Advocacy Program Brand Foundation: Bringing Your Advocacy Brand Personality to Life

What’s in a customer program name? Would that which we call an advocacy program by any other name smell as sweet?

(Nothing wrong starting with some Shakespeare to get your attention.) 

The Evolution of Customer Advocacy

Champions. Insiders. VIPs. Pioneers. Ambassadors. Explorers. Stars. Ever managed or been part of a B2B advocacy program with one of these names? 

When I first started in the field back in 2013, B2B customer advocacy programs (those designed by vendors to bring mutual value to both the customer and the business beyond the exchange of currency for products and services) were a novelty, and your program automatically stood out on account of its existence alone. Over the last ten years, and most especially the last five, the landscape of B2B programs has burgeoned. No longer a novelty, advocacy programs have become the norm, and customers have options for which vendors they want to collaborate with and even multiple program options from a single vendor!

B2B consumers find themselves in a virtual grocery aisle of programs, perusing options and choosing the program flavor that will most readily address their current wants and needs, such as personal brand building, skill development, or product success. And boy, have we made it tough on them. 

The customer advocacy space is awash in program names that all sound the same and value propositions that literally bleed into each other.

As a day-to-day consumer, we have almost unlimited choices for any kind of product - coffee, cereal, toothpaste, clothing, furniture, electronics, cars, airlines and even toilet paper! We don’t have the capacity to fully research every decision. Instead (and I know you all know this as marketers), we take cognitive shortcuts to simplify decision making, using brand association to help us choose between similar products. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever compared identical back-of-the-box ingredients and still purchased the more expensive name brand. 🙋‍♀️)

The easy (dare I say, lazy) days of advocacy brand and launch strategies are gone. It's no longer enough for our programs to have fun-sounding names and lists of generic benefits and expect customers to jump in with excitement. Our practice is maturing and so must our approach. We need to take the expertise and rigor of traditional brand marketing and bring it to our own field - not as a secondary thought but as an integral part of our strategy and execution. 

And I absolutely love it. 

What Makes an Advocacy Program Brand? 

There’s a simple exercise we like to do with our customers here at Captivate Collective when designing deep advocacy program strategies. I adopted it from a former customer, Carol-Lyn Jardine, now Sr. Vice President of Marketing at Wonderlic: Know, Feel, Do. 

When organizations come to us, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to launch a new customer advocacy program or practice, they often have a solid idea of what they want members to Know (about the program, company, products, etc) and Do (an infinite list of “all the things”). What they often struggle to articulate is what they want program members to Feel.

In a workshop co-hosted with Deena Zenyk at CustomerX Con last October, I held up a series of visual logos - no names - and asked participants to yell out words they associated with each one. 

Actual picture of me holding up logos. Okay, that’s not technically Disney’s logo, but the point was made. 

For the strongest brands, participants were easily able to express associated feelings. For example, from the picture above, I myself might say “escape, togetherness, joy, and memories.” 

That’s because, of course, a brand is so much more than a name. Having helped organizations launch advocacy programs for almost eight years now, I see more effort and thought being put into program names than previously but rarely does the foundational brand work go beyond that. This simply isn’t enough to attract and retain advocates any more. 

At Captivate, we refer to a holistic advocacy program brand as your Brand Foundation made of four components:

  1. Purpose, Vision, and Mission - Why does this program exist, where are we going and how will we get there? 
  2. Program Values - What guides our day-to-day decision making
  3. Value Proposition - Promise of value delivered to members 
  4. Program Archetype - the program persona you intentionally display to members (One of my favorite topics. Lots of great content coming on this soon, so stay tuned!)

This foundation is your ground zero and will guide you to the best name and visual representation for your program - a considerable level up from throwing out yet another internal survey. Not knocking those surveys, but they should be grounded in a brand foundation, not just looking for the catchiest alliteration (we’ve all done it). Your brand foundation is what ultimately guides your program strategy and program culture. So, it’s worth its weight in gold to get this right from the get-go. 

Getting Your Brand Foundation Started

If I’ve convinced you to start your program ideation by establishing your advocacy program Brand Foundation, or even to go back and create one for your existing program, great! Not sure how to get started? That’s often the case. Here are some practical first steps we’ve used many times for helping organizations get there.

1. Define your purpose - This is a good first place to start. There are a lot of initiatives going on in organizations right now - communities, executive programs, customer success programs, reference programs, advisory boards, etc. Make sure you can answer these questions: 1) Why must this program exist and 2) what value does it bring to the business and your customers that can’t be found elsewhere? If you can’t clearly define this, your program will likely struggle with ambiguity and blurred lines both. Clearly articulating your program’s singular reason for existing helps bring clarity for everyone else, both internally and externally.  

2. Do the research - We’ve been saying this for a long time, and I think it’s starting to catch on. Before designing advocacy initiatives, beyond collaborating with internal stakeholders, you must ask the experts - your target audience. After all, it’s your customers you are hoping to engage, so their feedback and ideas matter…a lot. Many organizations still spin up advocacy initiatives without doing this piece of do-diligence, which remains supremely ironic. You can do this through surveying and interviewing, then distilling that data into key insights. In particular, you need to understand what unmet needs or desires your program can fulfill (your value proposition) for your prospective program members. 

3. Differentiate your brand personality - As we’ve discussed, your program has to stand out - not just from other vendor programs, but also from your own brand. Your advocacy program is a unique entity unto itself, built for a specific segment of your customer audience and should have its own clearly identifiable personality. Can you clearly articulate your company brand personality or character? Good. Now ensure you can easily differentiate between your business’ brand personality and your ideal program brand personality. We use group exercises and brand archetypes to do this with clients, but you can start with a list of ideal descriptors such as “collaborative, laid-back, practical, articulate, open-minded, life-long learner” to get you started down the path toward defining your brand personality. 

It’s already been proven that there is hard value in a well-executed product brand. I’m convinced customer marketers are leaving money on the table by skipping the rigors of advocacy brand development (If you want to see advocacy brand development done right, check out our interview with the Cisco Insider team). There’s great potential for real business impact through elevating our advocacy brands, and I. am. here. for. it. 👏 I think some of you are too.   

Want to learn more about advocacy brand maturity and leveraging brand archetype methodology now? Check out an upcoming CAP Certification: Business Impact Module!

January 23, 2023
Liz Richardson