Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The trust crisis and the rise of Brand Advocacy

By Paul Archer, founder and managing director of brand advocacy platform, Duel

For online brands, digital advertising and performance marketing have dominated marketing strategies worldwide. And that’s largely because campaigns can be segmented, optimised and measured, making them easy to justify in budgets. However, with competition on the rise, costs skyrocketing and returns diminishing, as well as a rapidly changing consumer dynamic, this is no longer the case.

Today’s millennial and Gen Z consumers are much more sceptical than their predecessors and are losing trust in many standard marketing practices including paid advertising and influencer promotions. In fact, according to data from YouGov, only 4 percent of UK adults trust social media influencers. And Salesforce has reported that 65 percent of customers have stopped buying from a brand because they saw their actions as distrustful.

Instead, today’s consumers are looking for more meaning and purpose from the brands they buy from – and now with virtually unlimited choice, trust and authenticity have overtaken the need for low prices and convenience. This means long-term brand and reputation building are now essential when it comes to helping brands stay competitive and drive authentic word-of-mouth growth. This has led to the rise of a new category of marketing known as Brand Advocacy.

What is Brand Advocacy?

Brand advocacy can be defined as any behaviour that involves a customer supporting or recommending a brand they love. While brand advocates have always existed under different guises – superfans, ambassadors, enthusiasts, evangelists and so on – the concept of developing a strategy that nurtures relationships with every advocate and celebrating their advocacy is a new one.

The existence of brand advocates is now so much more significant because of the collapsing trust between brands and their consumers. As a result, it’s those brands that can really cultivate a loyal network of fans (advocates) who trust and promote their brand to family, friends and peers, that will create more opportunity for word-of-mouth referrals and organic growth in the long term.

Don’t believe me? Just look at some of today’s most successful brands which have grown entirely through brand advocacy. Lululemon is the perfect example of this. The billion-dollar global athletic apparel company has been built exclusively on brand advocacy principles – its customers believe in the company’s vision, share in its purpose and are very quick to share stories, convince their friends and family to buy their products and argue in defence of the brand when required. Lululemon did this without an official marketing team and zero advertising budget, instead trusting their customers and wider network of advocates to drive growth for them.

Many other brands have followed suit, adapting to this shift in consumer behaviour and finding ways to encourage customers to engage in the practice of brand advocacy. Adidas’ marketing strategy is heavily influenced by advocacy via its Creators Club. Its shareholder report even noted: “We firmly believe that advocacy will create sustained growth for our brands, under-pinned by the fact that brand advocates on average buy more than non-advocates. In addition, a large part of our consumers rely on referrals by friends or family when making purchasing decisions.”

How can brands drive brand advocacy?

With so much value being placed on brand advocacy by some of the world’s biggest and best brands, how can other brands incorporate brand advocacy into their marketing efforts? At Duel, our research into brand advocacy has shown that it is only possible if brands engage in specific behaviour which includes:

• Long term thinking – when long-term relationships are the priority (often at the cost of short-term sales).
• Transparency, generosity and authenticity – these are the basics for today’s consumers, but vital.
• A remarkable customer experience – when products and experiences consistently deliver on their promises to customers.
• Constant feedback – when feedback is always pursued to help improve a brand and its products.
• Building and strategically nurturing networks and communities

Patagonia, for example, engages in all of these behaviours and has found success because of it. Its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign urged customers to repair their clothing and buy second hand instead of new. This approach clearly expressed a willingness to sacrifice immediate profits to uphold company values, but it resulted in a 30 percent increase in sales as a result.

The most successful brands of this decade and those to come are the ones that don’t rely on short term marketing practices requiring big budgets, but instead focus on growing and nurturing a community of advocates who represent, promote and shout about their brand. The principles of brand advocacy can be applied to any brand, large or small, and will be absolutely fundamental to a company’s growth and success in the long term.