In this last year of disruption and physical isolation, marketers everywhere have been rethinking how they can reach and engage customers in our new digital-first society.
Consumers still want genuine human connection in virtual interactions, even if they can’t experience a brand in person. So savvy brand marketers are getting back to basics — back to creating more intimate experiences through the personal engagement of their advocates, their most vital supporters.
Why is advocacy marketing so critical now?
Consumers, especially younger ones, are over advertising. They’re jaded by superficial paid influencers and manufactured perfectly packaged brand messages. They can see them coming a mile away. What they want is straight talk, honesty, and genuine recommendations from the real people they trust. These desires haven’t changed in centuries, but the format has.
Now, the greater demand for transparency and the explosive rise of original, at-home videos and photos on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and other social channels has confirmed it: Authenticity is what consumers not only want but expect from brands today.
Marketers have responded with advocacy marketing programs; with a focus on advocate-led social content. In many ways, the global crisis has leveled the marketing playing field and created a new digital playbook — that’s really borrowed from the oldest playbook of real word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM). Audiences will be loath to go back to being force-fed inauthentic, manufactured, brand-led messages in whatever the post-pandemic future looks like.
The winning bets will be on true-to-life content created and shared through the voices of dozens or hundreds of advocates.
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Advocacy Marketing is the Best Type of Marketing
Countless studies have declared WOMM to be the most effective kind of marketing ever. And it’s no wonder: People don’t build relationships with companies; they develop relationships with other people. And the people who make the best word-of-mouth endorsers are brand advocates: The individuals most closely associated with an organization, directly or indirectly, who truly love it and proudly share that love with others many times over.
In most cases, these first-degree evangelists — employees, partners, customers, fans, and more—collectively have more followers on their social accounts than the organization itself. So, they have a unique ability to extend the brand’s reach both authentically and exponentially.
Brand advocates are 50% more likely to influence consumer purchase decisions. That makes sense, as nothing beats a genuine, personal recommendation for a brand. In fact, nearly three-quarters of consumers say personal recommendations are a critical influence on their purchase decisions. People trust company, product and event picks from their closest circles: their friends, family, co-workers, and even celebrities and other notable people they admire.
And these interactions now more frequently happen through digital and social channels, where consumers are spending more of their time. Brand advocates are growing in importance within such virtual social recommendation circles. A recent study showed that while 38% of worldwide internet users follow brand accounts on social networks, there is a large opportunity for brand advocates to extend social audience reach and engagement:
51% follow people they know in real life, 33% follow actors, and nearly 1 in 4 follow sports stars.
Word-of-mouth and personal suggestions are core marketing concepts that are more relevant right now than ever, despite the distraction of digital advertising. Consumers are ignoring ads at a faster pace, and social media has eroded the control brands have on their personality, image and voice. It has also changed consumer buying habits and put them in charge of determining how truthful and authentic brands are. Over 85% of people now say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support. That is particularly true for younger consumers.
An organization’s message is now firmly in the hands of individual voices, collectively more powerful than even the largest marketing budgets. Forward-thinking marketers know that leveraging the right brand advocates on social can multiply those individual voices into thousands, and proxies for these trustworthy people connectors can do more harm for a brand than good.
Paid Influencers Are Almost Authentic
These proxies — paid influencers — have cropped up across every social network with their knack for showcasing brands in ‘real life.’ They’ve promoted them as if they were personally endorsing and recommending them to their often large follower bases — and bending the reality that they’re actually not.
Paid influencers, however effective in the short term, aren’t authentic brand advocates. They generally don’t have a genuine interest in or commitment to the organizations they represent; they’re merely seeking a paycheck and a bigger audience. And they’ve saddled companies with a number of issues negatively impacting their brands: from poor representation and outright damage to declining levels of trust, transparency and brand lift. Plus, they’re not inexpensive, regardless of their follower count sizes.
Meanwhile, consumers have become more sophisticated — they see through the advertorial veneer and recognize the ‘personal’ recommendations in paid influencer posts for what they really are: the straight-up brand advertising they’ve been avoiding. They’ve stopped trusting these messages, preferring quality content and credible seals of approval from their real connections.
That’s likely why only 18 percent of people trust brand influencers these days, while 92 percent trust brand advocates. Consumers want less highly-produced, impersonal and stylized brand content talking at them, and more intimate, honest content and conversations. That’s what moves the needle beyond awareness to higher engagement, activation and conversion. Consumers find this authentic content nearly 10x more impactful than influencer content when making a purchasing decision.
It’s not hard to see why real messages from real advocates inspire the actions that audiences take and feel good about.
It’s Time to Prioritize Authenticity
The most effective advocates tend to work with brands in some way or are already customers. They have meaningful and likely long-standing connections to these organizations that shine through in their communication and content. Consumers are more open to engaging with them and more willing to act on their trusted messages — in part because they’ve become more conditioned to seeing them sharing and creating authentic media on their social feeds every day.
At Greenfly, we’ve seen this shift to advocacy marketing happening across industries, particularly in this period with more limited opportunities for brands to reach audiences in person. Organizations are tapping into their athletes, talent, staff, political surrogates and brand ambassadors — even consumers themselves. These individuals are driving personal dialogue and brand excitement through their original, first-person videos and photos. They’re capturing their life at home and on the go while likely featuring some aspect of their favored brands at the same time. And those authentic stories are outperforming the brands’ expensive, studio-produced campaigns.
In the early days of the global crisis, CANAL+ turned to its talent to directly share tune-in and other promotional videos and photos with their social followers. With distributed teams and talent, Greenfly helped the CANAL+ social team drive awareness of its Validé series launch, which garnered 15 million views on MyCanal — making it the most successful premiere in their history. Top talent shared content to support the launch, helping CANAL+ dramatically expand its organic reach and brand connection around the world.
“Greenfly has transformed my job by making it effortless to distribute media with our on-air talent and now so easy to show the impact of their human endorsement in our digital marketing efforts.”– Sébastien Audoux, Head of Sports Digital Content, CANAL+
If you’re working in brand or digital marketing today, there’s no better time to embrace advocacy marketing strategies. Choose authentic word-of-mouth endorsement through real brand advocates and move away from inauthentic influencers as stand-ins for the people that love your brand. It’s the winning move that will drive your success in 2021 and in the years to come.
Thinking about launching a brand advocacy marketing program this year? Read our complete, free guide about harnessing the power of brand advocates.