Many startups are facing a period of profound change, and business leaders will have to prioritise where they spend. Marketing is easy to think of as a problem for the future, particularly when time and cashflow are limited. But there are ways to build your brand without diverting much resource to the effort, leaving you free to focus on urgent business decisions.
This is where advocate marketing comes in. It’s a reasonably fluid technique, and further down the line of your business it could be something that you put more resources into. For now though, you could develop an advocate marketing strategy that doesn’t require any financial investment – just a savvy use of your time.
What is advocate marketing?
First and foremost, it does not involve paid influencers. Instead, your customers are encouraged to organically praise your company to their own networks. In many ways it’s the earliest form of marketing, based on reputation and word of mouth.
By contrast, influencer marketing involves paying advocates to promote your product to their own network, often on social media. It’s under increasing scrutiny by regulators, and has met with scepticism from consumers recently too.
Advocate marketing can be seen as more authentic. If a person close to you recommends a product because they have genuinely had a good experience of it, you are likely to trust them more than you would a paid influencer.
How does trust come into it?
Last year’s Edelman Trust Barometer shows that ‘the employer’ is one of the most trusted public figures or entities, even more so than NGOs. The survey concluded that 75% see their employer as a trustworthy source of information.
They also expect employers, especially CEOs, to lead on change. Businesses are rewarded for their efforts, with those who contribute to the community seen as more trustworthy by their employees.
A business with a strong message can make the most of this. By refining and sharing carefully curated content, which supports your business’ ethos, you will produce a bank of material that both your employees and your customers will trust.
They might then be more inclined to share that material to their own networks. Social media is vital for start-ups, and a good campaign could be picked up and shared organically no matter the size of the business.
Quality over quantity
Advocate marketing works at its best when the quality of the message is emphasised over the quantity of them. In the case of sponsored content, it would be easy to offer money per post: which results in a little-trusted onslaught of spam. It would be far better to develop a key message and deploy it carefully, for customers and employees to share organically on their own networks.
For start-ups, employees are your key advocates. They will regularly be in touch with exactly the people that your business needs, in its early stages: think about the kind of message that you can prime them with for those conversations.
Some of the best advocacy work comes from a sense of familiarity with the business, or its brand. This is where employees are best placed to support your message. Try to remind them of how important it is to share their good experiences of your business. They know it well, and their praise is authentic.
How do I start?
Develop some key ideas of how to present your business. It might involve some of the more obviously shareable content, like a strong CSR policy. Equally, you could develop a brand identity that prides itself on transparency and integrity – whichever route you take, clarify the central messages of your business.
Emphasise to your employees the importance of sharing their good experiences, especially with their professional networks. One truly authentic recommendation from an employee is invaluable.
You’re starting out as a new business, and building a network of contacts all the time. Leverage the contacts you have: what it comes down to is giving the people you work with a reason to praise your business.