Helping brands earn fans
Customer Marketing | Employee Engagement
Post by Nick Venturella
While the concept of customer marketing is not new the dedicated discipline of it in a B2B setting is still relatively new.
As a result, if you're trying to learn and apply all the lessons you can grasp related to customer marketing you may be falling shorter than you'd like if you lack access to the few good mentors that exists in this discipline.
There is another way to gain mentorship from talented customer marketers, though...
Books can serve as a great alternative to connecting with mentors when you don't have direct access to such experienced professionals.
With that said, I'm introducing to you a quarterly customer marketing recommended reading list.
Tune in next time for another three recommended books!
Posted by Nick Venturella
What’s the quickest way for you to have affinity to a brand you use?
By having a positive experience with that brand, it’s products or services.
What’s involved with having a good experience?
Getting your problem solved? Sure.
Getting value for the price you paid? Sure.
More importantly, it’s having an experience that evokes a positive emotion, one that evokes trust -- meaning your experience met or exceeded your expectations so you trust the brand that provided the experience, and you felt more closely connected to that brand as a result of your positive experience.
As a customer, this kind of brand affinity is further extended when you can share your experience with others, especially others who have also engaged with that same brand, and who have had a similar experience. When that happens, you’re immediately connected to another individual by association with the brand. This is how the network effect in a community surrounding a brand can start, and advocates are born.
Smart companies set up opportunities to help their customers not only accelerate their successes with their products/services but to capitalize on meeting and exceeding their customers’ expectations with the added value of inviting them to meet, network, and educate their peers (other customers) who have shared a similar experience with the brand.
This is how social media groups around a topic, or product thrive. It's how musicians build dedicated fan bases, and it's how your company can also build a loyal following.
This advocacy effect can be leveraged to the mutual benefit of both the customer and the company. However that only takes place if you why and how advocacy happens. Then reverse engineer that journey that advocating customers take to make sure your organization is appealing to the kinds of experiences your customers are consciously, or subconsciously, looking for that will lead to their affinity of your brand and them becoming advocates in time.
So what are some of those customer journey milestones that lead a current customer to become an advocate?
(Side note: Read David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott's book, Fanocracy for some additional in-depth thoughts and case studies around these ideas)
When you create a string of positive experiences that have an emotional appeal to your customers, you continue to build trust with them over time, and you continue to partner with them -- partnering with your customers goes well beyond a monetary transaction.
That partnership leads to your customers' affinity for you, your products or services, and your brand overall. That's how customer advocates are cultivated over time. The result is successful, happy customers that will defend your brand and help you sell to new customers, as well as extend the mutual lifetime value of their own relationship with you.
And it's just good business.
Posted by Nick Venturella
Yes, there is this world-wide pandemic called COVID-19, or the coronavirus, as of this writing.
It’s not good.
It’s affecting everyone.
People are doing what they can to stay and work from home for public health and safety reasons.
However, businesses, that are employers and their individual employees, still need to keep working to the best of their ability because all parties need to continue earning income for basic living and operations expenses.
From an organizational business standpoint, Customer Marketing, Customer Success, Customer Experience and Advocacy are all about partnering with your customers to build a human relationship that thrives together vs. simply being transactional.
Now, more than ever, a human first approach is needed.
By no means am I trying to minimize what’s currently going on, the hardships many are facing as a result of COVID-19, and/or the impact this will all have mentally and financially once this thing is over…
…However, that being said…
Those organizations that can keep their heads, stay transparent with their customer-partners, and work together with those customers to build bridge solutions that extend each other’s solvency will emerge stronger on the back end of this, and be in a better position for a more expedient recovery.
Here’s what’s key in Customer Marketing Crisis Communications
Those people and organizations who are there in clutch situations are remembered with deeper regard and loyalty when the dust settles.
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.
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?