Category Archives: Brand Advocate

How to build your brand advocacy program?

Can you imagine constructing a 20 storey building without a blueprint?

Who needs a blueprint

Obviously not! However, most people go off building a brand advocacy program which might involve thousands of brand advocates just like that!

What is a framework?

The basic structure of something : a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something

The RIDE Framework

The RIDE framework helps you define a brand advocacy program that is unique to your organization. It contains a set of ideas which will help provide the necessary support for your brand advocacy initiative.

It provides a systematic approach to to creating a brand advocacy program.

Why use the RIDE framework?

Most organizations have their own ways of doing things and culture. The RIDE framework provides a  system that you can use and is flexible allowing you you to prioritize based on your situation and company.

What are the Components of the R.I.D.E framework?

It helps you think about the essential pieces which are needed for any successful brand advocacy program.

  • Rewards and Recognition – What’s in it for the brand advocates how are you going to provide them recognition
  • Impact Measurement – What’s the program doing for you, is it helping the organization
  • Discovery – Where and how do you find and discover your brand advocates
  • The 3 E’s – How to Evangelize, Empower and Engage your brand advocates

The hidden step 1 – Define your business objective?

There is a first step in creating your brand advocacy program. It’s about determining why you need it, how it’s going to help the organization. This is often the most critical part. Having a clear business objective ensures long term success of the advocacy program.

RIDE - The Brand Advocacy Framework

Is there a step 0?

Yes. Listening. Often the best way to think about your program, is to start by first listening to the conversations, and examining the content put out by your brand advocates.

More often that not this will help you to get important nuggets proving the necessity of the program. It gives great insight into the needs and issues faced by your customer and helps you see how your brand advocates are filling in gaps which you might not be addressing correctly.

Just like you can’t go about constructing a 20 storey building without a blueprint, the RIDE framework helps you to think through the essential elements necessary for a successful brand advocacy program.

Get started now

Video: How to build a brand advocacy program – Video covers the RIDE framework
Book: Brand Advocacy Book

How to reduce customer support costs the easy way: Brand Advocates

How to leverage brand advocates to reduce your customer support costs?

Customer Support

Within 48 hours of the Windows 10 launch, he provided about 712 answers regarding the launch and adoption of Windows 10 – he was not an employee of Microsoft, he was a passionate brand advocate part of Microsoft’s Brand Advocacy program. (Source).

It’s mind boggling when you think in terms of the customer support cost savings due to just one of these passionate brand advocates. Microsoft currently has approximately 3000 such brand advocates in just one of their advocacy programs. They have many such brand advocacy programs.

Customer Support

Traditionally it used to be the call center where people dial-in and ask their questions, that’s how customer support was provided. It is still the same way many organizations operate.

To reduce the cost of customer support one needs to really embrace the self-service era.

The Self-Service Era

In the Internet/Digital era, people access online support forums, read blogs, attend webcasts, chat with experts maybe over Twitter, raise questions on community sites or via Q&A sites like Quora etc.

Content to Support Customers

In order to meet the needs of this digital era audience one would need to do some or all of the below items:

  • Create tons of content in a variety of formats (Blogs, Presentations, Podcasts, Webcasts…)
  • Establish Support Forums, User Groups/ Communities
  • Enable interactions with Experts

The hard way

The difficult way of going about creating these interactions is by creating all the content yourself.

The easy way

The easy way is to leverage the power of already existing passionate brand advocates in addition to your corporate initiatives. In fact creating a brand advocacy program which fuels these brand advocates should be a corporate initiative.

Examples

When Microsoft was planning it’s Windows 10 product, it took the path of involving it’s most passionate customers. It publicly launched an advocacy program inviting thousands of it’s customers to participate –

With the Insider program, we’re inviting our most enthusiastic Windows customers to shape Windows 10 with us. We know they’re a vocal bunch – and we’re looking forward to hearing from them.

– Source blogs.windows.com

They were looking for people who’re vocal in terms of providing feedback to the company. In exchange they provided them early access, this ensured that they got a bunch of motivated experts on the product much before the actual product launch.

What would these experts do? (Besides providing feedback to Microsoft) They would share their expertise with others.

What were the steps they took:

  • Invited people to get early access
  • Took their feedback (Improved their product in the bargain)
  • Got a bunch of motivated experts who naturally evolved to helping solve customer queries

That’s exactly what happened with the person who provided about 712 answers regarding the launch and adoption of Windows 10. He was a passionate brand advocate who was involved with the program, partly due to his passion and interest and because Microsoft created a program and platform enabling him and others like him to participate.

Create a platform for brand advocates to engage with you and your customers

As an organization they provided a platform for brand advocates to actively engage and support other customers. http://answers.microsoft.com/

Here you will find that customer queries are answered by a whole host of enthused brand advocates.

