How Brainshark got its customers talking about them


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We all know how important positive word of mouth and advocacy is to the growth and success of a business.

However, many businesses find it difficult to get their customers to talk about them. This situation can be made more frustrating when customers tell businesses that they think they are great and are happy to talk about them. But then, they never do.

Why is that? Well, the reality is that companies and brands are not always on their customers minds. Also, customers forget about what they have said they are going to do and, more often than not, have more important things on their minds.

However, one company (Brainshark) is tackling these issues head-on and is having great success with it’s own customer advocacy programme.

Launched in 2012, Brainshark’s programme has been able to recruit more than 400 customer champions into, what they call, their Customer Champion Programme. This has resulted in a four-fold increase in the number of companies willing to serve as references for them, has more than doubled Twitter activity around their brand, has accelerated their sales cycle and has allowed them to build better and deeper relationships with their customers. Further, as recognition for the success of their programme, Brainshark also won a Forrester Groundswell Award in 2013.

Recently, I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk to Joan Babinski, founder and vice president of marketing at Brainshark, to get a deeper insight into what they have done to build and grow their successful community of customer advocates and what lessons other firms could learn from them.

Brainshark’s success is based on the understanding that there is a difference between what customers say they will do and what they actually do. As a result, their programme is built on two pillars:

1. Organise And Nurture
To give themselves the best chance of success, they decided they had to first organise and nurture their potential advocates if they were to deliver the results that they wanted. To do that they spent a lot of time identifying their potential advocates, understanding what would be of value to them and then building a reward system that was aligned to their profiles and preferences.

Through that process they found that the best reward and incentives for advocacy were not always financial. This means that Brainshark’s system offers rewards that range from points that that can be redeemed against gift vouchers to free training for their company to tickets to a local industry event to badges and social recognition.

2. Employee Involvement
The next essential pillar was the realisation that building a customer advocacy programme is not just a marketing initiative and, to make it successful, it would require the involvement and buy-in of all of many of their customer-facing employees. Therefore, to compliment their Customer Champion Programme, they developed an employee champion programme and have integrated both programmes.

The reasons that this has worked so well is that:

  1. Customer facing employees are often in the best position to identify potential customer champions and Brainshark’s employees can earn rewards for identifying good candidates to invite into the customer programme; and
  2. Whilst Brainshark often challenges their customers to provide testimonials for them, their experience shows that customers often forget or don’t follow through on it because they are not always sure what is required of them. Moreover, through experience they have learned that customers are more likely to provide a testimonial if their account manager asks them directly and talks them through the process. Again, Brainshark provides incentives for their employees to ask their customers for testimonials and provide rewards if they find a customer willing to participate.

Many companies fail to generate customer advocacy despite delivering great customer experience and service. Whilst, others are just frustrated at the effectiveness of their own customer advocacy efforts. Regardless of which camp you are in, Brainshark’s programme is a great example of how a company can create, harness and amplify the advocacy of it’s customers to the benefit of the business and offers lessons for others looking to do the same.

Adrian Swinscoe is a writer, speaker and consultant on customer experience and customer service.

This post was orginally published on my column here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


  1. What you’re describing amounts to very little more than paid endorsement or influence, not advocacy. Many companies do this in one way or another, and there are also agencies that set up such programs for their clients. Customer advocacy is predominantly voluntary, not compensated. This is nicely explained in a 2013 blog by Jure Klepic: As he states, and as is generally accepted to define an advocate: “Brand marketers love to find people who are so passionate about a product or service that they promote it solely for the sake of helping others, usually without any type of incentive.”

  2. Michael, Having read Jure’s article (thank you for the link), it seems to me that what Brainshark has set up is very similar to what Jure says that Branderati does for it’s clients …. create Advocate Influencer Networks (AIN). The key differences being that they are doing it themselves, are getting their employees involved and closely integrating it into their day to day operations.

    Therefore, I would disagree that this is as you say ‘very little more than paid endorsement or influence’.


  3. ….and I deeply disagree with your disagreement. What Branderati does to build true advocacy is mobilize stakeholder social communities:. From the blog I cited “One company coming down firmly on the side of advocates is Branderati, which creates Advocate Influencer Networks (AIN) from an existing community. Branderati helps brands to recognize, recruit, and engage the most valuable fans in order to unlock a new level of social media ROI and word of mouth. Their turnkey strategic and creative services, as well as a unique software platform, help convert “like” to love and love to loyalty, as well as analyze and optimize the effectiveness of the engagement in real time. Their effectiveness has been proven across more than 80 influencer marketing initiatives for many of the top brands in the world.”

    What Brainshark does can’d be defined as advocacy creation, but paid endorsement. Words and phrases in your blog – reward system, points, gift vouchers, tickets, employee incentives, etc. – attest to that. Beyond compensation, how do the ‘champions’ see the value for Brainshark products and services, such that they could be mobilized to objectively represent the company. The closest Brainshark comes to intersecting endorsement with advocacy is “social recognition” for participating customers,

    Can you see the difference and distinction? Advocacy is about rational and emotional brand connection, strong enough to promote (voluntary) downstream word-of-mouth and purchase behavior:


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