Helping brands earn fans
Customer Marketing | Employee Engagement
posted by: Nick Venturella
While social media and digital marketing disciplines will still be needed in 2020, there is a fatigue that is occurring among the audiences of those marketing tactics.
More specifically, so much messaging is scheduled or AI or something automated that it can often keep the human connections of the people involved in B2B organizations (marketers/sellers and buyers) at arm’s length from one another.
Given this state of automated, often-non-human message bombardment, how do B2B marketers cut through the clutter to be heard and generate positive results?
In a word: balance.
In my opinion there’s really one umbrella concept that you need to focus on to determine the right balance of all the other key areas underneath that concept...
What I mean by this is, your organization needs to build partnerships internally and externally that are mutually beneficial to create a self-sustaining and scalable ecosystem of market potential.
In regular speak: start with your own network of employees, partners, and customers to create genuine win-win situations that brings value to what each party cares about. This is not a new concept, but it’s needed now more than ever.
That means, starting to invest where you are vs. only being heavy handed towards demand generation. If you currently invest 80% of marketing budget in demand gen. and 20% elsewhere to build relationships and partnerships across your organization’s current network (employees, partners, customers), consider changing that to 70% / 30%, or even 60% / 40%.
Your organization’s current network is where you can begin to gain depth and eventually more scalable reach due to the network effect of cultivating advocates over time. To cultivate advocates over time is simple: build mutually beneficial relationships with those humans in your organization’s network over time – always be trying to give great unexpected value, and it will come back to you in spades. This practice will help drive forward and upward the success of all involved.
How this drives everyone’s success forward and upward is by caring about the success of the people involved in each area as much, if not more, than the wealth of your own organization. (If you take care of the people involved, wealth will come. Here’s a Harvard Business Review article that highlights this effect.)
The basic idea is that your organization’s brand stands for something, and your products/services help your target audience achieve something, so then the question is, how can you bring additional value to others beyond “I have a problem and you have a solution,” with a real human relationship?
The idea is to elevate the connections your organization’s network has far beyond the capabilities of the product or service you sell to build meaningful and fruitful relationships.
Also, and this is crucial, you have to actually and authentically care about these partnerships (and if you care about the success of your business you will care about these partnerships on a human-to-human level – people run businesses, and people buy from people, period).
Because more and more people in this digitally chaotic world are craving trusted human interactions – and they can still be online interactions, just more human-to-human vs. bots – the power in driving market growth is in building relationships that build community where that community trusts one another to give their attention to one another learning and improving because of one another around a common purpose, brand or product, but it’s less about the entity that’s bringing them together and more so about the collective outcome of expanding one’s trusted network and ecosystem of human connections.
This is where concepts of Employee Engagement, Partner Marketing, Customer Experience, Customer Success, Customer Marketing and Advocacy come into play. They all exist to leverage and scale an organization’s current network, which can’t even begin to provide dividends for anyone involved until trust is built and real human relationships are cultivated.
Post by: Nick Venturella
Journaling has real, physical and mental health benefits, according to Michael Grothaus’ article published in Fast Company Magazine (2015), “Why Journaling is Good for Your Health (And 8 Tips to Get Better).”
The article featured Dr. James Pennebaker, a psychologist and leading expert in the field of Expressive Writing (EW), which is a specific type of journaling.
The article identifies that journaling can strengthen immune cells (for science folks these are T-lymphocytes) and has been associated with decreases in depressive behaviors, anxiety as well as increases in positive mood, social engagement and improvement in the quality of close relationships.
Inspired by this, I began examining my own journal writing habits to determine why I personally found it useful toward my own goal achievement and overall mood.
It turns out there is a ton of research on growth mindset, optimism, and journaling self-care benefits:
The point is there is evidence that taking, even a little bit of, time each day to self-reflect and put to pen to paper can improve your life.
There are three main components of the GrowLoop Journal
Ideally, the more you use the journal to develop the daily habit of expressing your thoughts and completing the prompts, you increase your likelihood of being more engaged, productive, confident and optimistic, which positions you for success and better equips you to overcome challenges and obstacles that might otherwise derail you.
For each prompt you complete each day you’ll get a score. Then based on your score and mood you’ll rate your happiness in the Happiness Tracker within the journal using a green, yellow, red system (green = good, yellow = okay, red = not good).
Over time you can see trends related to how your daily writing, completing the prompts, and taking action towards your goals is affecting your mood. (The visual of using actual Green, Yellow and Red colors to fill in these boxes – vs. just writing in the letter that represents the color – allows these trends to stand out easier, in my opinion.)