The platform enables Microsoft to highlight the top brand advocates as well, based on other customer feedback.

(Badges are awarded for being an active contributor and awesome community member. Over time, good contributors earn a variety of badges.)

But…Will a third party individual know more about my products than my employed customer support personnel?

Surprisingly yes. More often than not I’ve seen brand advocates who’re passionate about a product sticking around to using that product for a much longer time than the employee sticking around in the company. Their passion and sticking around help them often gain far more mastery of the product than the typical customer support executive.

However, there is an easy fix to this problem, where the community itself helps in regulating inefficient responses which are a reality.

What if these brand advocates provide faulty or incorrect information?

One simple fix to this problem is to allow the customers to rate the responses.

For instance on the Microsoft Community Support site users can rate if they found a response helpful.

Community Indicates Usefulness

Start Small

If you’ve not yet started down this path i.e. you don’t have an advocacy program in place, start small.

Pick one activity which will help you go down the path to providing support to other customers.

Whether it’s inviting your brand advocates to contribute content(blogs, presentations etc.), or inviting them to test a product, or establish a support forum or a group on social media, and enable interactions with brand advocates. (Simultaneously work on creating your own brand advocacy program.)

The small wins will help you get the necessary corporate support to evolve a larger program resulting in much larger cost savings in customer support.

I would love to hear from you if you have stories on how Brand Advocates have helped other customers. Do share in the comments below.

Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program – New Brand Advocacy program

Learn how Microsoft rolls out it’s largest brand advocacy program ever, the Windows Insider Program. I’ll be sharing lessons from their launch of this new brand advocacy program.

The Announcement

First the announcement itself, it’s a pre-sell:

Microsoft is launching the Windows Insider Program tomorrow.

The Windows Insider Program, where PC experts and IT Pros can get access to a technical preview of Windows 10 for desktops and laptops. Soon after, we’ll also be releasing technical previews of Windows Server and our management tools.

With the Insider program, we’re inviting our most enthusiastic Windows customers to shape Windows 10 with us. We know they’re a vocal bunch – and we’re looking forward to hearing from them.

The Windows Insider Program is intended for PC experts and IT pros who are comfortable using pre-release software with variable quality. Insiders will receive a steady stream of early builds from us with the latest features we’re experimenting with.

– Source blogs.windows.com

The barrier

They’ve clearly demarcated the target customers:

For PC experts and IT pros who are comfortable using pre-release software with variable quality.

 

Learn about why you need barriers for a successful brand advocacy program.

The introduction to the program

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/preview-coming-soon

The Introductory Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84NI5fjTfpQ

In-depth

Let me quickly run you through the main points of the upcoming insider program. I’ve included below a small transcript of the video on the page http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/preview-coming-soon (Words in maroon are my comments.)

Windows Insider Program

We’ve designed the Tech Preview so you can see what we’re building as we’re building it and tell us what you think.

(Here they’re telling the potential brand advocates what they are going to get: A ring side view to how they are building the next version of their software.)

We hope to involve tech enthusiasts like you in our software development process over the next several months so that your feedback becomes part of the next version of Windows.

(You get a chance to see your feedback incorporated into the product, they’re Empowering you and enabling you to co-create with them.)

The tech preview is meant for PC experts who are comfortable downloading unfinished software.

(The are putting in place the requisite barriers to entry to ensure they have appropriate brand advocates.)

The first step which you might have already done is to download and install the Tech Preview…. (abbreviated)

But we’ll be updating it regularly.

As a Windows Insider, you’ll get two benefits.

  • You’ll get more frequent updates with earlier but less polished software and
  • You’ll have access to the Windows Feedback app from which you can send us comments directly.

(Clearly articulated benefits, early access and a way to communicate with the team.)

……… (abbreviated)

But one thing’s for sure: by signing up, you’ll be the first to take all of the new features out for a test drive.

—- followed by demo

And one of the areas where we’re looking for feedback in the Tech Preview is multitasking.

(Specific guidance as to where they need help from brand advocates.)

—- Followed by demo of multitasking features.

Sign up for the Tech preview at http://preview.windows.com

(Distinct microsite for this brand advocacy program which is separate from their other brand advocacy programs. A.k.a. Segmentation.)

Analysis and Comments

This is a perfect example of the RIDE framework in place to create a brand advocacy program.

First the Big O: They’ve identified their objectives:

Business Objective

1. To get early participation from target customers,

2. Get product tested

3. Enable massive word of mouth marketing even before the product is launched.

Rewards and Recognition:

Recognition and Reward

1. They’ve promised early and frequent product updates to the brand advocates.

2. Providing early access ensures their partners and advocates have a lead over the rest of the market. That in itself is a huge reward as they get hands on with the product and a chance to be experts before others.

