It’s well-known that referral is one of the best forms of marketing. It’s cheap, yes, but it’s sticky too. People simply trust other people more than big-budget campaigns. It’s why there’s a growing market for influencers – now a $14 billion industry, up 112 percent from 2019.
But what’s more powerful still is genuine advocacy. Not the paid-for influencers, but everyday people – those who have built their own relationships with a brand on the strength of a product or service and a set of shared values. They love the brand and the product range because it’s had a positive impact on their lives, and they want to tell people about it. To bring them into the fold.
Ideal in theory. So, how do you get there?
Create Moments of Delight
For some brands, it’s easier than others. Adidas, for example, has divulged that it “firmly believes that brand advocacy will create sustained growth for [its] brands.” Which makes sense, given that Adidas products tend to be in “high engagement” categories.
But what about fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands (products that are sold quickly and at a relatively low cost) — and the perception that they exist in “low engagement” categories? How can they turn everyday users into true brand advocates?
First, we need to stop thinking about FMCG products as low engagement. People do engage with these products. Maybe not everyone loves cleaning, but we all recognize the benefit. We enjoy the experience of having a clean home. Therein lies the opportunity, nourishing that positive engagement.
Moments of delight need to be extended beyond product use, ensuring that every connection someone makes with the brand is enjoyable and exceeds their expectations. Essentially, it’s making a memorable brand experience.
Lysol, for example, does this in many ways, not least by offering timely and relevant information through its Germ-Cast app. Users can find out the likelihood of a flu outbreak in their community, their child’s school, or other relevant sectors of society. As a product alone, Lysol can only do so much, but combined with a relevant and easily-accessed service, the brand establishes an ongoing partnership with their users.
Enriching brand experience doesn’t have to be altruistic, either. It can be used to deliver simple enjoyment or community-building. Red Bull is a super example of building a brand that stands for more than just its product. The brand’s involvement and support for pushing boundaries of human experience is arguably more famous than its product offering — and certainly has a wider audience engaged than the product alone.
“‘Buying in’ doesn’t mean simply buying (and enjoying) the product. It goes further than this, to investing in and aligning with the brand itself — its message, its purpose, its values.”
Celebrate Shared Values
Building genuine advocacy starts by recognizing that any brand needs the active support of people who buy into its proposition. “Buying in” doesn’t mean simply buying (and enjoying) the product. It goes further than this, to investing in and aligning with the brand itself — its message, its purpose, its values.
Awareness of brand purpose is higher than ever. A global study revealed that people are four to six times more likely to seek out, invest in, and champion brands that are driven by a commitment to positive social, economic and environmental impact.
The purpose for a brand should be obvious, intuitive, and consistent with the item or service that it has always sold. If you are establishing a purpose for Dettol (a UK-based hygiene brand owned by Reckitt), then it needs to relate to hygiene, safety, and cleanliness.
This doesn’t have to be some grandiose, world-changing goal, either. There is nothing lesser in addressing a need in a smaller, local community.
Once defined, use this purpose to direct how the brand should come to life. How does it behave? Why does it behave this way? What does it reveal about the brand at its core? Do potential partnership opportunities open up?
In doing this, you are taking responsibility for your brand actions, whilst also building the conditions that enable the business to flourish. It doesn’t go unnoticed, especially to those who resonate with the cause that you’re supporting.
Who are You Talking To?
Take time to consider who you want your advocates to be — your core demographic — and use this to guide how you speak to them. How will you define the people you are trying to connect with? Which platforms do these people frequent? What are their interests, and who do they already choose to connect with?
If your product is most likely to resonate with Boomers, then bear in mind that tech and e-commerce is often used as a necessity; it’s not the preferred choice. Instead, think about the physical interaction this generation will have with your brand. How will they discover it? What’s the tactility like? How do you get your core values across on the package?
If you’re targeting Gen Z on the other hand, they are digital natives. You don’t have much time to make a connection with them, but if you can, they’re notoriously loyal. Gen Zers can quickly become brand ambassadors, sharing on social channels and with friends. One of the more recent additions to the toolkit, TikTok, provides a particularly strong opportunity to go viral — one that brands are just starting to leverage.
Adapting for relevance is illustrated beautifully by the NBA’s use of varied engagement channels for different needs (and implicitly, different audiences). If you want game highlights, check out Instagram. News? Go to Twitter. Comedy, memes, and motivation? TikTok is the place for you. It’s critical to understand the different parts of your audience, as well as demonstrate to them that your brand is prepared to make the effort to engage them in ways that are accessible and desired.
A Coherent Brand Experience
Integral to advocacy is forming a connection between a brand and people who engage with it that goes beyond just “selling.” It’s about designing a coherent experience; demonstrating the value your brand is adding at every touchpoint, and ensuring this is communicated well.
“…Brands must recognize brand experience as an investment in their relationships with people, an investment that is most rewarding when developed and lovingly curated in the long-term.”
In clarifying who your brand is and what it stands for, you create the foundation for this connection. You define the brand’s relevance in today’s world, while acknowledging its shared responsibility for other issues in society at large.
Often, brand experience is deemed part of the “soft” side of marketing, with many brands reluctant to spend too much on it. This is short-term thinking. Instead, brands must recognize brand experience as an investment in their relationships with people, an investment that is most rewarding when developed and lovingly curated in the long-term. It is only in doing this that everyday users will develop organically into influencers.
Jos Harrison is Global Head of Brand Experience and Design at Reckitt, the UK-based company that owns brands such as Lysol, Airborne, and Calgon. He champions the role of human-centric design and creative business leadership.