As a small business, you’ll be well-aware that getting your name out there through marketing is a vital stepping stone to growth.
But customer recommendations can be particularly powerful. If a consumer is considering a purchase from a business they might not have come across before, hearing others’ experiences can be very persuasive.
In fact, seventy percent of consumers fully trust the opinions of others online. That makes it one of the most trusted forms of advertising, second only to recommendations from friends or family.
Big businesses have been using advocacy marketing for some time. Just think of the armies of dentists reviewing and recommending toothbrushes.
Small businesses equally have a lot to gain from advocacy marketing.
By setting up your own customer advocates – and participating in the schemes offered by other organisations – you can help your small business gain a big profile.
So, how does customer advocacy work?
The value of word of mouth is already familiar to small businesses. Customer advocacy takes the idea one step further, with a structured approach.
As the name suggests, the model involves putting the voice of the customer at the centre of your marketing.
That’s finding ways to share customers’ experiences, whether through case studies, quotes, reviews or ratings. It’s also about making customers much more involved in your overall strategy, by creating a personal relationship and seeking active feedback.
With customer advocacy, you can find out what your customers think of products, services and features, get their input into new offerings and even run marketing ideas past them to see what resonates. It’s a powerful tool for not only promoting, but directing your business.
Four steps for attracting advocates
Whether you’re running a coffee shop, manufacturing bespoke prams or running a creative agency, there are some simple steps you can take to build a customer advocacy programme.
1) Focus on where your customers are looking
Start by thinking about the channels where your customer community can engage. It might be worth setting up a new, dedicated forum, like a Facebook page or website.
Equally, consider where your customers come from right now, such as platforms like Etsy or forums popular with your demographic, such as Mumsnet. Reaching customers where they are will boost your advocates’ effectiveness.
2) Help happy customers to tell their story
Helping customers to talk about their experiences in their own words is the best way to collate authentic content.
You might share a set of questions or invite people to submit short videos about their careers or the story of their business. And of course, you can prompt people to share thoughts on their experiences with your company.
3) Make sure you’re giving value in return
Giving back to advocates might be something as simple as offering a free coffee for tagging your shop on Instagram, or entering contributors into a competition for vouchers.
But you can also deliver value in other ways. Your company could share unique insight that helps customers solve their biggest challenges, on anything from accounting to setting up a nursery.
Customers can also help each other. Creating a sense of community will help to build a strong network of advocates that lasts over time.
4) Listen and respond to what your customers say
When customers are sharing their experiences, make sure you read and respond. Unique replies are a great way to create lasting relationships with your customer base.
At the same time, customers could be sharing invaluable insight that could shape your offering for the future. It’s well worth taking the time to be present.
Becoming a customer advocate
Small businesses especially can equally benefit from being part of other companies’ advocacy programmes. Larger organisations can provide you with a wide platform to tell your story, build your brand and network with your peers.
We have a community called Cisco Gateway for our customers small or large. Participants can discuss their challenges with other organisations, and get specific training on skills like promoting your business, selling ideas to your boss or even becoming a thought leader.
We also invite people to share stories of how tech has helped to shape their business. It could be international teams in an animation studio using Cisco Webex to collaborate on a film, or a coffee shop offering free WiFi with Meraki Go.
Of course, we practice what we preach – with rewards for our members from mentoring sessions with industry leaders to PlayStations.
We’re (perhaps) biased, but the network you choose doesn’t have to be Cisco. Many large businesses have strong customer communities for small businesses, and taking part can be a great way to learn, strengthen your profile and ultimately grow your business.
The power of happy customers
Customer advocacy works so well because at heart it’s very simple. Happy customers will already be talking about you. With a smart programme, you can reward and build a deeper relationship with your best customers, while at the same time using their stories to attract new ones.
Participating in advocacy programmes equally gives you access to new insights and opportunities, from companies you already like. It’s a win-win. So it’s well worth considering how customer advocacy could help your small business to grow.
Interesting in learning more about Cisco Gateway? Check out our community.