We’ve all heard the hype about how the web is turning customers into advocates, even evangelists for your brand. And yes, digital encourages consumers to network, share, exchange and comment more. But show me the brands that are really using this.

Generally 20-30% of a direct business’ costs are spent on marketing, so if brands really can start using their customers as an extension of their own sales efforts, there’s a lot to gain.

The concept of encouraging or rewarding your customers to spread the word is not a new thing. MGMs, recommend-a-friend and testimonials do just that.

Online, it’s a difficult balancing act; if you’re inviting your customers to have their say, you need to be prepared for views you might not like.

There’s also a fine line between encouraging and rewarding customers to do your marketing for you. If it starts looking like and out and out bribery, your recommendations lose all credibility.

So, how do you turn customers into evangelists?

First: Make sure you have a strong and differentiated offer - without one, you’ll never be a talking point. Let customers express their experiences or feelings in your purchase and customer service processes. Include reviews, ratings, voting or passing on a recommendation. This content will help with your search rankings too.

Second: Reward but don’t bribe – find appropriate levels of incentives to encourage member get member and natural word of mouth. Offer creative components that can be taken to other sites. Games, product configurators, calculators or new product videos can all provoke sharing and discussion.

Third: Involve users in your product/service development. US t-shirt company. For example, Threadless invite users designs, with significant financial reward and kudos if one of your t-shirt designs is produced. Make users famous. Some love to see their name in lights and are happy to spend ten minutes extolling a product or experience. Let them do a more detailed product review, or be interviewed about their experience, and promote it on your site.

Lastly: Embrace bad feedback. Customers who have had bad experiences and are shouting about it can be your strongest evangelists of all. Take online feedback, good and bad, involve critical customers in beta-testing of enhanced products or services and release your updates to let everyone, fans and cynics, letting them know that you have listened and improved. Don’t be afraid to invite them to further critique your offer – you’ll gain great credibility.

Do all of this and evangelism from your customer base will follow.

http://www.truedigital.co.uk/

Published on: 8:28PM on 15th July 2009