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.
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:
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.
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 our upcoming CAP Certification: Business Impact Module coming up next month!