Customer advocacy programs are hot right now. And why shouldn't they be? Customers have the ability to be hyper-connected to the brands they love through social media, and they are gaining more influence over the buying process every day.
But advocacy is a fragile thing. Think about it: The customer's reward for endorsing a brand is emotional—a feel-good moment made possible because they've had repeatedly positive experiences with your brand and want others to enjoy the same.
Unfortunately, endorsements and warm-and-fuzzies don't pay bills, which is why some smart companies reward advocates with perks and other exchanges of tangible value as a way to reciprocate. Some examples:
- Grandfathered pricing. The fitness and nutrition company Beachbody honored legacy pricing on its nutrition shake, Shakeology, when rising costs forced it to raise prices in 2013. Many SaaS companies and wireless carriers do the same: You can remain a customer at your current plan, but they don't offer that plan anymore; so, if you need to make a change, you'll have to choose from one of the new plans (which, in many cases, are more expensive).
- Courtesy discounts. I had to ask for it, but Sprint gives me a 5% discount every month on my wireless plan because I've been a customer for over 15 years. I think I also get 10% off accessories at the store, but, well... Amazon Prime.
- Upgrades. MarketingProfs hosts its annual B2B Forum at the Westin Waterfront in South Boston, so the MarketingProfs team frequently stays there during the year to plan the event. MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley is one of those frequent guests; and since the Westin is pet-friendly, Ann's King Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Abby, is often a guest, too. When the Westin met Abby and wanted to show its appreciation to Ann and MarketingProfs for their business, the hotel gave Abby a Heavenly Dog Bed, embroidered with her name and the #abbythecavalier hashtag Ann uses when sharing Abby pics on Instagram.
Just arrived at the Westin Waterfront for a few days of MarketingProfs B2B Forum planning meetings... and look who was greeted with her own personalized Westin Heavenly Bed? Anna & the gang: You outdid yourselves in the Precious Department!! Big thank you from both of us! #abbythecavalier #abbading #heavenlybed #westinwaterfront #westin #ckcs #westinheavenlydogbed #monogrammed #ifitdoesntmovemonogramit #mpb2b @westinbostonwaterfront
However, the challenge of limiting your customer advocacy program to items of tangible value is that at some point those items become expected and no longer have the same value to your customer as they once did. In other words, the exchange becomes uneven again.
That statement isn't meant to infer that people are greedy and unappreciative. Rather, it's meant to demonstrate that there's a diminishing return to perks, swag, and discounts, and that all relationships need to evolve if they're to remain valuable to both parties. (We'll come back to this point later in the article.)
Now if you think about Dunbar's number and how it could relate to the customers highly engaged with your brand, it's easy to see that at some point you will max out on the number of customers with whom you are capable of maintaining a certain level of advocate relationship. And that means you have two options: let those customer relationships churn at the same level, or roll them into a deeper fold to make room for new customer advocates.
If you choose the latter, you are going to need to map out what that might look like, so let's start now by exploring the five stages of customer advocacy so you can create a plan that makes sense for your company.
Stephan Hovnanian is a content solutions architect at Bambu, an advocacy platform by Sprout Social. He has spent most of his professional career as an email marketer and business owner focused on helping companies build stronger relationships with their audiences.
LinkedIn: Stephan Hovnanian