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How to build brand advocacy for your eCommerce business

This is a guest post from Megan Wenzl. Megan is the SEO Content Manager at Linnworks, a total commerce solution that connects, manages and automates commerce operations. Megan enjoys creating useful, informative stories to help businesses succeed. When not writing, Megan enjoys spending time with her family. Download the latest research from Linnworks on Total Commerce and the Effortless Economy.

In the age of targeted ads and data-driven marketing strategy, it’s easy to forget that some of the most effective marketing happens through word of mouth.

Think about when a friend tells you how great their shampoo is and how they love the company’s values, or how much you need to try the cooking kit they’ve been ordering.

Chances are, you’re much more likely to be convinced by their first-hand account than you would be by a paid actor talking at you before a YouTube video, or by an image popping up at the side of your screen while you’re trying to do a crossword.

Ideally, these types of word-of-mouth interactions should happen organically, but you do need to have a strategy in place so that these conversations happen.

Brand advocacy gives you some control. By creating a great eCommerce business that produces a quality product, and building relationships with customers across all touchpoints, you will gain a loyal following of customers who champion your brand.

What is brand advocacy?

Brand advocacy is centered around real customers spreading awareness of a brand they love. It’s anyone who recommends your products or services to their friends, family, social following, or in the form of online reviews. With the rise of social media, it has become much easier to centralize the word of mouth interactions that build your customer base.

Whether brand advocacy happens online or in person, it is a crucial part of promoting your brand and getting new customers if you approach it strategically. Here’s what you need to know about brand advocacy for your eCommerce business.

How to build brand advocacy

1) Build relationships with brand advocates

Brand advocacy can’t exist without the personal connection between your brand and your customers.

You should build relationships with loyal customers with the same care you dedicate to building any important business relationship. How do you build those relationships? Trust. Brand advocacy is about building trust with customers.

Part of building trust is creating a brand that is clearly defined and stands for something. What do customers think about when they think of your brand? For example, Patagonia stands for saving and protecting the environment by encouraging customers to buy their used products. Patagonia also makes consistent high-quality products that last.

In addition, brand advocacy is about the customer experience. The experience for customers must be positive, engaging, and offer them real value. For example, when customers engage with your website and in marketplaces such as Facebook, they want convenience. This includes being able to check out on Facebook Marketplace. Convenience also includes transparent delivery and returns.

The importance of convenience

To understand what customers expect from retailers in eCommerce today, here are some key findings from the latest eCommerce trends research from Linnworks:

  • Convenience is key: 76% of shoppers say convenience is key priority when selecting a retailer. 
  • Seamless buying journey: 81% of shoppers are looking for that frictionless, cross-device buying experience. 
  • Prioritization of social and marketplace third-party selling: More than four in five shoppers like shopping on social channels. 
  • Seamless and flexible payment options: Nearly nine in ten shoppers say seamless and flexible payment options speed up their purchasing decisions. 
  • Delivery convenience: 95% of shoppers say convenient delivery options include a major factor in how they decide which online retailer to use. 
    • 61% of shoppers prioritize brands offering next-day delivery. 
    • 72% have abandoned a purchase over shipping transparency. 

The research is clear. Customers will choose to buy from you if you offer them convenient experiences that make their shopping effortless.

2) Have a story to tell

Without a narrative to share, it’s hard for customers to tell their friends anything meaningful about your brand beyond that it’s a “good product.” For this reason, brand advocacy can’t be done without brand storytelling.

Storytelling involves knowing your audience as much as it does engaging with them. Use the customer data you have to get a sense of who your customers are or what they value, and build your brand around that. If you don’t know what your brand’s story is yet, the best way to discover it is through your customers.

Once you’ve oriented your brand around a message, it’s time to start putting the story into action by creating resources. Great brand resources are much more than advertisements.

The content that you create needs to add value to your customers’ lives well beyond reminding them of your product. Whether that be using your expertise to speak on a topic relevant to them or taking a stand on current issues, customers will be much more drawn to your brand if they can relate to its messaging.

Of course, the integrity principle applies here too. Brand storytelling content shouldn’t be carefully calculated to manipulate customers into buying your product. It should be born from a curiosity about your customer base’s values. Once you create content that people can connect with, you will give your advocates something far more substantial to post than a picture of your product.

3) Be prepared to handle growth in demand

So you have found the right advocates and perfected your brand advocacy strategy. What’s next?

Well, a common mistake brands make is perfectly executing their marketing strategy but not being able to handle the resulting boom in demand. In a way, it is better to never win over a customer than to win them over only to disappoint them.

Failing to deliver the quality and convenience your customers expect from you has the opposite effect of brand advocacy. Instead of spreading enthusiasm and positivity through word of mouth, you might develop a reputation as a brand that doesn’t fulfill its promises. This doesn’t just alienate potential customers, but undermines your entire brand story. You have to deliver what customers expect.

The solution to avoid stock-outs and quality control issues is to use an inventory management system and outsourcing fulfillment. Instead of pushing customers away through human error and miscalculation, automating your key business processes can adjust to fluctuations in supply and demand. It can also save you precious time that you can spend on building your brand and connecting with your customer base.

Convenience matters to your business just as much as it does to your customers. If you streamline processes like inventory management, you will not have to face the wasted time and money that comes with mistakes. And streamlining processes helps create positive, convenient delivery and returns experiences for your customers, which is what they expect.

The money you do not waste from mistakes with manual inventory management can instead be spent on analyzing customer data, constructing a meaningful brand story, and making sure that story gets to the right customers.

4) Choose advocates over influencers

Let’s face it. It’s common knowledge that brands pay people to promote their products on social media. While some consumers may find it off-putting, it’s unlikely that it will alienate a significant amount of customers — people are just desensitized to it. That being said, there’s a fine line between brand advocates and influencers, and it’s important to know why the former works where the latter doesn’t.

The Difference Between Brand Advocates vs. Influencers

Influencers usually have some form of celebrity. They are useful for driving brand awareness, but they aren’t always the most efficient way to win customers considering that their audience knows exactly what’s going on: they are getting paid to promote a product.

Brand advocates are different. On paper, they are simply satisfied customers who are passionate about sharing the positive experiences they have with others. They promote your product because they genuinely love your products. If you have to pay a brand advocate to recommend your product, then they’re not a true brand advocate.

The same principle should apply to brand advocacy. While sales will be the ultimate goal, it will come much easier if you have an honest relationship with your customer base, practicing what you preach, and responding to their needs and preferences.

The key to brand advocacy is that it’s not about manipulating customers into thinking someone likes your product. Just like you need to genuinely care about your customers, your advocates must genuinely care about your brand. Anything that shatters this integrity will make it harder to build a loyal, trusting community of customers.

Wrapping up

In short, brand advocacy is not about paying influencers to post about your brand. It’s a process that begins and ends with your customers: you start by understanding their values or expectations and end by making sure you have resources in place to meet their demands.

Of course, there’s plenty of work in between. You need to prioritize the right target audience, construct memorable resources that add value to people’s lives instead of just telling them about your brand. All in all, it is a means to the same end — enhancing your customers’ lives.

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