Commentary

Advocacy Is NOT A Media Buy

I just read a great post on Robert Kozinets' Brandthroposophy blog suggesting that when you approach "community" or customer collaboration with incentives (cash, coupons, free product), you are doing your brand a disservice, because you are falsely motivating and therefore diluting the underlying value of the relationship with your customers.

In Kozinets' words, "Now, what does this say about brand 'communities' where the people are actively recruited, given rewards such as coupons or products (as in P&G's VocalPoint or Tremor communities; or BuzzAgent's word-of-mouth communities) or are monitored and paid for community contributions (such as in Communispace's model)? My interpretation is that these forms of community and word-of-mouth will, over time, inspire dissatisfaction with the community experience and the brand. But it won't be particularly visible. More intrinsic than extrinsic, particularly in the short-run."

I share his position on incentives wholeheartedly -- don't offer them. I frequently discuss best practices in customer collaboration with chief marketing officers, consumer cultures heads, product innovation directors, customer experience officers and researchers from many of the world's most innovative companies, and one of the primary benefits of customer collaboration and community is authentic advocacy for the brand. True advocacy is an informed message coming from a trusted source - in other words, advocacy is not a media buy.

One inherent benefit of customer collaboration is a brand's ability to drive advocacy. "Advocates" are those individuals who are fully committed to a brand beyond the typical relationship of brand and customer. They express the greatest level of involvement with the brand and don't need incentives. They are active, vocal and proud by choice. In my experience, these advocates have an emotional bond with the brands that they regularly use. Their lifestyle mirrors that of the brand and they are proactive in talking about their brand experience with others.

By engaging them, a brand will gain further insight into exactly who these customers are, what motivates them, why they make the decisions that they do, who they might influence and why and how they do it. Companies that are true to the collaborative approach will consistently demonstrate relevancy to each customer as an individual and ultimately endure the test of time.

Forging a collaborative relationship with your most valued customers is critical to the efficacy of your brand. As Kozinets notes, it's not about diluting the underlying value of your relationship through offering incentives. If you simply take the time to ask your customers what they want, they will tell you. If it sounds simple, it's because it is.

Your customers don't need incentives to act; if you empower and inform them, they will have the ability to drive more favorable opinions and build the feeling of "I helped build that" and "I'm part of this brand." Ownership promotes active participation and a desire to accumulate more knowledge, and results in the truest form of brand advocacy.

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