In this blog, we compare the role of influencers and advocates, and ask what B2B organisations can learn from B2C brands when it comes to using individuals to promote their products.
Word of Mouth Marketing.
A historically inaccurate allegory.
Imagine you’re in ancient times. 6,500 BC, or something like that. You live a simple isolated life, in a stone-built house and live on an uninspiring diet of oats, cabbage, and mutton. Ok, I’m no food historian, but you get the picture…it’s simpler times. Just the way it was for most back then. But deep down, you crave more.
One day, you’re in conversation with your neighbour. A reliable person, someone you respect and trust. And they share news of a travelling merchant whom they encountered at the marketplace, selling unusual items. Silk, spices, tea, ivory, cotton, precious metals! All new words to you. Exotic goods from far away stretches of the world. Your interest is piqued, and what’s more, your neighbour has sampled some of the exotic goods and can attest that the product is good.
So, when the merchant is next in town you visit the traveller at the marketplace.
The silk feels nice, and the spices make your taste buds tingle. You purchase their product, and before you know it your humble mutton has been transformed into a delicious sheep tikka masala. The merchant’s goods have changed your life, and you spread words amongst your community about them. The merchant’s trade is booming, and as word spreads outside of that community and to others, trade skyrockets and there’s demand for her product. She scales her business and builds a successful empire.
And that’s the power of word-of-mouth marketing.
Word of Mouth Marketing. Now.
In today’s digital landscape, WOM marketing is played out very differently to the days of yonder, but the principle is the same: people trust recommendations from those they know and respect. Making it a powerful marketing tool still today.
The rise of influencers.
As online social networks have evolved, so too have the way in which brands use these platforms to advertise their products. B2C brands were quick to realise that people with large followings were effective vessels for promoting their product. It works. And it’s a growing strategy. In fact, influencer marketing is expected to grow to an estimated market size of $21.1 billion this year.
Word of Mouth is Trending.
Whilst word of mouth is not a new concept, it’s only in the last six or so years that, official advocacy programmes have started to be recognised as a game changer for B2B business. Between 2016 and 2017 an IDC report found that tactical customer advocacy programmes grew from 10% of vendors using them to a whopping 67%. The incredible benefits of customer advocacy strategies are now firmly a part of many a successful B2B marketing strategy.
With both markets utilising the power of Influencers and Advocates to grow, we wondered…
What can B2B advocacy learn from the B2C influencer marketing?
Don’t assume your biggest clients will be your best advocates.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the clients who bring in the most revenue will be the most suitable advocates. Yes, the endorsement of a big brand celebrating your work would be mighty fine. Realistically most bigger companies will have more red tape when it comes to testimonials and using their logo.
Many B2C brands, particularly those just getting started, don’t have the budget to partner with huge celebrities…and that’s OK. Nano, micro and macro influencers with smaller audiences can actually be a more effective partnership because they’re likely to have closer-more authentic relationships with their followers. The same can be applied to B2B; your best advocates are probably the ones you can build a long-term mutually beneficial relationship with. Which takes us to our next point…
Patience is key.
In comparison to BSC, B2B sales cycles are generally much longer. Buying specialised software is a bigger investment and a more complicated decision, compared to buying lipstick. You aren’t going to see much ROI in the early stages of building an advocacy programme. It’s a long-term strategy. And whilst revenue growth is always going to be the ultimate outcome of any word-of-mouth marketing strategy, it shouldn’t just be about the money. There are other benefits to consider….
Advocacy generates more than just sales.
If there’s one obvious advantage of brand’s partnering with social media influencers, it’s the co-creation of content. Content creation is a huge part of any successful demand generation strategy, but it requires time, money, and imagination. “Sharing the load” in all these areas makes it easier for everyone. When you co-create content with your advocates you boost each other’s brand awareness and have the opportunity for content creating that demonstrates your client’s success stories as well as your own. Thus, building trust with your audience. And the more content you create, the more SEO presence you have in your area. Winner, winner sheep tikka masala dinner.
Bribing your advocates.
It’s no secret that influencers are usually paid to advertise products for B2C brands. And it’s no secret because there are now strict laws on paid ads transparency. (Basically, they have to let their audiences know they’re getting paid to advertise.) Most of the “bad” influencer marketing people see comes from inauthentic collaborations where a creator doesn’t really love the brand and instead just promotes the products for some cash. Those posts stand out a mile off, right?
But the principles of B2B advocacy are very different. Successful advocacy happens when businesses partner with other businesses. It’s less transactional, more of a long-term-two-way relationship with shared interests, which should be communicated and nurtured. Advocacy programmes are based on mutual respect, authenticity, and a more ethical way of doing business.
Long term- authentic relationships build trust, and trust is how advocates are made.
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Advocacy programmes accelerate word of mouth.
Forward thinking B2B brands are harnessing the principles of traditional word of mouth marketing and creating cultures that nurture and develop customers into their biggest salespeople. Advocacy programmes motivate your customers to spread word amongst their network about the brands they love.
And if you’ve put in the work to create something genuine, you’ll be one of them. It might be a simple recommendation when in conversation with their own clients or through online community spaces in which you allow your advocates to mix with your prospects. However, it happens, whatever it looks like, if you’re prepared to put in the long-term work an advocacy programmes requires, you will see big results again and again.
So, in times where acquiring new customers is even more challenging, it makes sense to nurture your existing customers and build an army of advocates to help you grow