By Lasse Lund

March 30th, 2016

As far back as 2012, global accountancy firm Ernst & Young was suggesting that brand loyalty was effectively dead. According to their research, just 25% of US shoppers, and 24% of Western Europeans considered themselves brand-loyal.

Despite this, marketers have known for many years that existing customers are both cheaper to sell to, and more profitable. For instance, Gartner tells CMOs that 80% of their future revenue comes from 20% of their existing customer base.

So encouraging buyers to return is still vital – particularly if you can then convert them into customer advocates. Word of mouth remains one of the most powerful sales conversion tools, as social platforms and trust become a regular part of the modern buyer’s consideration process.

But how does your business go about increasing (and maintaining) brand loyalty through customer advocacy?

Discover your audience with social listening
With the ability to reach billions of consumers online, your brand influence extends far beyond your own followers. In fact, your Facebook page fans and Twitter followers represent just a fraction of your potential audience.

The first stage of building any brand loyalty strategy is social listening. Whichever social channels your business is planning to target, take the time to monitor updates and interactions to gain an understanding of:

  • What people are saying about your business and products.
  • What they are saying about your competitors.
  • Their feelings about your industry in general.
  • How they talk about subjects relevant to your business.

By paying particular attention to your existing clients – those who could be converted into customer advocates – you can use these insights to plan the next stage of your brand loyalty strategy: Activation.

Bonus tip: Try listening on social channels you don’t plan to use – you may be able to tap into a previously undiscovered audience.

Activate your social sharing
Once you understand what your customers and prospects want to hear, you can create and publish targeted content to address them. You can build a detailed social persona that helps to define your ideal brand advocate, and build out content that will educate and entertain them.

When your prospects come across something that is particularly useful, many will be prepared to share your content with their followers. So, even before they make a purchase from you, these “sharing is caring”-motivated users are already acting as brand advocates.

Bonus tip: Build a central repository for your social content (such as Falcon Social’s content pool) so that it can be reused easily. After initial publication, much of your content will be useful for sharing with individuals – a practice that is crucial for step 3 below.

Engage your customer advocates
With publishing underway, social monitoring will help you identify the people who are engaging with your content. These are the people you are going to target as your new brand advocates.

Take every opportunity to engage with these people, striking up a rapport and building a relationship – even in the age of self-service internet purchasing, people still buy from people, so it pays to present a human side of your business. Take a proactive approach with your would-be advocates by:

  • Answering their questions.
  • Providing additional information that is relevant to their interests, preferences, and context.
  • Joining discussions where your business can share something relevant to drive the conversation forwards.

Bonus tip: Identifying and engaging potential customer advocates does not mean bombarding them with sales messaging. This approach will alienate them, potentially destroying your brand loyalty strategy. Focus on delivering value and creating trust. Play the long game.

Deliver exceptional customer experiences
A relationship does not end the moment that a customer finishes entering their credit card details and clicks ‘Buy.’ Brand loyalty involves giving customers an experience that exceeds their expectations at every point – from the moment they first encounter your online presence, to the actual process purchase, to post-sales support.

Social monitoring will allow you to track existing customers and offer value-added services for instance. Free gifts, upgrades or invites to product launches are all relatively low-cost ways to keep advocates engaged and sharing your messages.

This support is absolutely vital when you consider 40% of customers begin shopping with a competitor simply because they heard about that company’s good customer service.

Bonus tip: Take the opportunity to engage with vocal brand haters too. Even if you can’t turn the situation around for a disgruntled customer, you can still demonstrate the kind of exceptional customer service that captures the attention of other people turning them into brand advocates – have a look at the Iron Horse example here.

Traditional tools used to bolster brand loyalty, like subscriber discounts and reward cards, no longer hold the attraction they once did. The reality is that brand loyalty simply cannot be bought anymore. Instead, your business will need to earn it – often one interaction at a time.

Which is why you will need to begin building a social customer advocacy program sooner, rather than later.

Need further help and advice? Let’s chat.

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