influential brand advocates

Lots of talk on Twitter lately about the connection between brand advocates and brand influencers. (by the way, you may know brand advocacy better by the term “word-of-mouth”)

During these discussions, I tweeted:

Advocacy depends on what you do. Influence depends on how others react to what you do

In other words, there are many people who love your brand. They’re your advocates. They’re on your side. But many of those people only have small offline or online networks to spread recommendations to other potential markets.

But interspersed in your group of brand advocates are a few influencers. At cocktail parties, other people ask them about the latest big thing or they could even be the local newspaper’s movie/restaurant/etc critic. They might have a massive Twitter following, thousands of YouTube subscribers, lots of Facebook friends, or be connected in some other online network.

When it comes to earned impressions, choosing to invest in those influential brand advocates is essential to success. Your hope (and plan) should be that your advocates ARE influencers.

But for many, the challenge is to find the influencer needle in the advocate haystack. The answer is simple; provide tools and knowledge to all your advocates. The influencers will know what to do with it.

Isn’t that an unfocused waste of resources on the unwashed masses of your “uninfluencial” advocates?

It doesn’t hurt to help them spread your word either. Just as you wouldn’t turn down a press mention in a low circulated / low rated traditional media placement, you shouldn’t dismiss the long tail power of lots of “uninfluential” recomendations.

And while some of the networks are new, these are really not new concepts. Malcolm Gladwell discussed how ideas spread in The Tipping Point and I even discussed how well designed products and services have a natural zeitgeist quality in Brand Zeitgeist.

But for marketers, here’s the tough truth about advocates / influencers: This is not something that can be solved with just marketing. Having a great product / service and delivering positive customer service is what creates brand advocates. The new role of marketing is to provide the infuencers the narrative to spread the word about those great things.

a little too much honey in the hive

I’ll admit it. I’m a bzzagent. Mainly for two reasons: 1) the free stuff and 2) to keep up with what they’re doing by *ahem* “generating” word-of-mouth.

While they’re generating your WOM, I’ll be over here spinning some straw into gold for you.

Great products and great service generate WOM…not agencies. (if you want a good threshing out of the WOM problems with bzzagent, check out this 2005 post (and the great comments) from Brand Autopsy)

The actual reason I bring up bzzagent is this email I got tonight —

Hi BzzAgent chrishouchens, Thanks for your Frog suggestion! We’ll take a look at the site and see if we can add it as a Frog sometime soon. Keep checking the Frogpond you never know when your recommendation might jump in as your favorite green amphibian. Ribbit, ribbit! We look forward to hearing more of your ideas so keep ’em coming! Thanks, -The BzzAgent Hive

I threw up a little in my mouth before I got to the end of the email.

It’s enough that it’s the “hive”…and we’re “buzzing”…and “according to physics, we shouldn’t be able to fly”…etc. But how much cute crap can you squeeze in?

Frankly, I didn’t understand it when bzzagent got cute with the Bento Box which apparently was an idea designed to make a blog difficult to read. It was like the old board game of Mystery Date. When you opened the door, you never knew if it would be a good or bad thing staring at you.

There’s clever naming practices and then there’s brainstorming gone bad. It’s like the planning session for the local steakhouse. Someone had the idea of labeling the restrooms “Bulls and Heifers” and it just went downhill from there.

I mean, I’m guilty too. My email newsletter is called the “Shotgun Blast”. But I stop there. My blog posts aren’t “shells”. When I sign a contract with a client, it’s not a “Shotgun Wedding”

If you’re bent on being cute with your business, you should open a pet store.

Names

I just wrapped up 2 exciting action-packed days of analyzing data from a survey. Between walking around bleary-eyed with Excel speadsheets imprinted on my retinas, I noticed something.

The concept of the survey was for people to answer (open-response) what their top preferences were in defined business categories in a certain geographic area.

While most respondants gave a clear answer, there were several of these…
–“that place over on main street”
–“that restaurant over on Samsville Road”
–etc

And even out of those respondants who could name a business…several were misspelled, not exactly the right name, or corrupted in some other way.

Remember, these people are saying this business is their “favorite”. They are self-professed “fans” of this establishment. And yet, some of them can’t properly tell me what it is.

These are the same people that are now being recruited by businesses to be “buzz marketers”, “viral marketers”, “citizen marketers” and whatever other name we can come up with.

Back in the day, if you hired a “spokesperson” and they couldn’t get your name right in the commercials, you’d have fired them. Now you’ve got people you’re encouraging to create marketing content about your business and to spread it. And you can’t fire them. How do you make sure they’re sending the message you want them to?

You can’t. Word of mouth has always been corruptable and always will be. Try to provide the tools that your self-professed fans need to spread the message. The best you can do is to have a strong brand strategy to make sure that your base knows “the story”….and that they at least get your name right.

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Word of Mouth Lies

Burger KingWithout a doubt…Word-of-Mouth is the best marketing there is…hands down.

Of course, the trouble with WOM has always been how to influence/control/monitor it. In the past few years, strides have been made in this aspect with real world and online “buzz” campaigns.

These campaigns walk an ethical tightrope. Is this person giving me a glowing recommendation about a product doing it because they really like the product…or are they being paid/influenced to do so?

I think the ethical problem will continue to grow until we see a “payola” type scandal like that of the music/radio industry in the 60’s…and laws will then be written. The only thing that will stop it now is for marketers to police themselves….(yeah right)

Seth Stevenson has a great article about Burger King using shady buzz marketing to sell Halloween masks of their freaky Burger King mascot (who is an entire post unto himself)

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