The Happiness Tracker is a summary over time of how your journaling practice and goal pursuit is making you feel, and the Goal pages in the front of the journal, along with your documented monthly achievement summaries, shows your progress toward meeting your goals.
The more you take action to accomplish your goals, the more likely you’ll be happier with a positive outlook, and vice versa, the better you feel about yourself and your mood, the more likely you’ll take the necessary actions to achieve your goals.
"I've been using the GrowLoop Journal...and it's been a transformative experience...I wanted to purchase a few copies for my team members at CultureCon."
--Zach Blumenfeld | Co-Founder | CultureCon LLC
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Whether you are a musician cultivating true fans or a SaaS based tech enterprise cultivating customer advocates, to scale your word-of-mouth marketing and sales efforts the key is to first provide value to your customers to engage them and, over time, cultivate them into advocates.
You can’t have advocates without engagement, and you can’t have engagement without providing some level of consistent value to your customers.
Now, this was part of the inbound marketing concept, and still is, but instead of just providing a free valuable download for some level of customer data, the back and forth communication is now in real-time and it’s an ongoing conversation – not just 1:1 (you and your customer). It’s now also peer-to-peer between your customers and those in your customers’ networks – they’re talking with each other to share experiences and best practices about you, your product or service, online for all to see and review.
That may seem a bit overwhelming to manage, but that is the point: it is not something you can completely control. You have to build a strategy to participate in partnership with your customers to join the conversation. Doing so provides you the best opportunity to help guide the narrative in a truly mutually beneficial way that is win-win for your customer and you (notice the order of those words “your customer” is first, then “you”).
In that process if you make a point to always first bring value to your customers when you communicate with them, customers will more often than not rise to the occasion to advocate on your behalf. That’s the simplicity of the win-win relationship that starts with engagement – not only your customers’ engagement, but yours as well. You have to authentically want your customers to succeed with or without your product/service...and certainly far beyond your product.
Why is this sort of engagement important?
Your engaging with your customers in a provide-value-and-connect-authentically-because-you care-about-your-customers’-success sort of way not only endears you to your customers, but when word gets out about how you operate in this way you will begin to attract others to you. That means more brand exposure, new business, and more advocates.
So how can you begin to foster that kind of engagement?
There are plenty of voice-of-customer software platforms that help you more easily cultivate your customers into advocates at scale, and fairly quickly, however, if you’re small or operating on little to no budget there are simple tools available to help. In fact, I would argue that it’s more about your strategy, approach, and starting where you are currently at than the specific tools you use.
However, if you can clearly define how you’ll measure your customer advocacy success and even attribute ROI dollars to it, you’ll be able to more easily justify the cost of specific platforms and tools that will help you scale your efforts to drive even more value for your customers and your organization. Things like, calculating the cost-savings of deflecting support tickets with peer-to-peer networking and best practices sharing, or the amount of new, closed/won business that was brought over the finish line by a customer reference.
When there is a will there is a way…
If nothing else, start with communicating to your customers via an email list. Ask your customers in an email how you can help provide more value to them beyond your products and services. Specifically, let them know you would like to create a partnership with them for your mutual benefit.
Ask your customers:
Then invite those customers who respond to invite their coworkers and colleagues to participate in a partnership whereby you communicate regularly with your customers (again tools matter less than strategy here) via email, social media, online groups, whatever you have to use, and consistently present your customers with opportunities to do all the things you asked them about in those questions above, and if you use the suggestions they provided you, you’ll get more participation.
It may be slow going at first, but anything new typically doesn’t start out as a huge success, but if you keep at it and are able to track and identify the impact such efforts are having for your organization, you’ll be in a far better position to justify better tools that make this effort more efficient to scale with great ROI. However, that can't happen without a good strategy first.
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) may help your business succeed now and in the future, but Customer Intelligence (C.I.) will always win.
Here’s what I love about the business discipline of customer experience, customer engagement, customer success and advocacy it’s all about using communication to build relationships at scale, but not just any type of relationship, we’re talking about trusted, human relationships.
How do you appeal to an individual human when you are trying to build such relationships at scale?
The answer is that you speak to, and connect with, the individual. Companies are not people. People run companies.
Even if you don’t have the resources to buy fancy technology that helps you easily scale the presentation of personalized communication or information tracks to your fans and customers, you can be personal in your content by writing it as if you are writing to an individual — your target audience. This is the kind of individual with whom you know your message will resonate to help advance the relationship while bringing value to them.
A key is ensuring you’re messages bring value to the recipient without expectation of anything in return…
Or, if you do expect something in the return, that return needs to have less perceived weight in its value, take less energy, or time on the part of the recipient than the value you are providing to them.