3. The program name itself is a recognition, if you’re selected you’re in the Windows Insider Program. For some this in itself is a reward and recognition.

Impact

Impact Measurement

The direct impact from this program is going to be multi-fold.

1. Innovation and Testing – Ideas from the field, their very customers giving direct feedback.

2. Word of Mouth Marketing – This brand advocacy program is going to lead to massive amount of word of mouth marketing for Microsoft, with customers speaking on social media, forums, blogs, articles, video demos etc. Each brand advocate in some way or the other whether in person or online is going to be speaking about this to someone else.

Discover  – Identification of Brand Advocates

Discover Brand Advocates

1. PC experts who are comfortable downloading unfinished software

The 3 E’s – Evangelize, Empower and Engage

Engagement

1. They are empowering their brand advocates by promising them early access.

2. They are giving access to the Windows Feedback app from which you can send comments directly to them, thereby empowering and engaging with them.

They’ve beautifully ensured empowering and engaging, and I’m sure they have a plan to evangelize their brand advocates too.

The above is a good example of putting in place the RIDE framework.

You can learn more about it in my brand advocacy book which covers how software product companies can implement a brand advocacy program using RIDE, the 5 step brand advocacy framework.

RIDE Framework - 5 steps to building a brand advocacy program

What do you think about how they are rolling this out?

Do you think they will have a large number of participants?

Do share in the comments below.

Why barriers are essential for the success of your brand advocacy program

His brows raised high up, mouth wide open, in total awe he said, can you believe it they have a one year waiting period to get into their brand advocacy program, what’s even more amazing it’s limited to just a 130 people worldwide. How can I get in? Could you tell me what to do?

And in another completely contrasting conversation, Just fill this form and you’re in, part of our loyalty program… what did you think I did, I just smiled and walked away.

The first conversation was by a person who wanted to know how to get into a particular brand advocacy program by one of the largest software companies in the world. The other conversation… it’s not worth even mentioning.

The barrier advantage

Barrier to entry

As soon as you see a line of people snaking outside a store, you’re almost certain there is something of value. You curiosity is definitely piqued.

But there is a bigger reason to have a barrier to your brand advocacy program, it allows you to get the most passionate the most dedicated people in and keeps the masses away.

Note I’m not saying the masses are bad, but when you want a tight knit team you can depend on, you need to be extremely choosy.

And barriers help you qualify, and not just have anybody who may not currently be right for your brand advocacy program.

In fact you’ll realize that for different stages of your brand advocacy program you’ll probably need different kinds of brand advocates, more on that in another article.

Won’t barriers piss people off?

Angry

It will piss people off, and mostly those are the kinds of people you really don’t want in your brand advocacy program.

In your brand advocacy program you want the people who are cheering for you, the people who are concerned about you. No, they’re not yes men, they’re probably your most open and vocal critics but they’re providing you that feedback because they believe in you and hope that you do the needful.

They’re not the kind of people who just want to poke holes and look good. They are passionate well-wishers. They’re the kind of people who don’t need to be really told, they’re the ones who passionately reach out to others as they want to help them.

So yes barriers can piss people off and you need to be careful of the kind of barriers you put in place to ensure that you get the people who are appropriate for you inside and the others outside.

What are the good barriers you need to put in your brand advocacy program?

1. Expertise

Expert

Brand advocates are typically experts about a product, they’re passionately interested and others look up to them for advice as they know the innards of the particular product.

It’s easy to spot these experts, they could be authors of articles, books or even passionately blogging or speaking about your product or service. Providing tips and sharing best practices and supporting others.

You want these passionate experts to be a part of your inner circle of brand advocates. You definitely want this barrier in place to ensure success of your brand advocacy program.

2. Activity level

Activity Frequency

Brand Advocacy is never a onetime activity.

Unlike a person who likes a typical Facebook page and then in all probability never returns to the page. The brand advocate is a regular, who is constantly involved with the product and regularly interacts with your team, provides guidance on a regular basis or blogs regularly about your product or service.

A good way of evaluating a brand advocate is the level of activity, for instance the number of conversations or blog posts or sessions they speak at about your product or service.

Moreover, you might want them to report back to you about their activities. Making sure that they are aware of this can at times ensure that only the most active participants make it into the program.

Often you might ask them to share why they should be considered to be part of your brand advocacy program. This could be in the form of them sharing for instance their blog posts or list of sessions they’ve spoken at or similar other activities they may have been doing.

It helps to ensure that they are aware that you expect to know and encourage the regular sharing of activity details as part of the program.

