Social media has heralded the Age of the Consumer, right? One-to-many dialogue, real-time feedback, special offers, and quirky viral memes. But a higher volume of communication does not automatically result in brand loyalty or advocacy. It is worth noting that the default vernacular used to describe consumers who chose to interact with brands on social channels is "Follower."
While the tools have gotten more sophisticated, the challenges remain the same: how does a brand effectively build communities of advocates?
Not everyone is an influencer and not every influencer is influential in all areas. Do you go to the same person for recommendations on wine, cars, beauty products and technology? Neither does anyone else. By carefully identifying and curating those influencers who are seen as the "go-to" resource for recommendations in a specific category, you will have a stronger influencer campaign by aligning with a credible peer authority.
According to word of mouth marketing experts Keller Fay:
the number of brand-related social networking conversations is relatively minor when compared to the billions that take place across America via offline channels—face-to-face discussions at home, in the workplace, book clubs, youth sports, parent groups—anywhere people come together and spend time talking. Even in today’s digital world, 90 percent of recommendations that lead to consumer action happen offline.
So while potential influencers likely have a robust social media presence it would be a mistake to weight that as more important than their offline networks. It is possible to build a social presence without having much of a real-world social life. These are broadcasters rather than true influencers and their constant stream of information will generate awareness but will do little to build advocacy for your brand.
To get an influencer emotionally connected to your brand and excited to share their discovery with their network, you have to give them more than just a product sample. The product must be connected to an experience that underscores the brand value and provides a real-life context.
When we helped Levi’s launch their new CurveID jeans to college women, we popped up a stylish studio where co-eds were custom fit into their perfect pair of jeans and received mini makeovers so they felt and looked fabulous. Would giving away coupons for free jeans online have accomplished the same thing? Sure they’d have gotten a lot of takers but their stories wouldn't have been as compelling.
Influencers love to be the first to discover something, whether it's an entirely new brand, a new offering from an established leader or a dormant brand experiencing a renaissance. If discovery is their first love, their second love is sharing that discovery, ideally offering their friends a taste of the insider access they enjoyed. This can take the form of special offers, an invite to an exclusive event or a surprise and delight package that shows up on their doorstep.
Building social sharing tools into the real-world experience will allow influencers to naturally and organically broadcast happenings in the moment via photos and hashtags that curate the conversation across channels. For example, for the launch of Malibu Island Spiced, we created visual and engaging experiences with Facebook and Instagram in mind, and provided technology onsite to allow for photo capture and sharing in real-time.
Brands trying to generate excitement and buzz often focus on their target consumers and entirely ignore what can be their biggest and most credible advocates—their own employees. One of the mantras we share with clients is: Everyone is a consumer. When working with PepsiCo to launch a new campaign for one of their brands, we always activated an experience for employees and bottlers at their campuses first to generate excitement around and support for the initiative.
Carefully curated and thoughtfully engaged advocates, either in your company or out, can do the heavy-lifting for you—igniting brand passion and recommendations amongst their networks in the authentic ways brand marketers dream of.
—Cassie Hughes and Gabrey Means are the co-founders of Grow Marketing, an engagement marketing agency that crafts compelling experiences for targeted consumers, communities and brand advocates.