The Importance of Advocacy Marketing in Your Communication Strategy

By: Tim Gass
Importance of peer involvement in your communication strategy

In today’s world, with rapidly changing technologies and the ever-increasing messaging clutter it can create, brand advocacy is becoming more crucial. It’s shown in study after study that trust in companies and the effectiveness of brand-based messaging is decreasing. The preference for peer-based messaging is growing every day, especially with younger audiences. The increasing need for authenticity, relatability and relevance when communicating to an audience can’t be ignored.

Often, you see program communications go out at launch, coming from a higher leadership level or messaged from the program or company itself. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying to throw that out the window, especially when it comes to management and an internal audience. Audiences are always going to look at leadership involvement and their support of a program to gauge whether they should care or not.

But, advocacy or ambassador-based messaging can be just as important in getting your audience’s attention. And if you’re not looking at how to factor that in, your program or initiative might not be reaching its full potential.

By engaging your channel partners with advocate marketing, you’ll distinguish your organization from all the others while developing a strong relationship with your partners.

There are many variables, depending on your goals, to how this could work for your objectives and program type ranging from traditional referral programs to social media’s paid influencer strategies. The fun for us is in hearing the intricacies of a program, its audience and our clients’ goals and figuring out how best to tailor concepts like this to the situation. But, whether we’re talking a B2B incentive promotion or an internal culture program, there are certainly a few consistencies and core principles that we always keep in mind. 

Start Early

During the initial planning stages, and at the same time you’re developing personas or compiling audience information, you can be assessing where potential advocate opportunities are. If you know your channel partners well, you might already be able to compile a list of candidates. But if not, you can also use the discovery stage as the opportunity to build out that lineup. Focus groups, partner interviews or just a review of partner engagement in past programs can not only give valuable info on how best to craft your program and communicate it effectively, but also help uncover who would be effective ambassadors.

Get Advocates Involved

Marketing effectiveness is increased by around 54% when advocacy is employed, making advocate marketing one of the most affordable ways to bring in more customers at a very low cost.
But how you initially reach out to your potential advocates and get them involved can be just as important as how you message the program to your full audience. The same concepts apply to their engagement. You should effectively position the additional reward opportunities that could be in store for them, the recognition or status of the advocate role, and any other exclusive perks or benefits.
Similarly, you need to make sure you engage and communicate to them frequently as you move towards your roll-out.

They should feel that their voice is being heard, and they’re prepared for their role at launch. You want to make sure this truly feels like an opportunity for them, and not just more work.

Leverage Your Shadow Channels

When mapping out the “who” and understanding who all consistently interact with the participants, we typically uncover roles and relationships that weren’t originally factored into the program. But, these related audiences could be huge influencers, and be considered by your participants to be even more of a peer than others in their same role. In these cases, consider how you can integrate these other roles or relationships into the outreach and support strategy, even if there’s not budget available to incentivize them in same way as your targeted group.

Humans, Unite!

The day we’re taken over by our robot overlords is fast approaching. But, in the meantime, good communicators are always looking to do their part in holding off this uprising (and additionally break through all the digital messaging clutter), by finding ways to add human and personalized connections to messaging.

As part of the broader communications and launch of your program, look for ways to leverage your advocate’s knowledge and experience of communicating and operating these types of initiatives, and have them support this important stage in ways that best fit their situation.

Arm them with collateral, resources and tools to distribute, but give them flexibility to work with their direct management and tailor how they do so.

Look for ways to prompt your partner advocates, and their related groups, to share from their kick-off. Encouraging your ambassadors to share photos, stories, feedback, etc. not just back to leadership, but across the full audience can help build community and overall engagement, while also driving home the unique qualities each location or area has pride in.

Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop.

Involving channel partner advocates obviously doesn’t end at launch. If you’ve established an advocate group, a strategic plan to keeping them engaged and supporting the program over your initiative is just as important as it was before the program start.

Audiences trust information coming from those like them, and the more any content shared is relevant and relates to them, the more impactful it will be. Look for ways to not just integrate the voice of your formal advocates, but the full audience into your ongoing content.

Give everyone opportunities to share their feedback, their stories and their preferences. How are they engaging with the program? What have they learned that others might benefit from? What awards are motivating them? Consider incentives for providing their thoughts, either as an ongoing earning opportunity or with short-term promotions, such as a best practice submission contest.

At the end of the day, you want your target audience to receive and see messaging not just from you, but from others they relate to and are influenced by. Including user-generated content reinforces that other channel partners are active in the program, and that continually investing time and energy into it is worthwhile.

Know what’s even better—this also means you’ve already started on the planning for your next initiative! Over the course of the program period, whether it’s an annual program or just a short month-long promotion, this user collected information puts you in a prime position to factor it in and adjust your next plan.
Want more advice on turning your audience into brand advocates? Check out our ebook, Brand Advocacy and the Emotionally Connected Customer.
Tim Gass
Tim Gass

Tim is a strategic, multidisciplinary creative director with over 10 years experience. While at ITA Group, he has developed and managed communication campaigns supporting engagement and incentive programs for several Fortune 500 companies. When he’s not helping ITA Group clients develop creative digital and print communications, you can find him enjoying live music with his wife, Erin or rooting for the Chicago Bears with their dog, Buckley.