3. Time

Time

This is a different one with multiple aspects, so do pay extra attention.

Brand advocates though they’re long time participants, are not necessarily good for each stage of your brand advocacy program. Sometimes your best brand advocates might not necessarily be visible online or might not be visible publicly. However, in the start-up phase of your brand advocacy program you might want to include people who are more vocal online or offline and are more visible out there in the public view. You might want people to be included whose frequency of visible activity is on the higher side.

As your program grows over a period of time you might focus on a different set of brand advocates.

Additionally, you don’t want your brand advocates to just be around, so putting in a time barrier like a renewal period for e.g. once a year might be a great idea to ensure that your brand advocacy program has the relevant advocates in them.

It also ensures that your brand advocates clearly know that they will be revaluated at a certain point of time. This is a very different kind of barrier and you need it to ensure the success of your program.

Can you have different brand advocacy programs with different barriers? Should we have one or more barriers?

Yes can definitely have different barriers for different brand advocacy programs. For e.g. look at Microsoft’s brand advocacy programs, you have the MVP and the Regional Director(RD) program. Here there are various different kind of barriers. The MVP program has close to 4000 people as part of it, whereas the RD program has typically had less than 150 members in it. Similarly in the MVP program MVP’s are selected based on demonstrated expertise in one specific product. The MVP program duration is for a period of one year, the RD program is for two years now, it initially was a yearly program too.

There are multiple different kinds of barriers in play here, however be careful, you don’t want to piss of the good guys. You want to be selective for sure, but not restrictive to the extent of alienating the people you want to be inside.

Barriers are essential to ensure a healthy brand advocacy program

To summarize, barriers can prove to be extremely beneficial, and judicious barriers are essential for the success of your brand advocacy program. Barriers ensure you have the right kind of participants at different stages of your brand advocacy program to meet your success metrics. You need to evaluate which barriers put in place to get the apt brand advocates for your program.

3 core concepts for a successful Digital content strategy

Have you ever sat on a chair with 2 legs, it’s going to be a quick crash boom landing if anything. Three legs is a minimum and ideal is four.

Your successful digital content strategy similarly depends on 3 crucial concepts, four if you consider the business objective.

Concept 1: The Customer Journey

Customers go through three different journeys with you. Attraction, Conversion and Consumption. And your content needs to address the customer needs in these stages.

Customer Journey v2.1

Attraction

In the attraction stage the content helps to get them know a little about your product or service.

Conversion

In conversion they either purchase or sign up to a list or subscribe for more information, the content enables them to undertake some kind of transaction not necessarily monetary with you.

Consumption

The consumption content on the other hand is designed to help them consume your product or service better.

Each of these 3 kinds of content is very different and serves a very definite purpose. One to enable awareness, the other to aid a transaction and the last to aid consumption.

You need to make sure that your content enables the customer journey.

Concept 2: Content Stickiness

Content Stickiness

We’re faced with a deluge of content each day. Most of it is boring, exhaustive and at times difficult to consume and remember. We typically forget 80% of a presentation in less than 24 hours.

Making content stick, memorable is critical. Without this even though your content might be good, it’s not really going to stick around in people’s minds. Creating sticky content is a planned activity.

Content stickiness can be achieved in a number of ways. One of the common ways is by creating a unique mascot which provides a distinct voice to your content and enables it to stick in people’s minds. The other is to provide content which directly address people’s problems. There are 7 different ways in which content can be created to make it more effective. By far visual content is the most effective in terms of making it easy to consume and remember.

Concept 3: Network Effect

The challenge with content production is that everyone is doing it, and standing out in the midst of all that content with your content is difficult. More so customer belief in corporate content tends to be low compared to recommendations by friends, family, colleagues, co-workers, others customers and even strangers (e.g. book reviews which one reads on sites like Amazon).

Moreover, you can’t do it alone, not all businesses are designed to be content production factories, and you’re never going to have enough budgets to produce the kind and volume of content you need.

Leverage Influencer and Partner Networks

Leveraging Social Media and Digital networks the right way – Brand Advocates, Partners (and their networks) – User Generated Content.

You need to leverage your brand advocates to create content. Brand Advocates, your most vocal customers and partners can not only create content for you also help you promote that content across their social networks. User generated content is by far the most powerful content. You truly leverage social networks when you leverage content created by corporate teams, employees, partners and brand advocates.

Leveraging other networks also means repurposing content in different formats (text, audio, images) and across different social networks.

Summary

In today’s landscape it’s necessary to create content which targets the different customer journey, is sticky and at the same time leverages user generated content with brand advocates, partners and employees and uses their networks to promote the content.

Like the 3 legs which are needed for a chair these 3 core concepts along with a clear business objective provide the solid base for a successful content strategy.