Status, Spotlight, Sway or Stuff: Are all advocate motivations created equal?

Do you like free stuff? Of course you do. Do you sometimes do things you wouldn’t have on your own for a giveaway? Sure you do.

Don’t believe me? Think of the last time you went to a baseball game and they cannon shot t-shirts to whomever screamed the loudest or mugged for the crowd cam. Plenty of people jumped up and down, did some embarrassing dance or yelled their lungs out. They wouldn’t have done that without an incentive (hopefully). It’s amazing how much a free tchotchke can motivate the average Joe.

Not the type to get up and dance? Okay. Think of the last time you went to a trade show or marketing summit. Did you really want to talk to that man standing awkwardly by his vendor’s booth? Or did you brave it in order to grab one of those nice looking notebooks, a candy bar or enter to win a free iPad?

There’s no doubt that free stuff can be a strong motivator. That’s why in the blossoming world of Customer Advocate Marketing, rewards are a common theme. But they’re also a controversial one.

Reason? In my last blog post, I wrote about the dangers of losing authenticity in a customer advocacy program.

And nothing comes across as less authentic than people recommending or writing about your product solely for some free stuff.

So does it follow that awarding free stuff to customers who act as references, share your content, provide case studies or give referrals breeds inauthenticity? Or at least the appearance of it?

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it, and I’m going to take a chance by tackling this controversial topic and argue that in and of itself; it doesn’t.

Different strokes for different folks.

When it comes to what motivates us, we aren’t all created equal. But we are all similar in that our actions are always motivated by something. When it comes to advocacy, customers are normally motivated primarily by one of the following:

  1. Status - Insider access and special recognition can be strong influencers for many. These folks are motivated by a leaderboard, badges, “expert” titles and an elevated status among your other customers.
  2. Spotlight – While you might argue that Status and Spotlight are similar, I believe the motivations are quite different. Advocates looking for spotlight opportunities want to grow their personal brand in a public way. These folks are eager for speaking opportunities, media interviews, blogging invites and awards. When they see that helping your brand can help their own personal brand, they become some of your most eager advocates.
  3. Sway – Some customers advocate because they want to have a direct impact on the direction of your product. They want special power to influence upgrades, feature requests and your product roadmap. They want your ear. They want sway.
  4. Stuff – And here we come to the dirty word. Stuff. Some people are extremely motivated by stuff.

I believe it a rare occurrence for an individual to be limited to only one of these motivational categories, but there’s often a primary motivation for acting as a brand advocate. Since we are all unique individuals who are susceptible to different motivations, I believe it’s important to offer a mix of benefits in your customer advocacy program to ensure it’s viewed as mutually beneficial to all types of customers.

So, here we come to the tough question:

Are advocates who are primarily driven by Stuff less valuable?

That’s the real question, right? Are customers who take on the role as advocate and ambassador for your organization less valuable if they were initially motivated to do so because they love that free swag or the occasional gift card?

I say “no” based on some first-hand evidence: Myself.

Not only do I run a customer advocacy program, but I am myself a customer. I am an active advocate for the organization whose platform we use for our advocate program at Bomgar, Influitive. When I first entered the Influitive program, I was honestly most excited about the possibility of earning some fun prizes. (Yes, that was a confession. I really love free stuff.) That was my initial motivator.

As I became more familiar with the product and the program, I also found enjoyment in Status and moving up the leaderboard. I am a bit competitive and goal oriented by nature, and I enjoyed my slow but steady progress up the ladder.

When Bomgar’s own program took off and I had more experience using their software, I enjoyed becoming a reference for Influitive prospects. Why? 1) I love to connect and network with folks, 2) I got some points for doing it (more free stuff!), and 3) I was and am genuinely passionate about Influitive’s product as well as advocate marketing as a whole. I could talk about it for hours.

Based on the success of our own program, I was also able to engage in Spotlight opportunities. It wasn’t until I did this that I discovered this, far more than any fun rewards, is ultimately the biggest motivator for me…now.

However, let’s review.

When I first joined Influitive’s advocacy program, my initial and primary motivation was what? Stuff. But the excitement over a few small earned rewards led to a strong affinity with the Influitive brand, real relationships with members of the Influitive team, and a truly mutually beneficial relationship with a brand I now love. Oh yeah, and mentioning them in this blog post without being asked.

That’s powerful stuff.

Not everyone is going to move through that exact progression, and you may have customers who are willing to act as brand advocates without a single tchotchke. Let’s hope so! But if giving tokens of gratitude and affection, along with Status, Spotlight and Sway makes it exciting and beneficial for customers to advocate for you, and gains you the access to build authentic and meaningful relationships with them, then I say, “Give them some Stuff!” These are some of your most vocal customers and strongest fans. If we’re willing to reward prospects with swag galore just for looking at us, why not share some of that love with the folks who actually picked you?

Does the fact that they respond to rewards make them any less valuable as customer advocates? There are exceptions to every rule (and yes, there is the occasional individual who always wants to game the system), but overall the answer is No!

The fact that your customer really enjoys free swag does not negate his authenticity or true affinity for your brand.

Back to my initial point; we are all motivated by something. Any advocate relationship hasto be mutually beneficial or you won’t have many advocates for long. Is one type of motivation more valuable than another? Possibly. But at the same time, I know from personal experience that even the motivation of free Stuff can blossom into a strong, loyal advocate.

Just take this Bomgar advocate for example. We asked 100 Bomgar advocates what their primary motivation for continuing in our advocacy program was. Although we had a healthy mix of folks who answered Recognition, Opportunity to Help a Company They Believed In, Becoming Part of a Community and the chance to Learn About the Product, Lance stated his primary motivation for continuing in the program was Rewards. But he left this comment:

“Well done. I can’t think of any other company that managed to get me involved to this degree.”

And by the way, Lance hasn’t bothered to claim any Rewards yet. Maybe I should send him a t-shirt. ;)

July 18, 2014
Liz Richardson