The marketplace continues to evolve at an accelerating rate. It is easier to create a message and deliver it to consumers but harder to cut through the clutter. Today, two-thirds (67%) of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media — with two-in-ten doing so often. In addition, on each social medial platform, paid content is increasing as brands increase spending to get their message in front of consumers. Confidence in social is eroding as the ratio of trustworthy information diminishes and stories of fake news proliferate.

What is a brand to do in these times? Many are turning to advocacy programs to share their messages. Advocacy Marketing focuses on developing relationships with consumer advocates who are willing to share their views about the brand. More than 80% of shoppers research online before buying, and having people publicly advocating for the product gives these researchers something to find and study.

Why do you think a referral or advocacy program is important?

The right advocacy programs can be a game changer in connecting the consumers to brands. It is increasingly difficult to differentiate products. Brands need to break through traditional marketing channels and connect at a deeper level. Almost all purchases are now are informed by online research. Before making a purchase, consumers are looking for a recommendation from a friend or influencer. An advocacy program can be a powerful tool in supporting and growing the organic referral process. Potentially more important, programs can increase the engagement with existing customers to reducing churn and acquisition costs.

What is in store for the future of referral or advocacy marketing?

Driven by technology, changes in marketplace continue to accelerate. Digital will become even more omnipresent at all touchpoints. The ease of comparing products with consumer reviews will increase as more tools are developed to aggregative information.

Brands will become better at building holistic consumer relationships at every touchpoint. For advocacy program, the differentiator will be utility. First and foremost a program must deliver immediately value. It must reduce a paint point or address a need. Once the program becomes a regular tool in the consumer’s toolbox it can be leverage to create true emotional response. Emotional connections will then be leveraged to create an enduring attachment can create huge increases in lifetime value.

Increased personalizing will be a common theme as brands become more sophisticated. Everyone wants to feel special and be rewarded. Brands will respond with more tailored products. For example, customers with heathy lifestyles will expect that they should be recognized and rewarded. Using technology that is seamless and invisible consumers will take advantage of the programs that make their lives better with little investment.

How to measure your referral or advocacy program?

Developing KPIs for each stage is critical to managing a successful program. In the startup stage, consumer engagement is the primary driver. Acquiring new users and keeping them engaged through whatever means necessary with be the initial focus. As the product matures, developing an emotional connection will become more of the focus. Using consumer interview and survey (NPS) can help measure the success of new features. Referral count is the long-term measure of success that completes the loop. Since good consumer advocates have an outsized influence over brand perception, it is critical to continually monitor sentiment and take action if there is any significant negative trends. Brands can deploy powerful social media monitoring tools (Sprout Social, Spriklr) to track trends in real time and take action if needed.

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