29 August, 2011

Make sure your brand is well backed up

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday August 26, 2011
We all know brand advocates. Apple has built a billion-dollar industry out of them, those annoying friends who can’t hold back from showing you their latest iPhone app or iPad game that they are convinced are life-sustaining possessions - they’d be dead without them.

Another company built on fanatics is Harley-Davidson. Here I’m not talking about the Hell’s Angels but the city stockbrokers and suburban businessmen who relive their Marlon Brando fantasies, leather jacket and all (even though they now look like the Brando in his later years).

It’s not just boys and toys either. I remember some years ago when the passion for Clinique non-allergenic cosmetics swept the consciousness of our well-heeled eleganzia. I would blink at the prices of my wife’s purchases: “They charge this much because there’s nothing in them?”

The brand advocate can do much of your marketing job for you, at a fraction of the cost of advertising campaigns.

There’s still word of mouth in the coffee room or supermarket aisle, but these days the reach is so much wider. There’s word of twitter and word of Facebook, endless mobile phone conversations, so now there’s no reason why the advocate ever needs to stop talking.

But they have to be given ammunition. This is where you come in. They want to be in the know, to be that step ahead, so they can lord it over their followers.

Clubs and support groups are so much easier these days with web sites and Facebook pages. Those who are true believers will lap up any information you can provide. So the smart marketers will leak just enough information to incite curiosity and excitement.

Once more, look upon the master’s example: Steve Jobs can squeeze out information on his new product drop by drop till his masses are salivating and queuing up at the Apple store.

You probably have less resources than Jobs, but a lot can be achieved through sampling. Give your product to the key advocates and let them try it out and spread the word.

Ah but where do you find these devotees? Well start by following the social sites, put out questionnaires periodically, rummage through the guarantee cards.

Give someone the task of maintaining a positive engagement with these fans. Newsletters, tweets, Facebook entries, shopping centre presentations - they are all time-consuming.

Make the process a two-way street. Listen to their whinges and complaints, and let them know you’re listening. Silence is the greatest killer of relationships.

Software companies are notorious for this. They put out a new release and leave it there for six months or more as the bugs and complaints emerge, unanswered. Then they will release version X.1 with many of the problems fixed - but meanwhile the users have turned elsewhere.

How much easier to say, “We know about your problems in these areas and are working on them, they will be fixed in our new service pack release”.

Which brings up the point: stop selling, rather converse and engage.

Too many companies treat their web sites and Facebook pages like electronic brochures. They should be more involving and allow the customer to feel that there is someone out there listening. Apart from anything else this can be very cheap and efficient market research.

With new products, while it’s important to keep up the excitement and expectations, in the long run you should aim to under promise and over deliver. Cause the other way round can be disastrous.

If your advocate receives their sample and then discovers something more than they expected, you can be sure it will be quickly communicated all down the line.

So treasure your brand advocates, inform and reward them. The returns will be far greater than the cost, they can even be the difference between success and failure for a brand.


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