The word “advocacy” has never been so deeply rooted in the agenda of marketing and communication managers. However, it is still difficult to find the true essence of the discipline, which emerged to solve a problem faced by many brands: the struggle for authenticity. Brands seek to convince customers and strive to be increasingly truthful, but their credibility is finite and at risk of being eroded with every message.
In fact, the perception of “credibility” continues to be somewhat volatile. Looking at the latest Edelman Trust Barometer 2019-2020 year-on-year comparison, we can see the reasons behind recent changes in consumer perception. The credibility of governments, journalists, financiers, entrepreneurs, and even representatives of non-profit organisations is rapidly declining whilst. But employees and people “just like you” remain as some of the most credible figures of the moment. And the ‘expert’ (whether academic or technical) is the reference point for people we find most credible.
This could be your last chance to activate your advocacy strategy
Advocacy programmes have long been able to capitalise on the earned voice and complement the positioning or consideration objectives of a brand, or even the whole company, in a way that is much more credible (and profitable in the long term). This win-win relationship between the brand and its prescribers reinforces a long-standing asset of enormous value to marketing, communication, customer and even HR teams. Profiles of all kinds can be activated: any stakeholder can become an ambassador, even if the most common advocacy programmes end up focusing on customers or employees.
But the truth is that there is no better time to activate advocacy strategies: “It’s now or never”. The saturation point for brand prescription strategies is now very close. The price for activating such strategies is growing every day, which will force brands to keep raising the bar in order to not lose relevance.
However, there is still a great opportunity for those who manage to maintain their prescription strategies over time: taking over the many projects that are activated but end up abandoned because they did not initially draw up an adequate strategic vision.
“Keep the momentum, stupid.”
You have probably asked yourself what is wrong with these projects: basically, there is no permanent communication or contact with the ambassadors. Without a dynamic strategy, brands end up investing communication efforts that are less effective and costlier… Why is it important to keep the momentum? It’s about never letting our ambassadors lose their motivation: through content, experiences and emotional incentives. And about always keeping the wheel rolling.
But that’s not all. There are also three other common mistakes when it comes to conceptualising a long-term advocacy project:
● This is not just about impact: look for your advocacy value.
Most brands rely on “popular voices” and not on really influential or credible ones. The main measure of success in this type of project should be the advocacy value, a metric that weighs the value of each earned impact, and not just the media value, which ends up referring only to the impact. If we only consider the media value, the value proposal will end up being poor and easily substituted by paid media strategies through other channels.
● Brand advocacy is not the same as influencer marketing
Influencing marketing and brand advocacy are not the same discipline. Many people still confuse the two opposite sides of prescription marketing. Brand advocacy programmes can generate a large amount of micro-impacts that remain constant over time, are much more efficient and are never controlled. In addition, it leverages marginal incremental benefits such as the social media theory (reaching new communities through the initial activation of other communities) or exponential impact (initially impacting a user and ending up impacting others).
● If it’s not scalable, then it’s not advocacy
Basing your brand advocacy project on economic or rational incentives is also one of the most common mistakes. Although it may seem to be the easiest and most reliable way to start, it will make the project be conceived as if it had an expiration date from the beginning, so it will never be entirely self-sufficient. The priority must be to create incentive models that allow the voices involved in the project to scale up and multiply, achieving an exponential reduction in the cost per impact.
Ten steps to modelling a good advocacy programme
Advocacy projects may have a long-range vision in the way we interpret them, but that does not mean that their conceptualisation should be a long or complex process. In fact, at Good Rebels we have developed a work methodology that we apply with all our clients in about 8-12 weeks, starting from the exploration phase and leading to the continuous exploitation of the project.
|Strategic definition||Challenge it aims to solve and objectives it pursues.||Kick-off workshop, Employee interviews, Stakeholder interviews, Asset review, Project plan|
|Relational framework||What will the relationship between the ambassadors and the organisation be like?||Objectives by profile, Expected benefits, Platform selection, Channel selection|
|Capacity building model||How will ambassadors be trained and with what tools?||Training Syllabus, Guidelines’ development, Training material, Social Media Policy|
|Dynamisation model||How will we talk to the ambassadors on a daily basis?||Dynamisation plan, Gamification plan, Content strategy|
|Incentive model||What will be the incentives that motivate participation?||Plan by profiles, Experiential Plan, Reward Scoring|
|Data model||Which scorecard will measure the success of the project and with which KPIs?||Metrics definition, Project Dashboard, Media Value Model, Advocacy Value Model|
|Acquisition model||What will be the criteria for the selection of ambassadorsor other employees?||Validation of archetypes, Social Listening, Internal database, Recruitment form, Filtering and final selection|
|Amplification model||How will we communicate the project internally and through which channels will we recruit?||Communication plan, Event Ideation, Creative actions, Brand Identity definition, Ambassadors welcome pack|
|Scalability model||How will the project be scaled up and decentralized in order to make it more profitable?||Projection of autonomy, Scalability strategy, Decentralisation strategy|
|Media push model||How to promote and give visibility to the project in external media.||External visibility plan, Media strategy|
Create an asset today that will grow together with your organisation in the future
Setting clear objectives is crucial to address the key aspects of a project, such as the content and dissemination strategies, the archetype of the profiles that need to be activated, the areas and teams to be involved, the success metrics, or the benchmarking against other channels.
