Three Questions to Identify Your Best Advocates

Posted on 07. Jun, 2012 by in Word of Mouth

Do your current, satisfied customers recommend your brand to their friends, relatives and co-workers?  I’m not talking about a soft ‘Net Promoter style’, “would be willing to recommend” response.  I’m thinking about those of your customers who actually speak or write to others about their positive experiences with your brand and the value it provides – your true everyday advocates.

We’ve all heard some executives admit their business is extremely dependent on word of mouth and referrals, while others claim word of mouth has virtually no importance to their business whatsoever!  Naivete?  A misread?  Both perspectives could actually be right.  The importance of word of mouth and referrals in driving new sales, and willingness to recommend varies considerably from business segment to segment.  For example, consumers are unlikely to discuss their favorite brands of toothpaste, house paint, or life insurance.

Where Are Advocates Really Important?

In other categories of higher emotional involvement, like automobiles, consumers may energetically discuss brand choices.  The 2011 Cone Research Online Tracker reported that 53% of potential auto buyers said that they were seeking verification online after receiving a personal recommendation.  In the case of electronics and household appliances, the study reported that consumers went online to do follow-up 59% of the time after getting such a recommendation.  So where do those triggering recommendations come from?  Likely from friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers through both public (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) and private (email, text messages, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations) forms of word of mouth.  That is, they come from sources people consider their trusted sources.

Who Generates All that Word of Mouth?

But who is generating all that word of mouth?  According to research from Forrester, at least in the ‘online world’, the reality tends to follow the old 80/20 rule.  That is, 20% of the audience starts the discussions, and possibly another 20% might participate, but the majority just ‘listens in’.  When it comes to a category like financial services, Forrester says the initial content is created by even smaller proportion, a mere 15% with another 10% joining in, and the majority, in this category, being ‘observers’.  These small proportions are in direct contrast to the larger numbers we hear coming out of most Net Promoter studies.

What About Private Conversations?

My experience suggests that those Forrester proportions are much closer to reality for most product and service categories.   Unfortunately, most marketers have no idea how broad the conversation is about their brand, nor which of their current customers are doing the recommending, nor for that matter themes dominate their conversations.  And, as the old saying goes, you can’t hope to manage what you can’t first measure.

At Customer Experience Partners, Doug Pruden and I have continued work we started at Marketing Metrics with the BuzzBarometerTM –  a tool that objectively quantifies the volume and tone of current customer word of mouth – further it supplies insight that we use to help drive strategic and tactical planning.

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