Cultivating Advocates


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I continue to believe that more emphasis needs to be put on developing independent advocates within your customer community to “sell and support” your company and products socially. With the amount of faith that buyers put into social recommendations and the reality that they often trust people in their social networks more than people that work for the companies they buy from, a focused and concerted approach to advocacy development would be a big win for most companies.

To do that, a good first step is to categorize the behavior of advocates and grouping them accordingly. I was discussing this with Michael Lowenstein of MarketProbe, who has done years of research into advocacy. From those efforts, he provided me with their 4 categories and descriptions:

  • Advocates – Strongly brand favorable, almost exclusive buyers/users of favored brand, and active/positive informal communicators on brand’s behalf
  • Allegiants – Moderately brand favorable, may use multiple brands, and infrequent/mildly positive informal communicators
  • Ambivalents – Neutral to moderately brand unfavorable, definitely using multiple brands and at the beginning stages of potential churn, and infrequent/mildly negative informal communicators
  • Alienateds – State of mind ranges from brand disaffected to brand sabotage, will likely either have defected or be close to that probability, and frequently, often strongly, negative informal communicators

(Note: Michael also recommended two of his posts on CustomerThink for additional detail on this topic—one on customer advocate measurement and one on advocacy and brand connections. These provide some great insight on how advocacy differs from loyalty or satisifaction. He would be happy to share additional findings with anyone interested. Just contact him via email .

When I was thinking about this, my scale was slightly different (but pretty consistent with the MarketProbe categories). I actually think of it as a continuum from bad to good.

In these categories, Neutrals and Causal Advocates/Detractors are similar to Ambivalents above. They don’t actively advocate (or criticize) the company/product, but may do so if it comes up in conversation.

Social Advocates are similar to Allegiants. They use social channels to share their positive experiences. On the converse, a Social Detractor does the same, negatively, but probably not to the level of an Alienated.

Strong Detractors are similar to the Alienated category. They will tell everyone they know about their frustrations and advocate against your company (I see this all the time regarding some airlines).

Finally, strong advocates are equivalent to the Advocate category. Beyond the informal communications, the beauty of strong advocates is they often fight battles for you—defending your brand/products because they care so much.

Whether you use either of these categorizations or your own, it is important to start to define how your customers fall in terms of advocacy. And, if your focus has been loyalty, now is the time to dig deeper and define the levels of advocacy within your loyalty groups.

Once you have done this categorization, it is time to try to drive improvement. You could start small, trying to move people progressively one spot to the right. The obvious goal is to move as many people towards string advocacy as you can. Some of these shifts could be done by simple customer care techniques, reaching out to the customers, particularly the detractors, and working with them to address their frustrations and try to change their perceptions.

For the advocates, define some programs that reward them for their support. In terms of rewards, it does not need to be, and probably should not be, about money. Instead focus on more emotional incentives—recognition, ability to participate in advisory groups, access to new versions of products, etc. You could provide special sales events where your advocates can get access before the general public. Be creative and focus on incentives consistent with your brand that align with the values your advocates espouse for you.

But above all, put increased focus in your business on identifying and increasing advocacy. As buyers look to their social networks for ideas and advice, advocates might be the best, most trusted, marketing investment you make.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Hank Barnes
Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies--particularly around marketing, positioning, and customer experience--for technology providers. Hank has more than 25 years of high-technology sales and marketing experience in both field and corporate roles, both as an individual contributor and the marketing leader for several startups. He is a long-time proponent of customer-centric marketing and the use of customer experience as a key differentiator for business success. His posts here include content from his days with Adobe, SAP, and now Gartner


  1. Customer advocacy, along with brand passion, which is based on product or service experience and resulting behavior (purchase activity and informal offline/online word of mouth) is critical for driving strong and positive brand relationships. I was pleased to have contributed to Hank’s article. As noted, please feel free to contact me about customer advocacy and advocacy/brand passion linkage at [email protected]


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