Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Brand Advocates Should Be Cultivated

Every bank talks about customer loyalty and advocacy, but many find it difficult to define what a brand advocate is, or what the value may be to their bank.

According to a study just released on the actions, motivations and influence of brand advocates conducted by Dr. Kathleen Ferris-Costa at the University of Rhode Island for social networking leader BzzAgent, brand advocates are 83% more likely to share information about a product than typical web users and 50% more likely to influence a purchase. Since they enjoy solving problems and helping other to make purchases and decisions, they are also 75% more likely to share a great experience and three times more likely to share their opinion with someone they don't know (they are also more likely to share a bad experience). In other words, this segment of your customer base acts and thinks very differently from your typical customer and should be searched out and cultivated.

According to the study, brand advocates thrive on social networks and in all types of social media communities. When researching products, they turn to social networks first and fully understand how to leverage the web for insight. When sharing product information, they recognize the power of social media to spread their messages to a wide audience. In fact, brand advocates write more than twice as many communications about brands as the average Web user. As for content curation, brand advocates forward between two and three times more of other people’s online communications about brands. Bottom line, they are not shy and they want to be recognized as a good source for advice.

To better understand the dynamics of the brand advocate, BzzAgent developed a Field Guild to Brand Advocates to illustrate the findings from their study as well as the infographic shown below.

Finally, brand advocates also want to be good stewards of the brands they promote and want to be recognized by the brand for their efforts. So how can a bank find advocates and promote their efforts as part of the overarching marketing communication strategy? You need to find them where they discuss your brand - on Twitter, Facebook, discussion boards or even personal blogs.

In an interview for this blog of Jeff Stephens, CEO of Creative Brand Communications, most banks think they already have “good word of mouth” or advocacy when, in reality, what they have is reactive word of mouth which really isn't advocacy. The real goal, according to Stephens, is to create and encourage proactive word of mouth. "With proactive WOM, a customer would eagerly approach another person on their own and say 'have you heard of Acme Bank? You have to check them out!' With proactive WOM, there's no prompting required for the referral."

The key thing to remember is that while Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) is related to and can integrate with traditional marketing, the thought process required to develop WOMM strategies has some key differences. According to Stephens, with traditional marketing, the question is “what can we say to the target market to get them to pay attention?” In WOMM, the question is, “what can we give people, that they will find so interesting, they can't possibly keep it to themselves?”

Not only should you provide good products for the advocate to share, but for those who utilize the web for positive word of mouth, you need to provide strong content which is of interest, special offers for 'friends' and 'followers', exclusive videos and items of interest that are easy to find and share. Find a way to reward those who spread the word (focus on quality as opposed to quantity) and measure your results. Using an online referral program can assist in this process. As Jeff Stephens says, "The key to a successful WOMM strategy lies in a simple principle: if you want people to talk about you, you have to be worth talking about".

Most importantly, it is imperative to look at your WOMM and advocacy efforts as an ongoing commitment as opposed to a program or campaign remembering that advocacy is difficult to achieve, but very easy to lose if not cultivated and nurtured.


  1. A brand new customer experience iPad portal from Backbase is presented at this year's Finovate event in San Francisco. This may be a portal banks could leverage for the implementation of an iPad solution.


  2. A recent study from Colloquy shows that the economy has impacted the level of WOMM that is occurring in the marketplace. Those households that feel comfortable with their economic outlook actually are sharing their views with others much more frequently than those who are not optimistic with the economy. For more information on this report, use this link http://ow.ly/4SULr

  3. Jim,

    This whole brand thing in banking has me thinking of 1) how important it is, and 2) how poorly I think we've done it.

    I find it implausible that somebody pro-actively promotes a financial institution, like those Ally Bank commercials where the dog quips "I love my bank".

    But when a friend complains about their bank, it would be nice for someone to jump in and say "I love my bank".

    Beyond that, people buy brands because 1) brings status to themselves (i.e. I drive a Lexus), or 2) it's the safe choice (well I chose a Marriott, so it must be good). I think we need to find a way to reach these ideals.

    ~ Jeff

  4. Brand advocacy should definitely be cultivated, I couldn't agree more. And I think Jeff offers a really important idea. Banks need to get that kind of status before that type of promotion can work though.