As the rate of change in technology and communication continues to accelerate, brands are realizing the need to reach their prospects at the right place and at the right time. And their message must be powerful and compelling.
Through my 30 years in sales and sales management, and as a business owner, I have been an ardent student of marketing, lead generation, and customer acquisition. And I believe that marketing channels have gone through two major phases and are now entering a third phase.
The first phase was characterized by reaching out to potential prospects via the traditional methods of radio, TV, and print. Those channels communicated only one way---brand to consumer---meaning that the brand defined how their customers and prospects viewed them.
The problem with this one-way “dialogue” was that these channels could not produce results that could be measured with any accuracy. It was hard to attribute a sale to specific advertising, hence the adage: Only half of our advertising works; we just aren’t sure which half. (And we actually know it’s far less than half that "works.")
The advent of the digital world changed everything and caused a sea change. The advertising spends quickly started to shift from traditional channels into the digital channels, which is still the trend today.
The second phase is characterized by two-way communications and the ability to more effectively track and measure success relative to phase one. But because the digital domain is two-way, consumers familiar with the brand were able to share their perspectives about the brand’s products with their networks and other consumers looking for information. Prospects were then able to make informed purchases based upon this readily available and easily accessible information. The path to purchase changed dramatically; by the time a consumer was ready to buy, the brand often hadn’t had a say in the matter at all.
A brand could no longer define itself by what they chose to tell consumers; consumers defined a brand by what they told each other. Advocacy became a centerpiece in the new path to purchase.
Now Entering Phase Three: Advocacy
The third phase of marketing channels is still in process. It is becoming apparent that because advocacy is so important, brands need strategies and systems to generate, track, and manage it. They have no choice but to mobilize their customers, employees, and influencers, and turn them into highly productive and powerful sales and marketing channels.
And there are many reasons why the advocacy channel is a critical channel to build.
1. Consumers trust other consumers. Consumers are no longer forced to rely on a brand for information about the brand’s products. Why would they when they can obtain transparent information from their social networks and other consumers within minutes?
2. The advocate channel, once built, has a powerful voice. Advocates can now reach potential buyers at scale. And they can do many things on a brand’s behalf, such as refer friends, write testimonials, forward content, and share new products and promotions.
3. Advocates extend your salesforce. Advocates know when friends and acquaintances in their networks are “in market.” Brands don’t. It’s pretty simple; the more people you have marketing your products and services, the greater chance of conversion. These “social assets” typically perform much better than traditional channels.
4. There are now systems to help you track and manage advocate activity. It’s simple to empower advocates with tools to reach out to your prospects. With the right technology in place, brands can now track and manage advocates’ willingness to spread a brand’s message.
Your customers, influencers, and employees---your potential brand advocates---are the fastest growing sales and marketing channel today. By using the latest in social marketing software and technology, business leaders can identify and mobilize their advocates to build brand awareness, generate the highest-quality leads, and drive customer acquisition.
In phase one, results could not be attributed to one specific marketing channel. By phase three, brands have the ability to use technology to attribute every new customer to the specific advocate who generated that new customer.
Companies today need to have strategies and systems in place to be able to generate, track, and manage brand advocacy---and the brand advocates to do it.