Therefore, considering all the possible strategic paths and taking decisions in an orderly manner and at the right stage (according to the methodology outlined above) is vital. One of the advantages of investing in advocacy projects is often the creation of a new asset for the business’ main areas, and that’s why it’s worth building it properly from the ground up.
Brand advocacy projects have multiple advantages for an organisation that go far beyond metrics related to outreach:
● A shared asset that can be scaled up
Once a project of these characteristics is launched, we can always choose to involve new areas of the company and grow on active profiles. Over time, we can also grow horizontally through hybrid systems involving varied, new profiles, for example starting with customers and then adding employees, or starting with employees and including external experts.
● A space for co-creation, innovation and research
Advocacy projects usually have two very attractive assets of great value to most areas of innovation and R&D:
a) Dynamisation and daily contact with profiles of interest that are highly motivated
b) A common platform that provides the ambassadors with specific content or challenges, without entailing an additional cost for the company.
The mix is particularly interesting, as it allows ambassadors to be involved in research and perception studies for new products or campaigns, or even to co-create them. Typically, ambassadors will feel rewarded for being part of a bigger initiative that doesn’t only involve sharing content, while the brand will have managed to take the project beyond simple media and impact comparison logic.
● Always close to employee engagement and customer loyalty
Finally, we should not forget that a long-standing advocacy asset will allow for the capitalisation of new relationships with the stakeholders involved, which may end up increasing business metrics. For example, repeat purchase or average ticket increase (in the case of customers), or internal satisfaction, employer brand and Net Promoter Score (in the case of employees).
Although this is not one of the main objectives, it is an interesting side effect that we have observed in most of our advocacy projects, and on which other areas could consider investing their time and attention.
Why advocacy should be platform-agnostic
You may have been surprised (especially if you are an expert in the field) by the fact that we have not yet mentioned specific platforms for developing advocacy projects. The reason is that the “where” doesn’t matter much, it depends on the strategy and the needs of each project. There are, in any case, three types of advocacy platforms, and all of them can be successful if the basis and efforts of constant dynamisation are maintained:
Tailor-made. Ad-hoc developments, normally of moderate investment, with the aim of hosting a maximum of 250-500 profiles. The decision depends on the degree of personalisation or customisation and the profile of the stakeholders to be activated, but normally they are recommended for external profiles.
Non-native platforms. They work on existing and not developed conversational or organisational platforms, such as Discourse, Slack, Microsoft Teams or Facebook for Work. They are also known as engagement platforms, as they allow the development of collaboration or training programmes, in synergy with internal communication assets or existing intranets.
Native platforms. Designed exclusively for advocacy projects, with functionalities 100% aimed at the creation of channels and the dissemination of content to the outside. Sociabble, Hootsuite Amplify, Social Reacher or BeAmbassador are some examples.
Optimise inwards, but always measure outwards
It is surprising that not all advocacy projects end up measuring exactly the same thing despite pursuing the same objectives. For example, when measuring success there is a tendency to overuse internal engagement (what happens within a platform or internal channel in terms interactions, visits, downloaded content, attendance at training sessions, etc.) over what should really happen outside (publications in media or social media, generated impact, prescription, earned consideration, etc.).
We normally measure these two dimensions, but only one of them allows us to really understand the impact of the asset generated in business terms:
Inwards. Metrics of participation, commitment to the project, use and knowledge of content, etc. They allow us to optimise the dynamisation and the platform, but not the project.
Outwards. Scope, impressions, media value, advocacy value. This is where prescription really works and where it will help measuring the return of the project on a scorecard based on the ROI.
The future of advocacy: act now or prepare for change
Prescription marketing has been fighting against users’ latent distrust for years, and will undoubtedly continue to branch out into multiple forms and formats that will end up taking advantage of the same principles of scalability and decentralisation: User-Generated Content, Ambassador Programs, Online Reviews Management, etc.
But there is no time to lose, because the power of advocacy will continue to diminish, just like other earned media strategies’ and external voices’ did in the early 2000s. The time is now.
Advocacy will very likely try to reinvent itself in the future by capitalizing on less exposed stakeholders, because clients, or even employees, will no longer be credible. The activation of other types of stakeholders will be a reality, but even if earned, credible voices continue to empower brands in one way or another, the benefits of activation will continue to be commoditized and the barriers of entry will be higher and higher.
There is no other way: prepare your team to surf this wave or very soon you will have to start diving to find the next one.