Your Customers Want to Tell Their Story. Help Them Share It.
I believe in reciprocity. If someone comes to my house with a bottle of wine, I return the favour when I visit their home. It’s not just a matter of courtesy, but a way of recognizing their positive contribution to a successful dinner party, or to an evening among friends. I also enjoy building community. When like-minded people get together, wonderful things start to happen. This is what led me to advocate marketing.
Advocate marketing is a new way of promoting your business by shining the spotlight on your customers and rewarding their contribution to your brand. It isn’t about you. Advocate marketing puts your customers on stage. It's a balanced equation: They give, we give back.
I view this approach as a way of showing potential customers the great things people are achieving with your products. It works on the concept of social proof. Basically, people are more likely to purchase your products and engage with your brand if they see their peers using and interacting with it in a positive manner.
Instead of crunching numbers and poring over spec sheets to generate marketing collateral, advocate marketers talk to customers. Through a process of authentic communication, we discover how people use products, and how these products impact their lives. It’s a form of customer relationship management, and of arriving at an understanding as to what both sides need.
I think there’s a lot of pushback to advocate marketing because people fear that it’s high cost with no return. But I have numbers throughout my career to prove otherwise. Advocate marketing is extremely effective. I’ve worked in B2B and B2C spaces and can tell you with confidence that advocate marketing works because people want to share their experiences. This is a fundamental human desire. This approach isn’t industry specific. If you can harness it, you’ll see results—it’s as simple as that.
Building a Multichannel Experience That Avoids Duplication
My current role in advocate marketing is at Quadient, where I started in the fall of 2017. When I joined, there was some confusion about Customer Advocacy; I could feel that others didn’t quite know where it fit into the organization’s strategy. They were used to doing things a certain way, and my position was brand new. This was the first dedicated Customer Advocacy role for Quadient. Now all of this has changed, and Quadient has wholeheartedly embraced advocacy into its already existing customer-centric model.
Quadient makes customer communication management (CCM) software. Our solutions enable clients to digitize all their communications and do away with organizational silos. For example, when a graphic designer updates a logo or a template, the change is applied to all the company’s digital assets in real time. When a customer opens a bank account using a smartphone app, they sign a digital version of the paper form they would fill in at a branch.
CCM is about reaching consumers through multiple channels all at once, without duplication. Think about calling your credit card company. The first thing you have to do is enter your 16-digit card number. Then you have to key in your zip or postal code, your phone number, and the month and day of your birthday. Once you’re connected to an actual representative, you have to repeat all this information.
The same thing often happens when you order a product online. You’ve gone to the trouble of setting up an account and providing all your contact info, but you have to fill in your email and home addresses again when you get to the payment and shipping pages.
Quadient stores information in a secure, encrypted ISO-compliant database so customers don’t have to enter it repeatedly. It is a small part of a much bigger product that helps simplify and enhance the customer experience.
CCM and advocacy marketing share a lot of common threads. At the end of the day, both mean you’re always thinking customer-first.
Building an Advocate Marketing Presence from Scratch
One of the first things I did when I came to Quadient was set up a branded community on Influitive AdvocateHub (with a magnificent amount of power from David Seaton & Yulia Makeeva). This involved moderating and managing a digital segment of users that we call The Quad.
Influitive turns advocacy marketing into a game. I ask community members to share stories about their customer journeys with Quadient, and reward social mentions and other forms of advocacy, like producing a short video testimonial. Every answer earns them points that can be traded in for Quadient swag, invitations to special events, and charitable donations in their name.
Access to The Quad is by invitation only. I’ll often ask the top contributors to our Quadient University online forums to join, then I’ll monitor their activities on my feed. When I spot a user who is spending a lot of time on the Advocate Hub, I’ll reach out and ask, “What do you think about Quadient so far?” Or, “Do you have time for a call?” I try to create a personal experience for them because people assume something like The Quad is completely automated. But as it is a customized, one on one experience—and I want to ensure our advocates know of that fact.
A New Way to Put Our Customers First
When I do find a client who is truly invested in Quadient, and who has an interesting story to share, I take things a little further and ask them to relay it in detail. Again, we want to put the spotlight on our incredible customers. That’s where Upshot comes in.
In my previous roles at other organizations, I have tried producing customer stories in-house, but discovered we lacked the requisite skills. I conducted the early interviews myself, and was able to ask some simple questions, but I had trouble digging deeper with follow-up questions, and ended up hiring a PR firm to conduct proper interviews.
I then attempted to write the stories myself. I’m a good enough writer, but it isn’t my main focus. Finishing a story took me forever, and I knew that someone else could do a better job. Giving the transcript to one of our in-house copywriters was also out of the question. They’re already swamped with work, which puts them in a tough position to deliver a customer story in a timely manner.
Hiring a specialized outfit like Upshot was the way to go. I’m amazed that the turnaround time—from interview to fully fleshed out written story—turned out to be days instead of weeks. I’m also impressed by the quality of the work. I’ve met some of the people that Upshot has profiled for us. The interviewers and writers have truly captured the essence of their stories—as customers and as human beings.
While Upshot stories serve as powerful marketing material, the stories don’t share themselves. To kickstart our efforts when a story goes live, we send it to our staff to share on social media as well as promote them on The Quad. Because the stories are packed full of actionable advice, they’re often as valuable to existing Quadient users as they are to prospects.
These inspiring stories have helped drive customer and employee engagement, as well as sales. We published our first Upshot story in April of 2018. Our numbers have shot through the roof. Upshot stories generate 143% more clicks and 3,661x more page views than our traditional blog posts. Part of this is because the stories make for interesting and valuable reads. But it’s also because they come from our customers' perspective. This isn’t Quadient talking about how great we are. It’s our customers sharing their lessons and thought leadership with their peers. That’s true advocacy right there.
Our overall advocacy initiatives have generated twelve quality leads in their first three months online, resulting in two sales. This is unheard of in the history of our company. Quadient is an investment—the typical sales cycle is six months from initial contact to closing. Advocacy has helped us halve that.
Sharing Our DXP Story
The next big challenge for me is to use advocate marketing to reposition Quadient as a DXP—or digital experience platform—leader. There’s a bit of confusion around the term, and the industry is still trying to settle on a definition, but DXP is in Quadient’s DNA. From the very beginning, we approached customer communication management as the creation of a coherent and comprehensive digital experience.
At a time when our competitors were focusing on one channel at a time, we were already providing multichannel digital experiences that integrated traditional customer communication methods. We helped our clients deliver cutting edge online and mobile experiences while they continued to serve the direct mail market and customers who required paper invoices. We also provided electronic and traditional document management processes to help our clients meet regulatory requirements.
Other companies are lining up to position themselves as experts in DXP, but we’re several years ahead of them. Our customers can attest to this. Upshot stories—and advocacy in general—will play a significant role in helping us reposition ourselves in this emerging market.
In less than a year, Quadient has become an advocate powerhouse. The results—especially in the last three months—have been spectacular. We are stepping up our efforts. Mirza Baig, our Director of Digital, is highlighting our advocates in Quadient’s video interviews, webinars, and InspireCast Podcasts. In fact, we’ve invited Mari-Elize Nel, who was profiled in an Upshot story in May, to our Inspire Days Conference in the Netherlands this fall. We were moved by the way she used Quadient to digitize healthcare and insurance delivery in rural South Africa, and we know our global partners can learn a lot from hearing her story in person.
This is what I mean by building community and recognizing the positive contributions of others. Advocate marketing is about establishing customer relationships based on trust, shared experiences, and mutual successes. That is a story worth sharing.