Every marketer knows that there is no technique more effective in promoting a company, product or brand than word-of-mouth.
If someone you trust recommends something to you, you’re going to take it very seriously.
And it’s something TV, print and online adverts simply can’t compete with, because they don’t wield the same levels of trust.
The problem is that word-of-mouth advocacy is the most difficult of all forms of marketing to come by. You can pretty much pay for all the others.
Yes, you need clever design to deliver the right message and it can be expensive to create and run, but ad campaigns can be relatively easily managed and controlled. This, however, is not the case with independent brand advocates.
To encourage personal affinity, it’s necessary to first seek out the relevant key influencers in the market you’re working in and understand why they are interested in your sector/product.
This will hopefully lead to them agreeing to check out what you have to offer, and report on it. Of course, there’s always the danger that their reporting won’t be positive.
This is why you need to do your homework properly, to ensure you are able to gauge the response of the person you’ve engaged with.
Although the rise of the ‘independent content creator’ (AKA blogger) means there are many more potential influencers to choose from, there are equally as many who can turn from advocation to condemnation in a moment - so in a sense you need to make hay while the sun shines.
For this reason, it’s no wonder that supermarket chain Morrisons has been milking the positive coverage it has received from well-respected independent UK retail blogger Steve Dresser.
And this priceless authentic brand advocacy has resulted in a "how did they do that?" debate among its rivals.
Cynics have implied that Dresser was ‘on the payroll,’ but this seems unlikely and is denied by Dresser.
It is much more likely that Morrisons cleverly seized an opportunity to take advantage of an authentic advocate.
It does, however, beg the question: how can marketers recruit brand evangelists in an ethical way?
For me, the key criteria for selecting a brand advocate should be their existing reach and influence, as well as what value they bring to brand conversations.
The all-important authenticity comes from the advocate’s background, credibility and independence, not necessarily from their brand alignment.
Of course, sometimes individuals (as is the case with Dresser) love brands.
As long as this passion is genuine, it makes complete sense to use their voice and share their views - and if your brand benefits in the process, all the better.
However, to try to feign brand-affinity from a high-profile influencer could easily backfire and turn consumers off completely.
The marketing community is and always will be looking for the next best thing when it comes to getting their message across to their target audience, and using the power of the modern influencers is high on the agenda.
This means that brands need to have a safe, secure and trusted route to interact with these communities for the benefit of all concerned.
To manage these relationships effectively they need to enlist experts to find the best advocates to associate their brand with.
Really the message is simple: tread carefully but don’t be afraid to try something new.