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The Quickest Way to Get Ahead? Give Your Customers a Promotion!
By: Ted Curtin
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Congratulations! Go ahead and pat yourself on the back because your company is providing clear value and delivering great service. You can confidently say that your brand is connected. You regularly engage your customers in meaningful ways and you’re rightfully proud to be able to say that you have advocates. It’s easy for your staff to treat your customers like royalty because you treat your employees well — but are you missing an opportunity to leverage that powerful base of support by not taking advantage of a valuable source of product feedback and brand evaluation?

To fully realize the potential in your brand’s fan base, you need to take the next step. Organize your advocates, reward them for their loyalty, and galvanize their stake in the success of your brand by creating Advocacy Groups. They can be built around virtual communities you develop or periodic in-person events that bring customers and companies together in faced-to-face settings. Either way, these powerful communities are a way for you to proactively engage the public sentiment surrounding your brand.  They afford you the opportunity to address potential problems amongst your most vocal fans before the problem and your brand’s public reputation gets away from you.

At the extreme end, Harley Davidson is known as much for their old-school chrome-laden choppers as its H.O.G. Wild customer group. Harley’s Owners Group is actually a paid membership program (Harley gives new owners the first year free) but their visibility and lifestyle focus is so strong they are probably one of the company’s most visible marketing assets.

A few tips for a successful Advocacy Group program:
  • Be transparent. This will avoid losing legitimacy of the group’s support. Customers can be proud to participate in a company’s advisory panel efforts, and in turn add to the member incentive to continue to contribute to the greater good of the community.
  • Maintain integrity. A small reward acknowledging participant appreciation is fine but be sure to distance the reward from the actual transactional relationship (think promotional tchotchkes rather than cash or product discounts). This helps avoid corrupting the feedback and artificially influencing the action within the group. Remember, nothing shows appreciation like actively listening and continuing to provide the best products and services possible.
  • Run this as a marathon, not a sprint. Short-term efforts rarely provide significant value and can even backfire. This should be looked at as a long-term commitment within your entire organization. It will likely require some internal company alignment and education to ensure systems are in place in order to address issues efficiently, respond to opportunities and to fully utilize the information you can derive from your advocacy group.  
Your fans are likely talking about your brand on community sites like Facebook and Twitter already. Wouldn’t it be nice to let them know you’re interested in what they have to say? That way, when problems arise — and they most always do — these vocal customers will likely point it out to you immediately, giving you the opportunity to address the situation before you lose fans (worse case) or end up with a PR disaster running viral on YouTube with little time or ability for you to react (much worse case)!

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About the Author
Ted Curtin is a recognized strategic marketing leader with over 22 years experience covering online and offline marketing channels. Follow him on Twitter or at TedCurtin.com
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