Communication is a two way street. Too often brands talk at their audience rather than engage with them. When a brand manages to hit that sweet spot, when it feels like a real conversation and not a sales pitch, they’ve not only converted a customer: they’ve created an advocate.
An advocate supports your brand with their wallet, with a tweet, or with old fashioned word of mouth. Advocates join in the conversation and make your communications strategy a participatory exercise. It’s like the high school swimmer who asked Taco Bell for a “Think Outside the Bun” Speedo. Advocates may not be your number one fan, but they are your fan club. Unlike a brand ambassador, you won’t pay them for their support, you’ll earn it the hard way.
Whether you’re a startup looking to capitalize on early adopters, or an established brand with a desire for a deeper connection to your target audience, you’re going to need advocates. Below are 5 simple ways to engage your target audience and build brand advocates:
- Embrace Feedback
Social media provides your audience with a 1,000 ways to give you a piece of their mind. Twitter, Yelp, Google Reviews all provide an opportunity to publicly rate and berate your brand. If you haven’t embraced at least one, you’re shutting yourself out of the conversation. Reviews are an excellent conversion point where you can turn a one-time customer into a loyal advocate. Start a genuine dialogue with your critics and reach out to all the haters – well, maybe not all the haters. And if someone’s gone to the trouble of writing a glowing review, with photos and an uplifting backstory, the least you can do say thanks.
- Don’t Nag
Have you ever filled out the survey linked at the bottom of your receipt? When was the last time you went back to the app store to give a 5 star rating? When a brand starts demanding time, attention, and Facebook login information most people tune out. If you’re in pursuit of actionable feedback don’t bog your audience down with dull, bureaucratic box checking. Unless your brand is all about bureaucratic box checking, it comes off disingenuous and out of character. Soliciting feedback is like any other interaction with your audience; if it’s coming from you, it needs to sound like you.
- Commune with your Audience
Do something together that gets your audience talking. Lululemon hosts free in-store yoga classes, Chipotle has their annual sustainable food festival, and for the IQ launch event Facebook took their new platform on a world tour. Experiential marketing works, but not every brand needs a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sometimes all it takes is giving your audience the space to talk and they’ll take care of the rest. It could be as simple as starting a Facebook group for sneakerheads to rumormonger about Nike’s latest limited editions. Or, if you want a little more control over the chaos, an active blog can have a lively comment section. Find community activities that fit with your brand and advocates will find you.
- Be a Mentor
Your brand is a leader. Like every good leader you’re expected to share the wisdom and expertise that comes from your experience. Every generation prepares the next to take its place and not everyone in your audience wants to be buying your product till the day they die. Some of them, maybe most of them, want to be you. Don’t just talk to your audience about products and services; give them the support and advice they would need to be your boss someday. Even if your CEO doesn’t have the grace and charm of Steve Jobs let them develop a mentor/mentee relationship with your audience. Advocates support you because they feel supported by you.
- Let them have the Mic
Content is king and you pay your social media manager to crank it out like a machine, but the most authentic work comes directly from your audience. You might ask a brand ambassador to use their platform to sell your product but YouTube stars and the Facebook famous are notoriously capricious. If your brand does the work to engage with your audience anyone could be a content creator and brand advocate. When you find someone who speaks with your voice, hand over your platform; let them tell your story with a sincerity paid professionals can only dream of.
Think about your brand’s communications strategy. What steps are you currently taking to start a conversation with your audience, and where might you be driving away valuable advocates?