Oh, and frame it as an opportunity, not a favor. Favors are not advocacy, they burn people out. Favors make advocates avoid you. Did I mention, don’t ask for favors?
Why is all this important if you’re a solo-practitioner, creative entrepreneur, or even a publicly traded enterprise SaaS business?
Ever since the internet came along — the second marketing rebellion, according to Mark Schaefer — the power of information transferred from companies to customers.
Customers are in control of the purchasing and buying cycles like never before. They research information and ask peers for recommendations rapidly, and in far reaching ways across the internet.
This leads to the lack of control companies have in their marketing — what Schaefer refers to as the third marketing rebellion.
Now, customers are not only in control of buying cycles, but in many ways, the marketing messages themselves because that’s what they trust — hearing from peers and others like them, not the companies producing the solutions.
So, what does this mean for you and/or your company’s marketing efforts?
It means, you have to determine how best to operationalize and facilitate your customers’ to be your marketers and sales people, and product development idea generators and support reps and partner program facilitators, and more.
The only way you’re in business is if you have customers, and in this day and age you’ll need to partner with your customers as part of your company’s extended team (perhaps the most important team members) to create great and engaging experiences that customers help shape and get to own.
Not only does this help customers have the kind of experience they want as they interact with your business, but it makes your job easier by taking the guesswork out of deciding how to provide what your customers need.
The only real way to create such a partnership is to have authentic, real communication with customers that builds trusted relationships.
Whether you're a musician, new startup or an established enterprise, you have customers who are responsible for your endeavor's income.
Those customers are your best sales and marketing team as well as your best source of income growth. But only if you provide them opportunities to benefit from a relationship with you.
Like engaging employees to cultivate internal brand ambassadors and the kind of company culture you want, when you build a similar relationship with your customers you can expect similar results.
However, in both cases you have to be human in your interactions -- these are people you're dealing with, not just numbers on a spreadsheet or assets. That means you have to have good emotional intelligence and provide value to get value.
This is not the time to ask your best customers for favors. Present them opportunities that appeal to their ability to achieve their own personal and professional success. Opportunities that also help your organization -- a true, transparent, win-win.
This can be done at scale with various advocate marketing platforms (Influitive for enterprise level businesses, VIP Crowd for SMBs). These kinds of platforms help you continuously stay engaged with your customers and help them want to stay engaged with you.
You might think of it a bit like a dedicated social network for your customers -- a place to consistently provide your customers content and activities that are relevant to their role as they use your products or services. Because the experience is individualized, by engaging, customers gain relevant industry education, opportunities to network with professional peers and get recognition for their successes while having all sorts of opportunities to provide their unique feedback on (and therefore, have some level of ownership in) the next iteration of your product or service.
There is gamification involved, which is fun and initially sparks action from your customers to engage, but I've found that they stick around because there are more intrinsic values that resonate with the customers once they've started to engage. Those intrinsic values are presented by opportunities that appeal to the customer first, and your company second.
What advocate marketing platforms really come down to is building a reciprocal, healthy relationship with your customers. One that is a win-win, benefiting both parties. You know, like a partnership.
This kind of partnership, is what will extend the lifetime value of your customers. Instead of only having customers that buy one time and leave in a year, you can help keep those customers for several years and even have them interested in add-on purchases from you (this is where current customer growth can happen at scale). However, these things have to be cultivated over time, and you have to remember you're dealing with humans, not assets or numbers. That means you have to want to build real, meaningful, professional relationships.
What's really interesting about this concept to me is that it can be applied to just about any business, and you don't have to have an advocate marketing platform to accomplish some level of this.
Even though I'm a marketer, I'm also, and always have been, a working musician, as such, I keep in touch with those who follow my writings and music -- fans (my customers) -- regularly. Primarily, I do this through an email newsletter that provides exclusive content to my readers that I don't publish elsewhere online.
I try to pack valuable pieces of information in those newsletters that can be useful to the individual humans (fans) who subscribe and consume it. The result is that over time we get to build a relationship and a rapport of sorts. Through opportunities for feedback I learn about my fans' preferences and their ideas for songs or additional products I create, and I take that feedback seriously and implement as much of it as I can to continue to provide my fans (customers) what they've shared they want and need.
The ultimate result, is having customers who have been cultivated over time to become your advocate because you've developed a relationship with them. They trust and believe in you, your business, product or service. Plus, you become their advocate for similar reasons, and thus, genuinely want to see their success because you care about them.
Did you know your customers can help you fix just about any business challenge you have?
