Get People Talking: Leveraging the Power of Brand Advocates
Brand advocates or ambassadors aren’t new to business today. For years, celebrities handsomely hired as brand ambassadors have pitched everything from watches to furniture to Jell-O to credit cards. Can you remember Joe Namath in pantyhose?
Brand ambassadors don’t work for free. In some cases, they earn more money than they bank in their profession. From 2012-13, the once top-ranked PGA golfer earned five times his $13 million winnings touting a handful of brands.
Years ago, companies that couldn’t afford a superstar spokesperson relied on simple word of mouth advertising, where the casual endorsement by the average Joe spoke volumes. That’s still true today.
Word of mouth through a powerful online tool
Word of mouth promotion remains a powerful marketing tool, only it’s stretched beyond the traditional platforms of living rooms and water coolers to social media forums like Twitter, Facebook and others. Brand advocates, who usually aren’t paid, are highly satisfied customers and others who actively promote products they love and care about. They are loyal and don’t hesitate to defend when they feel compelled.
“We found that sometimes our brand advocates actually go and respond to negative reviews that are being placed, or they are going on Facebook and replying to things and alleviating that conversation so we’re not having to insert ourselves as much as we would in the past,” says Jennifer Staciokas, senior vice president, marketing & training at Pinnacle Living.
Brand advocates also work their magic in ways beyond the keyboard.
At RealWorld in July, I chatted with Jennifer and two other residential leasing executives – PRANDI Property Management President/CEO Melissa Prandi, RMP® MPM®, and JVM Realty Corp. Director of Revenue Management and Business Systems Kortney Balas – who believe in the power of brand advocates:
The value of brand advocacy
TB: Short and simple, what’s the value of having a brand advocate?
KORTNEY: The value of having a brand advocate is infinite. We live in a society where we all scroll directly past the product description to the customer reviews. We base our decisions on a stranger’s Yelp review or YouTube product demonstration. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. We all expect a company to speak highly of their products and services or defend their value, but we don’t expect consumers to do that.
TB: Companies often relied on word of mouth through fireside chats and talk around offices and social gatherings. That’s changed today through online reviews and social media. As Kortney suggested, consumers often take reviews from people they don’t know to heart.
JENNIFER: Word of mouth is still very important. Word of mouth is not just you and I talking about something or an experience that happened, it’s going on line and finding out what people have to say. It’s very surprising that people are taking advice from people they’ve never met before, but they’re finding them on line and finding their friends on line and seeing that they have trends or tendencies to shop, to dine, to vacation in the same areas. So they are taking their advice over somebody they have been speaking to on a regular basis.
TB: How do you get people to talk about your company?
MELISSA: Giving back. The best tool is giving back. If you give back unconditionally, like-kind people want to do business with like-kind people. We sponsor a lot of things. Every one of those are branded. My son is a graduate of a leadership institute and we sponsor that, when we’re allowed to give things out. Another great example is being an active Rotarian where giving is normal. PRANDI Property Management has received several referrals, as we all give while making a difference.
Sharing through reviews
TB: Jennifer, you are a confessed Yelper with more than 2,700 reviews on Yelp on everything from dining to shopping. Why do you feel the need to share your experiences with others you don’t know?
JENNIFER: The reason I do it is because I want to help the next person. I’m constantly looking at ratings and reviews when I’m purchasing something, when I’m deciding where to dine. And I want real reviews and I want real feedback about what the experience could be. So I want to go and dine, and I want to help people to know about a really great meal, or the service they can expect or the atmosphere so they can make an educated decision. That’s where they want to put their money.
TB: I can relate. I’m a Cadillac man, been driving them for more than 20 years because they’re good cars and Cadillac has great service. So, I always like talking up the brand to friends and colleagues, especially if they tell me they aren’t sure what kind of car to buy. It’s sort of empowering, isn’t it?
KORTNEY: The more people ask you about a brand (or a solution to a need they have), you start to feel passionate talking about it, you start to feel like an expert of that brand. It’s a great feeling to feel that your opinion and passion is trusted by others and may ultimately result in that feeling being passed along. It’s like a club. Personally speaking, I do not endorse something I haven’t used extensively, understand to the fullest and feel has changed a function of my life or business for the better. So, if I believe in something that much, wouldn’t I want my peers to have the same results and passion about it?
Employees as brand advocates
TB: One of the most powerful brand assets is your people. According to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer, rank-and-file employees are some of the most trusted spokespeople about a product, ranking higher than the firm’s leadership or public relations department. Do you think that mid- and lower-level employees can be great brand advocates of that organization because they are more believable since they don’t represent the biases of upper management?
KORTNEY: Yes! I am, and always have been, an enormous supporter of those “in the trenches” being brand advocates. I’m actually very passionate about this topic. I’ve experienced the phenomenon of viewing a testimonial provided by a high level executive, reaching out to them about the product and then being redirected to the personal who “really” handles that product. That’s where you get the good, the bad and the ugly of a product − the daily user and/or support system.
TB: Does that mean that an apartment community’s best mouthpiece is someone at the site rather than at the corporate office?
JENNIFER: When you think of your employee base, clearly you don’t want just the top executives being the voice of the company. There’s definitely a distrust there, certainly from a millennial. The millennials are very wary of any advertising that’s being sent their way. They surely want to talk to their friends about experiences that they had. So when you think about having brand advocates with your employee base you want to talk about the people who are actually dealing with the residents. So talk about that great leasing professional who’s very active in the local community, knows what events are taking place and talking about those things. That’s a trusted ambassador in that local market.
TB: What’s something basic that a company leader can do so that employees will want to be or become brand advocates?
MELISSA: I supply all the staff with logo shirts. I don’t want everybody to wear the same shirt. I found that (different) shirts look better on different people, different colors, so I let them choose. So now they’re proud and they’re putting it on. There’s one easy thing you can do. You got to get them to drink the Kool-Aid. We also are very well known mainly locally and especially in restaurants for our great PRANDI pens which we give out thousands a year and mainly to potential clients, clients sign with our pens and we give it to them and to people in the service business who need and love great pens.
Who are your company’s brand advocates, and how are they helping?