Building a Brand? Tips to Attract Brand Advocates

A small business and a multi-billion dollar brand have at least one thing in common: the import role brand advocates play in word-of-mouth marketing.

Big brands have a lot going for them. They hire famous people to influence their brand name, and everywhere you go consumers know their name and love the products. Still, if you’re interested in building your brand, you can learn a lot from knowing how the big boys play.

For instance, look at how big brands use brand advocates — people who talk favorably about the brand and pass on positive word-of-mouth (WOM) messages to other people.  Brand advocates are just as important to a small business as they are to the bigger corporations out there.

Meet Our Expert Brand-Advocate Advisor

 SwarmBuilder Inc., is a provider of word-of-mouth marketing services, and it helps companies by aggregating, validating and engaging armies of brand advocates to spread the word about their favorite brands, retailers and member organizations. 

Brian Bond, vice president of marketing for SwarmBuilder, knows his stuff when it comes to attracting brand advocates. SwarmBuilder manages brand advocacy for nearly 200 famous brands including Bauer, Columbia, Gore and North Face, to name but a few.

Different Playing Field, Same Rules

Big brands engage a number of important advocates and focus on those people who have the most influence.  According to Bond, sponsored athletes and other famous faces are the biggest brand influencers, followed by the large retail staffs who sell the product to the consumer.

As a small business owner, you may not be ready to pull in Derek Jeter yet, but you can find people of influence — a popular and respected blogger or discussion forum moderator, for example. What you are looking for is a single person with a lot of influence and reach to bring into your brand advocate group.

You also have fewer people working sales (e.g. one store versus your product appearing in hundreds or thousands of locations), but with a little buzz and a good incentive, it is worthwhile to turn your own employees on to your product and into brand advocates.

The big brands might offer retail associate advocates a free product or a 50 percent or higher discount in addition to a complete training package.  The goal with this particular group of influencers is to have them try the product and make positive WOM comments based on their own experiences.  A small business can also offer these incentives — on a smaller scale. A big brand might seed 500 free products in their group of top influencers; you might send out 10 or offer a 20 percent discount to employees.

Another group of influencers that big brands engage are professionals and VIPs.  Bond says one of SwarmBuilder’s solutions is designed specifically to target these advocates. “You want to find the people who have the largest reach and the biggest influence in groups and organizations that would use your product,” he said.

For example, if your brand is ski equipment, a big name might look for influencers in organizations involved with the Olympics.  A small business, on the other hand, would reach out to a different level of influencers to find VIP brand advocates — like a ski resort owner.  

Building Online Brand Advocates for Your Small Business

If you want to create a buzz online with WOM marketing, Bond says the process starts by knowing who your loyal customers are. “It is worth finding the customers who have made repeat purchases and those who submit feedback to you, and make them your brand advocates,” he said.

 Loyal customers are important to your business, but this group of advocates will usually not have the influence that a VIP community member or popular blogger will have.  So, once you find the advocates from within your group of customers, Bond suggests that small businesses identify those who have the most influence and make them feel special and valuable to the business. 

With growing popularity of online social networking sites, another way to help create a buzz is to offer one-click access to popular social networking platforms and blogs right from your Web site. This will help people to quickly and easily send their friends and networks positive messages about you.

Be Honest About the Relationship

When you work with brand advocates, they do need to know the role they are playing. Bond says that the relationship between the business and the brand advocate has to be transparent.  The person needs to know they are a brand advocate, and that it’s a special relationship with no strings attached — meaning they aren’t obligated to “love” every product they try.

Vangie Beal is a veteran online seller and frequent contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com. She is also managing editor of Webopedia.com. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

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