For startups and small businesses, when it comes to allocating marketing dollars, value is the most important word. We all seek to gain maximum value and exposure with limited budgets. Cultivating brand advocates who are excited to share their experience with you can be a low-cost, high-return marketing strategy.
Essentially, a brand advocate is someone who enjoys your product or service so much that they’re eager to tell others about it — whether that’s via social media or in real life, on their blog or in a publication. Brand advocates can be online influencers with millions of social media followers, or people who are active or well-respected in their industry. Here are seven ways to turn a regular customer or industry influencer into an active, engaged advocate for your brand:
- Befriend industry influencers. Thanks to the conversational nature of social media and the explosion of blogs in every niche and industry, marketing is now a two-way street that can benefit both sides. Reach out to people who would benefit from your product or service: introduce yourself, see about treating them to a coffee (if you live in the same city) and try to build a mutually beneficial relationship.
- Trade product instead of advertising. Advertising is expensive, especially when it comes to print publications or high-traffic blogs. See if the writer or blogger would be interested in reviewing your product or potentially giving one away: the cost of the product (or even two!) is often much cheaper than direct advertising and it encourages a much higher level of engagement. Popular blogs are often open to creating a hybrid of traditional sidebar advertising and reviewing a product; try to couple product reviews with advertisements on the same site for maximum exposure.
- Send snail mail. No matter how much of our lives are lived online, people still love to receive mail other than bills. If you have access to a key influencer’s address, buy some pretty stamps and a nice set of stationery and send them a note about how much you appreciate what they’ve done for your brand. The thrill of receiving a tweet from a brand wears off quickly, but a thoughtfully handwritten note is likely to be remembered.
- Send an email. If you find that there are people who are regularly interacting with your brand on social media and always have something great to say, move the relationship beyond that platform. If you aren’t able to send a handwritten note, sending a quick email to let them know how much you appreciate their support will go a long way in building the relationship.
- Give them a discount. Even if you can’t justify sending a free product to an influencer (perhaps their social media reach isn’t large enough or they aren’t in quite the right niche) consider offering a modest discount.
- Feature them on your blog. A regularly-updated blog can be a fantastic way to not only share company news but also establish a brand personality, connect with industry influencers, and highlight emerging talents in your industry. At ONA, we realized that our customers were constantly creating great original content for us through photos they shared on Instagram, Facebook or their personal blogs. We moved beyond highlighting emerging photographers in our Photographer Profile series and started featuring ONA users from a variety of backgrounds (e.g., professional photographers, bloggers, photo enthusiasts, etc.) in different ways. People now regularly contact ONA for a chance to be featured on the blog. Not only does this associate ONA with incredible talent, it also shows potential customers how existing customers are using the product.
- Treat them to a coffee. One of the best ways to build long-term relationships is to get to know influencers beyond their blogs, publications or Instagram feeds. We regularly reach out to photographers and bloggers about meeting up over a coffee or a drink. Those conversations (that aren’t just brand-focused) often lead to creative collaborations. Keep an eye on Twitter and relevant blogs to know when out-of-town influencers will be coming through your city — and make plans!
Brand advocates can create some of the best value for a small business or emerging brand. The word-of-mouth marketing that results from their kind words can exponentially increase your company’s profile and positive associations. Keep them engaged as you grow and you’ll likely catch more brand advocates’ and influencers’ attention along the way.
Tracy Foster is the founder of ONA (pronounced ō’na), an emerging company that designs and sells fine camera bags and accessories for photographers. Tracy launched ONA in June 2010.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.