Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What Advocacy Really Means (To Marketers, Just Like Everyone Else)

Mayur Gala, Unsplashed,
Marketers cannot open their inbox or browser without being bombarded by articles and pitches about advocacy. It’s a hot topic, and for good reason—in an age of social media and always-on information, brands’ reputations and financial results increasingly depend on what people say and share. But despite all the articles and the trend towards deploying employee and customer advocacy platforms, marketers continue to be disappointed with their word of mouth outcomes. The problem is not just one of execution or even of strategy but of definition.

Marketers have a habit of redefining words to suit their needs. A couple of months ago, I explored how marketers redefine loyalty so as to make it easy to measure, but in so doing, marketers impair their ability to assess genuine loyalty. By equating repetitive purchase behavior as a sign of loyalty, marketers substitute an important and valuable metric of affinity and future purchase intent with weak signals. People regularly purchase for all sorts of reasons that do not include loyalty, such as price, convenience or a desire to avoid the time and costs of switching. You likely open your banking application and visit your bank’s ATMs regularly, but how loyal to you are to your financial institution?

In the same manner, many marketers hamper their advocacy programs from the start because of a poor understanding of what advocacy is and how it ought to be measured. I have seen dozens of social media and advocacy dashboards that count things such as likes, retweets, pins, and shares as evidence of advocacy. Certainly, it is helpful when customers extend the reach of your brand's posts, but do those actions truly represent advocacy?

The dictionary says advocacy is “public support for or recommendation.” In other words, advocacy is intentional—people are advocates only when they intend to change others’ attitudes or actions. A brand advocate is not someone who likes or even shares a funny or entertaining social media post but an individual who wants others to learn about, try or buy a product or service.

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