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Brands have always looked for ways to get more loyal customers.

But since social media has taken off, they are also encouraging these loyal customers to become brand advocates.

So, how are brands cultivating customer loyalty and building advocacy?

This was one of the topics discussed at our recent roundtables in Sydney, sponsored by Epsilon.

How brands cultivate loyalty

Overall, participants were positive about cultivating loyalty through providing great customer experiences.  And, in many cases, this loyalty can lead to customer advocacy. 

But, as participants noted, loyalty and advocacy are not the same thing. Loyalty, however, comes before advocacy so the discussions started by talking about how brands are encouraging more loyalty.

Start with your own employees

With many organizations, customer loyalty actually starts with employees.  Engaged employees who are empowered to improve customer experience make customers happy faster, participants stated.

One suggested that brands could use gamification techniques to encourage employees to think of ways to improve CX on a regular basis. Rewards and other incentives, they said, can help kick-start a new approach to improving CX.

Improve your digital CX

Another suggestion was that as organisations improve their customers' digital experience, customer loyalty will naturally follow.

Most people these days suffer from information overload and so brands need to simplify their engagement with customers. Brands, therefore, should provide only what is directly relevant to their customers' personal needs, at a frequency they desire.

Predict customer needs

Then, once a brand has simplified its digital customer experiences, it should look at anticipating customer needs to present meaningful offers at just the right time.

That way, customers will be connected with the brand regularly at a deeper, more personal level and will not be open to change simply because of cost.

Building advocacy

The discussion then turned to building customer advocacy.  That is, once a brand has established customer loyalty, how can it encourage its customers to spread its good qualities on social media?  How can a brand convert loyal customers to 'advocates'?

Search for passionate customers

Participants reported that finding passionate customers is key to identifying advocates.  Brands need to look for customers who are genuinely engaged with them in an authentic and personal way. 

The best place to find passionate customers is on social media and, when spotted, be sure to reach out, make contact, and thank them for their contribution. Advocacy should follow shortly after.

Build a customer-based community

Passionate customers can then be drawn into a community which supports their passion and gives them the inside information they enjoy sharing with their peers.

These communities may be on the brand's website, a customer-to-customer portal, or even at physical locations, if appropriate. Harley-Davidson is the best example of a brand which has done this well.

Reel in social media detractors

Another suggestion for finding advocates was to look on social media for brand 'detractors'. These are people who may have had a bad experience with the brand and are sincerely discussing it with others.

One participant noted that detractors can be 'reeled in' by offering to meet them face-to-face.  And then the loudest detractors, once satisfied, can become the greatest advocates.

What to avoid when building advocacy

First off, note that not all of your loyal customers are good candidates to be advocates. Some customers are 'just fine as-is', according to one participant, and they don't want to be disturbed.

Also, there are others who are loyal to your brand because it is too hard to change. When trying to develop advocacy, it's important to identify that segment and, again, leave them alone.

And there were mixed feelings about using paid influencers as advocates.  Some participants felt that using them presented a risk of coming across as inauthentic and untrustworthy.  

Other marketers said that they had a good experience with influencers found through a marketplace, Tribe. They felt that the influencers they worked with developed a genuine connection with their brand and were able to speak authentically about it.

Summing it up

So, attendees agreed that most brands will have loyal customers who are passionate about your brand.  And loyal customers are often looking for an authentic, personalized, and community-based brand relationship.

People who are looking for such things are the most likely to become advocates and brands should empower them to deliver the brand message.

It is therefore, the table concluded, an exciting time for customers because brands are starting to reach out to passionate customers and communicate with them in a smarter, more personalized way.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank all of the client-side marketers who participated on the day and our sponsor for the event, Epsilon.

We would like to extend a special thanks to our moderator for the Cultivating Loyalty - When Experiences Develop Advocacy table, Sharon Melamed, Managing Director, Matchboard.

We truly appreciate all of the effort participants put into making this an instructive day for everyone and we hope to see you at future Econsultancy events!

For more from the Sydney roundtables, read the first in this series, Customer experience: building the business case.

Jeff Rajeck

Published 21 March, 2016 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

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