Who are the real influencers? How close to consumer commerce is transforming brand advocacy

eCommerce, Social Media, Trends

Many moons ago the ad man had the golden ticket. Being able to produce jaw dropping, crowd stopping adverts that created media furore and that everyone was talking about was the name of the marketing game. Think of Haagen-Dazs who broke out of the food genre to sell ice cream through sexy images. Think Coca-Cola who created the feel-good factor and encouraged everyone to ‘share a Coke’. Think Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign.  Adverts were the push of a spoon-fed approach of brands to customers.

We all know the days of brands influencing customers directly and the customer journey being linear are long gone. Today brands need to be part of the conversation about themselves but not particularly the only, or even loudest, voice in it. With the journey to purchase becoming more convoluted and many finding brands and products through others’ social media platforms, advocacy is open to everyone and brands can leverage this to their benefit.

First came the influencers, who with their Instagrammable lifestyles and styled squares gained followers by the thousands, if not millions. Brands flocked to them like bees to nectar looking to share in the sweet taste of their success. Sponsored posts and paid for adverts and collaborations made many of them full time sales reps, and their feeds a storefront for their curated brand associations.

Now advocacy has evolved, and brands have realised the potential of untapping the personal relationships that we all hold and demonstrate in social media accounts with friends and family. Advocacy has become a gig economy, open to all, with brands like Diesel and Storr inviting Joe Public to become ambassadors and the digital version of Tupperware parties allowing everyone to have a slice of the advocacy pie.

Democracy in action: the case of Storr

Storr is a white label allowing anyone — anyone at all — to create an online storefront, stock it with a selection of products available within the Storr ecosystem, then use that storefront to sell to friends and peers. It aims to do for retail what AirBnB has done for travel and hospitality: offer a truly democratic, low-friction solution for selling branded goods peer-to-peer. 

Eric Senn, the CEO, suggests that the money which would traditionally have gone to a Macy’s or an Amazon will now go directly to the individual, and describes the technology as “Robin Hood” in nature. But it’s undeniably a brilliant idea, giving anyone the opportunity to open a shop and sell whilst contracting out the actual construction of that shop to a third party who, presumably, takes a cut on each transaction. Every product is chosen by the seller, so in theory everything is a direct referral.

How Storr is reinventing brand advocacy

And, of course, there are implicit possibilities here that go beyond peer and friend groups. Many salespeople work on commission: in theory, you could create a localised version of this for a Selfridges or a Saks Fifth Avenue, and offer every member of staff their own unique store. In practice, there are an awful lot of complexities falling out of that, including a bite out of the guaranteed margins that retailers expect, but there’s a lot to recommend it — or something like it — too. A communication of real enthusiasm and passion for the things they sell, prompted by the fact that they’ve self-selected these items. The promise of a bonus on each transaction. The boost to your own profile, and an incentive to continue selling and recommending on your own time.

We know that advocacy drives sales with a recent piece of research from Mckinsey supporting this by illustrating that ‘word of mouth’ is the top influence at every stage of the consumer decision journey in developing markets. 

Source: McKinsey

However, how to find those who really influence and how to give them purchase to place your brand in a credible and authentic place is essential and a key step on your brand’s ‘Close to Consumer Commerce’ journey.  With time at home and on our hands, we have found new ways to buy, new ways to sell, new ways to recommend and share, driving the momentum of online shopping and eCommerce growth to new heights.  While many have found and liked new brands, the ability to share and advocate is greater than ever with customers becoming more influential in the customer purchasing journey than ever before.

At Good Rebels, we have deep-dived into the latest eCommerce trends including brand advocacy and how it is open to all and the highs and lows of how these trends can help your brand succeed in the face of the evolving consumer’s purchasing behaviours. 

Yet it is not only about finding your customers but about being alongside them, talking to your customers. From the days where we expected the target audience to come direct to us, to seek us out and enter our shops, we now need to find them where they hang out, be that on social media, or watching a live stream of someone else gaming. 

We wrote a while back of the momentous growth of Twitch, that in lockdown life gained 90% of the market share of hours streamed by the end of Q4 2020.  It is no surprise that as part of their business model, they have an affiliate programme that recognises influential streamers and credits them for their advocacy and dedication. Twitch’s strategy of powering and prioritising creators (sometimes over their audiences) is proving to be powerful, as streamers keep choosing the platform as their favourite to develop all kinds of initiatives. And even traditional platforms like Instagram or Tik Tok will start to add similar functionalities to their own galaxies: one of the most important trends that will define social media in 2022. 

Diesel’s Side:Biz: Utilising the power of the everyman to sell

However, brands are taking the democratisation of advocacy further down the line that using influencers or Twitch streamers. They are leveraging the true power of recommendation, referals, and that human urge of feeling somewhat special. On this line, retail brand Diesel saw an opportunity to combine social and digital connection to harness their followers into their sales force. Participants applied to become Diesel ‘ambassadors’ through a registered site and received a unique URL to a Diesel online store linked to their personal account.

When they shared that link, any purchases made through it earnt them discounts, rewards, and other exclusives from the brand. The genius lay in the democracy – suddenly anyone could be an influencer.

https://youtu.be/nzkHu5GErNI

The power of digital communities

Of course, the ultimate aim is a digital community built around advocates for your brand but with your brand owning the conversation and being able to steer it to meet your business goals and needs. However, while many brands cannot reach the heights of a digital community built around their own brand, they can access online communities where there are opportunities for them to raise awareness and show their brand stripes, and master advocacy for this purpose. 

The digital world has shifted the goalposts of the customer journey. Instead of a starting point that has the sales team pushing ahead to the finish line of a sale, it is now about meeting and greeting those on the field, getting them on side and passing the ball back and forth to generate that goal (or sale).  Brand owners must relinquish control of the ball more often to pass to their team (their advocates) and often give them credit (or affiliation rewards) for helping them reach the goal. 

And the rewards are far greater with credibility and authenticity of advocacy driving more purchases – according to a recent survey 50% of UK consumers said they would buy on a recommendation from a friend or partner. And of course, advocacy drives loyalty, which in a world of choice and 24/7 availability, is gold dust for brand owners.

With this democratisation of advocacy, brands need to keep abreast of the changing persona of influence. At Good Rebels we understand how a successful advocacy programme can result in longevity for your brand as well as great returns on investment. If you want to learn more, shall we talk?

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