I spent my time in college learning communication theory and looking at people’s habits while interacting with one another or being interacted with. I focused on the meta: communicating messages with deeper context and building greater meaning. I took a personal interest in interactive communication and brand building, specifically in online communities. That is why I find the topic of customer advocacy, i.e. the act of a customer advocating for your company based on the fact that they are a satisfied and loyal acustomer who feels valued, so fascinating.
I recently learned that there are different platforms which help companies cultivate an eager customer base, who will then, happily advocate your brand for you, based on incentive programs. I was instantly intrigued. I wanted to know the pros and cons. What makes this form of advocacy effective and productive for a company, and why? What are its downfalls?
I began looking at studies surrounding word of mouth marketing (WOMM) which drive a hard argument toward the benefits of WOMM.
- The cultivation of positive WOMM increases brand value.
- Negative word of mouth marketing can reflect where your product is in its lifecycle.
It turns out people teach each other valuable lessons through speaking to one another and have since the origins of language. This evolutionary development of learning through language is not lost on the technically savvy and empowered consumers who, according to Magnus Söderlund and Jan Mattsson, co-authors of an article published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, are now well versed in marketing methods and objectives. Söderlund and Mattsson outline in a segment called Marketing Literacy and Social Needs, the social nature of the population and the need to create value and social belongingness. Due to these social tendencies the individual might be encouraged to advocate for the product by preexisting factors. Validation of an individual’s ideas or beliefs is strengthened when backed by a community, especially if that community gets nothing in return for backing those ideas of beliefs. Asking them to use word of mouth marketing (WOMM) as a method of advocacy might be the little push they needed to become advocates for your company which in turn will help you build the standing value for your product.
Reflection of Market Share
This is something I found to be particularly interesting. Positive WOM or PWOM has been found to be reflective of brands holding higher market shares, according to a study published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing regarding the relative incidence of positive and negative word of mouth messages. This means that people are typically giving positive feedback about things they currently use, also known as their main brands. If you can keep PWOM high, it says something great about your product. Negative WOM or NWOM is found to correlate with consumers past brands so keeping an eye on the balance of the two is incredibly important. Giving consumers a forum to present these two forms of WOMM can vastly improve your odds of not becoming that “past brand”.
- The marketer (aka – your advocating customer) stands to gain which could have a lasting effect on the value of WOMM depending on how far customer advocacy goes.
Decreasing Value of WOMM
Customer advocacy is gaining momentum, and with all of the benefits of the different platforms out there, companies run the risk of tarnishing their customers reputation for genuine WOMM and advocacy. The reason WOMM is so valuable, is strictly because of the lack of incentive people have for advocating or promoting a product. This could easily change if we aren’t careful. For instance, if I tell you to sign up for my cable company because I am going to get a $200 bonus from the company, I am merely using my credibility for a pay out. Once you sign up and realize that the service is mediocre, not only is my reputation for recommending products to you shot, but you are stuck with 2 years of mediocre service for trusting me and signing up in the first place.
Overall, I believe there are a lot of great ways to utilize WOMM and advocate marketing software may be one of them. In the present day, the odds of WOMM decreasing in value with a landslide is low. I mean, it took a while for people to realize bad reviews on Yelp are probably left by that person who repeatedly leaves bad reviews on Yelp… By the time the two girls in the image above are old enough to join the B2B marketing world, it may be a different story.
Amanda E. McCoy holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from San Francisco State University and is a Content Writer for the San Francisco American Marketing Association.
Photo: Pixabay CC0 Public Domain By Olichel Adamovich