Loyal customers are always good for business. But there are customers who are a notch better than them. Before I dive into this category, I will define what a “loyal customer” is. It’s one who regularly purchases from a particular store or chooses a certain brand repeatedly. Although they are repeat customers, their loyalty may be driven by low prices, convenience, and/or a frequent positive customer experience. A business should strive to not merely create happy and loyal customers but the type who are so enamored by your company or brand that they are willing to go out of their way to become your advocate – even if you may have disappointed them once or twice. They forgive those occasional services and quality issues but let you know when quality slips. They are beyond loyal and make purchases for themselves and others. They passionately recommend you to friends, relatives, colleagues, and others, as well as provide unsolicited praise or feedback. This is the “customer evangelist” category of customers.
Customer Evangelists as Your Indirect Salesforce
Customer evangelists influence and, in some cases, become part of a company’s volunteer salesforce and/or brand ambassador. They will not hesitate to want others to benefit as they have. The term “evangelist” is derived from the religious believers who roamed the backstreets of the world to spread the word of their faith. Beliefs are based on emotional connection, profound convictions, and arise through experiences. Strongly held beliefs impel many to tell others about theirs.
Customer Acquisition: Word-of-Mouth Still Rules
Evidence shows that acquiring a new customer is five times more expensive than keeping a current customer happy. Moreover, customer profitability tends to grow the longer a customer stays with you as it costs less to keep a customer coming back for more. Results of a study reported in 2001 by Euro RSCG Worldwide, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, regarding the influences on buyers of consumer technology products, found how consumers get most of their information about technology products: 13 percent from advertising, 20 percent from Web sites, and 34 percent from word-of-mouth (WOM). Furthermore, 78% of people rave about their favorite recent experiences to people they know at least once per week. These results are testament to the power of what is also referred to as “word-of-mouth advertising,” WOM marketing includes buzz, viral, blog, emotional, and social media marketing.
Social Media Customer Advocates & Influencers
An “influencer” is someone who, either through his or her professional or personal brand, has a large following or audience on his or her blog and/or social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter, whereas an “advocate” is an actual customer who has a passion for the brand and expresses that love by sharing his or her experience with others. Influencers may have a large social media following but not necessarily create the ability to drive action ─ rather it gives the ability to drive awareness. Effective influential results require audience and advocacy. Thus, advocacy is driven by the depth of conviction, and influencers typically are less committed to the product or brand than are actual customer advocates.
Loyalty or Reward Programs
There are also reward or loyalty programs specially designed by companies and brands to incentivize customers who frequently buy their products or services to be their first choice each time. Cases in point are with rewards programs such as with Starbucks where each purchase brings a customer closer to free drinks and food, Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club a frequent flyer program that allows members to earn tier points. There are three loyalty tiers – Club Red, Club Silver, and Club Gold, each of which provides different benefits to the most loyal customers. Then there is Amazon Prime ─ a premium Amazon membership, for a certain annual cost, which provides its regular buyers with a bunch of benefits including free 2-day shipping on a wide range of products. Research shows that an effective, fair, and well-managed loyalty program works. According to Yotpo, 52% of American consumers will join the loyalty program of a brand they make frequent purchases from, and according to Bond, 84% of loyalty program members have made a redemption from the program. However, to stand the best chance of success in tough market conditions, programs must enhance the overall value of the product or service if they are to incentivize the customers to make their next purchase.
In the End
Customer or brand evangelists are customer advocates who stay loyal to a brand and make it recognized to the public on social media or word of mouth. This doesn’t simply occur on its own. It’s a process that a company/brand must design and manage through trust-building, positive customer experiences, and marketing activities. This should lead to an organic pool of natural advocates as satisfied customers are often very happy to share their experiences. Programs should also be considered and created to reward and incentivize these advocates. This is often a good return on investment. Additionally, finding and choosing people with authoritative opinions, who are followed closely by the company’s target demographic, called “influencers” may turn them into supporters as well.