At Influitive’s Advocamp summit, countless professionals regaled the crowd with tales of how software enhanced their careers, touched their lives, and even earned them promotions. They drove home a valuable point that often gets lost in all the talk about generating demand and marketing to accounts: If your product helps your customers get promoted, it will spread like wildfire. Click To Tweet
In this post, I’ll explain how customer advocacy is a powerful undercurrent that helps products spread.
Ask Not What Your Customers Can Do for You
In a breakout session, Addy Clark, Director of Customer Marketing at FinancialForce, shared how an advocacy software advanced her career. She used it to direct customer advocates to engage prospects on social media and as the number of referrals and pipeline attribution skyrocketed, so did her title, from customer service manager to a global director. Clark humbly credited the software with a big part of that success. Kelsie Swensen, a marketing manager at Egencia, attested to how one particular software made her look like a rock star internally. It put her in more direct communication with her customers and the human-centered insights helped her and her team beat their goals and flourish. Amy Rosenberg, a marketing manager at the HR software Namely, recounted how a software system boosted her visibility within her organization. She had so much control over customer marketing that she gave her boss 20 named references as a tongue-in-cheek holiday present.
All of these individuals carved time out of their busy days to speak. Speaking on stage can be flattering, no doubt, yet each was insistent that they were there to give back. They wanted to demonstrate their appreciation to the teams behind the software, but more often than not, their gratitude settled on the object that had a very real, very human impact upon their careers: the software itself. If feeling indebted to a bundle of code seems strange, it shouldn’t. By a strange quirk of human psychology, we develop all kinds of relationships to things, and this plays a large part in marketing.
Software Attachment Theory
It may surprise you to know that many smart device owners frequently apologize to those objects. It’s part of a process known as anthropomorphization where we assign personalities and people-like qualities to objects. As items accompany us through our lives, we pour meaning into them. “Things are repositories for the meaning people project on them,” wrote Julie Beck, a psychology editor for The Atlantic, in an article about our sometimes irrational attachment to belongings. Objects can serve as a bridge to people or feelings, and actually evoke those feelings while the object is present. It’s why we get nostalgic about momentos, why we collect souvenirs, and why so many positive software testimonials use the word “love.”
When software plays a pivotal role in helping someone get recognition at work, feel effective, get complimented, and get promoted, it accumulates some of the gratitude typically bestowed upon teammates. Combine this effect with the fact that the brand is a proxy for all the positive interactions those users have with the people who make up the company and you have a very real connection between people and software. A software company’s mere logo can come to hold the weight of an old keepsake. When users’ gratitude bubbles over, they do what happy people do: They tell everyone.
Word-of-mouth is a powerful, largely unacknowledged force in most marketers’ success. It rarely fits neatly into spreadsheets, it generally defies quantification, it isn’t easily tied back to top-line metrics, and thus isn’t talked about enough in B2B. Most marketers only embrace it as a happy coincidence, and sometimes work their handful of references into the ground before seeking new ones.
Jonah Berger, a psychology professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the books Contagious and Invisible Influence, thinks marketers should be much more proactive about grooming advocates. During his keynote speech at Advocamp, he shared a few facts. According to Berger, word-of-mouth is:
- Responsible for 20-50% of all buying decisions
- 10 times more effective than traditional advertising
And the kicker? 85-90% of word of mouth is communicated offline. Meaning, nine out of ten product mentions—even in B2B—occur during everyday conversations between friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances, at cookouts, dinner parties, soccer games, airports, and more.
Berger also offered a checklist for marketers to streamline their messages for word-of-mouth distribution:
- Social currency—Does talking about your product make people look intelligent, clever, or funny?
- Triggers—Are there everyday events that can trigger a conversation about it?
- Emotion—Does it make people feel something?
- Public—Can it be shared publicly?
- Practical value—Is there an obvious way to take action?
- Stories—Can it be told as a story?
An example of a fully word-of-mouth optimized story comes from a speakeasy bar in New York City called Please Don’t Tell or PDT. The bar is hidden behind a telephone booth in a taco joint. When someone stumbles across it, they cannot help but tell their exciting story of discovery to everyone they know. Sharing makes them look cool, is triggered anytime they have cocktails, and is infused with emotion.
In the B2B world, few stories check all these boxes better than someone telling a story about how they were suddenly propelled forward in their career. A personal success story has social currency—everyone wants to share tips and tricks. It has a trigger because talking about an accomplishment is relevant to almost any conversation. It’s steeped in emotion, it’s public information, it has practical value, it’s told in a narrative, and your software hitches a ride because it serves as the punchline.
Happy advocates operate like homing missiles. They seek out people for whom the story is most relevant—like colleagues in similar roles who happen to be ideal buyers.
And over time, those happily-attached advocates take that software everywhere they go. According to Marketo Senior Customer Marketing Manager, Kevin Lau, “if a software system helps you knock it out of the park and earn a promotion or additional headcount, you’d better believe you use it again.”
Promote Your Product by Promoting Your Customers
Building a product that helps users get promoted extends far beyond marketing—it’s a whole company initiative. It’s the responsibility of the product, design, enablement, and leadership teams to serve the customer so well that they exalt in its utility. But marketers can lead the charge in making this relationship known, and by amplifying the stories of those advocates. Happy users develop relationships with the tools that make their lives easier. If marketers can make their tools easier to love, advocates will want to tell the whole world. Perhaps they’ll even get excited enough that one day, they’ll take time out of their busy day to show up to your summit and exclaim to an audience of potential buyers, “I can’t stop telling people about it!”
Do you have a product or company you evangelize? Have you ever turned a customer into a brand advocate? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.