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Advocacy marketing is on the rise in 2020, as internet users continue to install ad blockers or simply ignore brand advertising. Seventy-six percent of individuals surveyed by SocialToaster said they’re more likely to trust content shared by an actual person over content shared by brands. Peer-to-peer marketing is the leading driver behind 20% to 50% of purchasing decisions. Advocacy marketing, therefore, can impact the full customer journey — from brand awareness to completing a purchase.

With these factors in mind, we’ve asked marketing experts why they believe brand advocates are essential, and how marketers can use them to their fullest potential.

What Do Brand Advocates Do?

“Brand advocates can be a powerful way to build awareness and garner favorability for your brand,” said Nir Pochter, CMO of Lightricks. They act as third-party messengers that leverage social media platforms and word-of-mouth to reach your target audience. In doing so, Pochter continued, “Ambassadors can add credibility for brands, amplify conversations about their products or services and positively impact consumer perception.” That’s because many consumers trust information from their peers more than information from the brand itself. 

“Brand advocates are an excellent way for companies to increase their reach without using aggressive sales tactics that turn off potential customers,” added Quincy Smith, head of SEO & content at Ampjar. He said the ad density on websites and social media platforms are intense these days, but companies can completely sidestep this issue by leveraging brand ambassadors. The networks that a brand ambassador speaks to “trust their voices when they share genuine experiences with a product or service,” explained Smith.

Beyond brand awareness, however, ambassadors can be beneficial for other aspects of the customer journey. “They also help bring in new customers and provide security to those who are unsure of purchasing,” said Dana Roth, marketing content manager at Idomoo. That means when brand advocates leave positive reviews or recommend your brand through word-of-mouth, they could improve conversions.

Related Article: B2B Marketers: Identify and Mobilize Your Brand Advocates

How Marketers Can Better Utilize Brand Advocates

Clearly, fostering brand advocates should be a priority for most brands. Here are some tips from the experts for how to do so:

Reach out to Existing Customers

Pochter stresses the importance of forging a genuine connection with potential brand advocates by speaking with existing customers. “For an authentic partnership that’s set up for success,” he suggested, “make sure to cultivate relationships with advocates that share your target audience and are already in love with your brand.” That means targeting individuals that have already expressed a keen interest in your brand and its products or services.

Be a Real Person

Beyond finding the right people to reach out to, Smith believes it’s crucial to be down-to-earth and human. “We’re all people, we all like feeling important, and we all like the sense that we’re interacting with a real human being instead of a machine or construct of advertising,” he explained. By being authentic and taking an interest in your existing customers, potential brand advocates will want to get more involved.

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Promote Current Brand Ambassadors

“Another way to encourage more user-generated content on your site is by promoting your current ambassadors,” said Roth. You can identify current brand ambassadors and keep them in the loop with what’s happening at the company. “In doing so,” she explained, “you are proving that you care and pay attention to your consumers.” In the long term, this will help maintain stronger relationships with your brand ambassadors.

Take a Multi-Faceted Approach

“For brands to maximize their impact, taking a multi-faceted, holistic approach is key for attracting and inspiring target audiences,” Pochter said. That means choosing the right marketing channels and creating collaborative campaigns with brand ambassadors that are creative. He believes these most effective campaigns “are memorable, elevate conversations and encourage engagement with your brand.” These types of relationships benefit not just your brand, but the brand advocate and their audience as well.

Related Article: Here's Why Field Service Technicians Are Your New Brand Ambassadors

Brand Advocate's Super-Power? Authenticity 

“Great brand ambassadors convey their affinity naturally and effectively through authentic interactions, inspiring audiences to believe in a brand’s values,” Pochter said. This is not something a brand’s marketing team can easily do themselves. “Because advocates know their audience well and speak their same language, it makes it easier for them to authentically market your product or service for you.” That’s why it’s crucial for today’s marketing teams to do everything they can to identify and support brand ambassadors.