9 or 10 in response to that question we consider advocates. They’re called “promoters” in the Net Promoter lingo; but we call them advocates and these are people who, on that scale of 0 to 10 are highly likely to recommend the brand or product.
Now, we can reach customers across a variety of different communication channels and customer touch points. E-mail is an obvious one. If a company has a database of their customers and their e-mail addresses we can leverage that. But we also leverage other digital, social and even mobile channels to ask that question and even physical channels. So, a number of our customers which are large fitness companies, they’re asking that question on banners, or they’re posing that question on management portal that you might use to track your workouts. So, we’re asking that question a lot and through that process doing two things. Number one: identifying advocates by name and e-mail address, but also creating sort of a dynamic Net Promoter score for companies so they can track their Net Promoter score in real time.
Brian: That’s great and I know, I’m sure it’s a question that brands ask frequently. How is it that they can actually measure their results? What are they looking at once they’ve identified them? Once the program has been executed, what are they trying to find? What are they seeking?
Rob: Well, the step in the middle, Brian, is that once they identify these advocates is they want to activate those advocates, energize and amplify them and monetize them. So, the step in middle is once you identify someone who’s genuinely enthusiastic about your brand or product is then give them the tools to recommend. That might be to create a review, to rate and review your product or to write a story or a testimonial about their experience, or answer a prospect’s question or share some content, and offers with their social or business network. So there are about 10 different ways that you can systematically energize your advocates but the goal there is to turn your advocates into a sustainable marketing force.
A big way that brands do this is when they’re launching products – and most companies do launch products and service, it’s the lifeblood of their business – we engage their advocates to help be a front guard for that product launch. Give the advocates products early, let them give you feedback on them and then those who are advocates, enable them to create content and share offers. So that step in the middle, energizing, very important.
Now, as far as your question about what to measure, it really depends on what the goal of the marketing program or campaign is. I’ll just give you an example. If the goal of the campaign is to get advocates to create more content, more positive content like stories and reviews, all of that can be measured through the Zuberance system. So a company can say, “Look, our goal is to create 5,000 positive comments about this product in the form of reviews and testimonials and tweets and Facebook posts and if an advocate uses our online social applications to do those things I just mentioned, then we can track whether that amount of content was actually created by advocates and whether it was shared; and how widely it was shared.” So we can track through impression tags and other technologies, not only the content that was created but how broadly it was shared.
Brian: Last question, I know that you’ve been working with brands for a number of years. Brands typically take some time to adopt new thinking. There are agencies that support them, whether it be through creative or media or digital, they take a little bit of time typically to support new things, because the system almost seems to reward what has been done in the past. How are you finding the acceptance of products and new tools such as these? How are you finding the acceptance rates from the brands and the agencies?
Rob: Well, advocacy is hot, as you know, Brian. In fact, IBM recently interviewed over 1,800 CMO’s across the planet. I asked them what their number one digital priority is and the answer, 67% of those CMO’s said their number one digital priority was driving advocacy and loyalty. So advocacy has become a hot topic. It has moved to the front burner of most marketers’ agendas. Today, most marketers realize you really can’t launch a product, you can’t even change your logo, don’t even think of changing your logo without engaging the people who are passionate about your brand. Because if you don’t engage them, you might have a problem like the GAP had when the GAP changed its logo and its advocates rose up in a hew and cry about that.
So most marketers today get it. They know that the power has shifted from marketers to networks of brand advocates, and so they’re very keen to engage their advocates and enable them to become a very credible voice for their brand.
Brian: Fantastic stuff. The book is “Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force“. Rob, thanks so much for joining us today. Good luck.
Rob: Thanks, Brian. It’s been a lot of fun.
*Please note, the link to Rob’s book in this post are affiliate links.
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