Yup, it's true.
Along the journey of engaging your customers, if done well with the customers' interests in mind first and foremost above your own, the customer can and will help you solve most of your business issues.
Things you may not be thinking of related to the above stats are that not only are your current customers likely buying more from you over time, but if they love you, they’re referring others to you, and helping you to close new business as a genuine and credible reference customer.
If ever there was a silver bullet business growth strategy, it’s your current customers.
Are you a new business? Then hustle to get your first few customers and engage the heck out of them. Help them be successful in their business even if it seems a bit beyond the scope of what your products/services are designed to do.
Business is done by people. Be genuine, care about your company, your employees, your customers and their employees. Everyone needs to make a living to support themselves and their families – to live their lives in meaningful ways. If you put forth the effort, I can guarantee you that commercial karma will come back to you in spades.
What are you doing to engage your customers to be wildly successful with your products/services?
I was recently at an advocate marketing industry conference (Advocamp) where I saw David Spinks, CEO of CMX Media speak. He outlined some major trends and research around how isolation is more prevalent these days even though we are more connected than ever with the Internet.
The stats were astonishing. Loneliness has been proven to be as detrimental to an individual’s health as smoking or obesity. I personally related as being an isolated remote worker contributing to those statistics.
Isolation and mental health is not a new issue, but it's gaining more exposure lately, which is a good step toward improving it.
Even, marketer/entrepreneur extraordinaire, Gary Vaynerchuk, said, “Mental health needs to be the number one thing we talk about over the next 20 years. Mental Health is something we need to put on a pedestal and really start talking about…if you’re brain’s not right, nothing else is gonna work.” (check out DailyVee episode 341).
I have spent the better part of the last two years working remotely from my home.
While I love the autonomy of working the way I do I have found that the isolation, even though I talk to people via phone and online all day, is intense when not occupying the same physical space as other human beings.
This was making me irritable, obsessed about little things around the house being in the right place, and it was making me depressed, all of which was affecting my own well-being as well as my family's.
Today, I'm in a better place. Balance is key. I still work remotely. I am actually enjoying it more than ever, but there are some things I figured out that helped me turn the corner toward a more positive mindset to make working remotely work for me.
Being a creative professional, I often write in a journal to hone my craft, capture ideas, work out strategies for projects as well as distill my emotions.
At this point in my life, I have been journaling for nearly two decades and have multiple volumes of journals collected for posterity. Although I wasn't always journaling daily or specifically touching on things in my writing to purposely help improve my mindset, I did notice that in my spurts of regular writing through the years it often helped improve my mood. It was and is cathartic to get things out of my head and onto paper.
More recently I had come across a few articles that each mentioned James Pennebaker's research on the effects of expressive writing and keeping a journal.
The simple act of having a daily writing practice to allow one to reflect on what they've experienced and how they felt and how that kind of writing can improve one's mood, mindset and even immune health was inspiring to me.
This made me think of being more purposeful with my own journaling to improve my mental health as I continue to work from home. Eventually, I created a journaling framework to do just that.
It started out as a personal journaling system just for me, but I realized that maybe others could benefit from it as well.
Along with wanting to identify goals and track progress over time towards meeting those goals, I wanted to incorporate into my daily writing things that would help improve my mood beyond just the act of writing itself.
I found that identifying things I was grateful for as well as victories I accomplished towards my goals and acts of kindness that I had performed no matter how large or small served as a conscious reminder of good and positive things in my life that reflected my values and more of the way I wanted to live.
Over a short period of time this approach began to change my mindset and my mood. I felt like I had more energy, was more positive with my family and had a better outlook on each day.
That’s when I thought of a way to work into the framework of short daily prompts, a scoring system that easily allows one to track their color-coded mood (red, yellow, green) over time and identify trends of how they’re feeling to be informed and potentially change up daily habits, or continue daily habits that are working, to positively affect one’s overall mood.
This solution is a simple, low-tech, high-result journal called the GrowLoop Journal that can potentially increase one’s productivity and health for less than $20.
I’m not saying it’s the only, or even the best solution, but it’s an extremely affordable place to start for those in creative fields, those who work remotely and are fighting isolation, those who wish to reduce their anxiety and stress, or even professionals looking to up their game (when in a positive state of mind, it’s easier to achieve success).
I can see not only individuals using this, but entire work teams who are striving for a more positive company culture promoting health (physical and mental) as well as productivity and personal/professional development…essentially humans trying to be better humans.
This journaling system, along with some needed time spent among other working humans in a coffee shop, has helped to improve my mood and productivity.