Globally renowned brand advocacy expert and social psychologist Paul Marsden says the right kind of advocacy can push business growth. A research director at London-based marketing agency Brand Genetics Ltd, Marsden, who was in India to attend the ZenithOptimedia seminar on advocacy, speaks on trends in badvocacy (getting people to write bad reviews or blogs about your rivals) and how advertising and marketing can get people to recommend a brand. Edited excerpts:
On word of mouth in times of recession
When times are hard, word of mouth is good for two reasons. First, it’s free and, second, when you start listening to what people are saying, you start asking questions about the experience you are actually giving to your customers. Am I worthy of positive word-of-mouth?—you question.
The good word: Marsden says personal recommendation is the No.1 influence in purchase decisions.
Bloggers are powerful agents of brand advocacy. Stormhoek, a South African wine, is a small brand and in these times it cannot afford a big advertising campaign. Stormhoek found one blogger who knew lots of other bloggers and got them to review its wine online. This created a powerful word-of- mouth effect for the brand.
On advocacy helping business growth
The Harvard Business Review says the one number you need to grow is how much you know what your customers tell their friends about you. There is a real correlation between business growth and advocacy.
Bain & Co.’s research shows that the most recommended company in its category grows 2.5 times more than the category average. And yardsticks such as brand satisfaction, market leadership are in fact not correlated to business growth. The question for marketers is whether you would recommend me. They need two things: profitable customers and happy customers (who will recommend you to new customers). Happy customers can reduce price sensitivity and push prices up. Personal recommendation is the No. 1 influence in purchase decisions across B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumers).
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a CFO’s brand metric and puts marketing right back into the heart of business. It is the percentage of customers willing to recommend a brand with a great deal of passion minus the percentage of detractors of the brand. In the UK, we’ve seen a 7% hike in NPS correlates to 1% increase in business growth.
On how marketers can drive recommendations
While 80% of CEOs believe their brand delivers the superior experience, only 8% of brand users agree. It’s essential to provide brand experiences that beat expectations and thereby drive recommendations. This is the Lake Woebegon effect—based on a radio show by that name, about a fictional town where the children are more intelligent, the men smarter and the women prettier. It’s essential to have that “wow” factor in your advertising and experience.
Marketing guru Seth Godin talks about ‘Purple Cows’— something new, remarkable and worth talking about fitted right into your product and services. We see brown cows but we don’t talk about them.
On advertising’s role in brand advocacy
Around 50% of people say they would recommend a product but haven’t yet. That’s a big opportunity and advertising has to ignite advocacy and a volunteer sales force. The new role for 21st century advertising is not just about creating brand awareness but activating advocacy. Making ads with the surprise and wow factor will ignite conversation. And give people a reason to recommend.
A cross-cultural study shows nine core values that unite the world: belonging, relationship, accomplishment, fun, excitement, respect, self-respect, security and fulfilment. Beyond functions and attributes, ads need to tap into this list of values to drive advocacy.
Sony Bravia “All about Color” ads are outstanding and create a wow effect. I also like the Apple ads—they are very low-key and focus on what’s worth recommending. If you compare Apple Mac ads with PC ads, you will see the Apple ads help consumers articulate what’s so great about Apple. And in doing that, they can boost word of mouth by helping people talk.
Comparative advertising can be very powerful in advocacy because it can actually help the consumer. It’s a competitive environment out there and people are faced with too many choices. The more real you can make the choice, the better it is for you. Online, there are comparative grids between competitor brands which are useful. Smart businesses are those that set up price comparison sites or product comparison sites. You are delivering above expectations instead of just saying “buy me”. You are helping consumers make informed choices. Then there are some really brave brands saying, “Okay, maybe in this case we are not the right choice for you”. In the UK, there is a cable and wireless company that actually told consumers: “Maybe you are better off without us. Go with somebody else”. That’s very brave. And it helps consumers make informed decisions. Whatever you do, make sure it’s worth talking about. That’s the gold standard in marketing and life.
On the risks of artificial advocacy and badvocacy
Advertisers know that advocacy is great. Somebody allegedly working with American Express’ ad agency posed as a customer, sending out emails saying, “Hey, I have seen some really great American Express ads and how about blogging about them”. Bloggers know the Internet. They looked at the Internet protocol address and saw it was from the ad agency. Now, if you put American Express and Ogilvy into Google, the top search result that comes is “Bullshit marketing”. The blogger who found this out said: “This isn’t advocacy. This is bullshit marketing since it’s completely artificial.”
Similarly, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the discount store, sponsored certain people (a family) to drive across America and asked them to blog about it, but not disclose they were actually being sponsored by Wal-Mart. So, these people were going to Wal-Mart car parks, etc., blogging about their experience. Somebody found out that Wal-Mart had sponsored this and it was just a publicity stunt. Wal-Mart got a massive amount of negative word-of-mouth publicity about it. Again, the Whole Foods Market Inc.’s CEO went online pretending to be a consumer and saying “Whole Foods is really great”, and he was found out. Even Microsoft Corp. contacted bloggers to go to Wikipedia and write favourable comments about their new product and got found out. The big learning from the case studies I’ve been looking at is that you will get found out. As for badvocacy, that too can be traced back. Is it good that some companies actually own the “ihate***(their company name)” domain? Well, it can stop people from registering such domains. It’s wise to listen to people that hate you. It’s a really good source of insight for innovation. The best way to silence a critic is to engage them as your spokesperson. If you engage people that don’t like you then not only do you get their insight but they also become brand fans because you are actually listening to them. It can be a good strategy to own these domains.