Super Brand Advocates aren’t new but you need to listen to them

Over at Next Great Thing, they pointed to a new social networking report from Hitwise that says that in 2008, we will see the emergence of a “super brand advocate”.  As the report states:

Whether via a personal blog or as a key member within a community, super-advocates are well informed, opinionated and have the ability to make or break a product launch or ruin a hard-earned reputation.

However, NGT hits the nail on the head when they point out that “Super Brand Advocates” are nothing new.  In 2007, Yahoo & Mediavest put together a report on Passionistas that talked about Super Brand Advocates as people who “have both knowledge and a need to share it.”  It’s pretty common sense that some consumers are going to talk more than others…I’m sure you know a few o fthis people yourself.

But while Super Brand Advocates aren’t new, they are powerful and it is getting easier to connect and identify them.  Blogs, social networks, Flickr, Twitter, Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Tweetscan…all of these allow you to listen to your consumers.  And if you can listen, you have a better chance of hearing who is talking the most and/or talking the loudest.  These are your super brand advocates.  These are people like Jeff Jarvis who caused Dell a serious case of heartburn a few years back.  These are people like  Harriet Klausner who has written so many book reviews on Amazon.com that her comments are now highlighted in new book releases.

Every brand out there should be thinking about identifying these super brand advocates for your industry.  At the very least, you need to be aware of them so problems don’t pop up.  But if you use them the right way, they can be invaluable sources of consumer research.  The key is starting a conversation with them so you can really learn what they want from your brand.  This isnt about a simple focus group where you talk for 2 hours, give them a check and then leave.  It is about an honest conversation where you enroll these consumers into your brand.

For most of us, taking the first step isn’t easy but it will be worth it.  We’re not use to open conversations with consumers.  We are use to hiding behind the focus group glass and the safety of being anonymous.  But now is the time to break that glass.  Take the first step and do a blog search to see who is talking about your brand.  Plug your brand name into Tweetscan to see who is saying something.  Even think about engaging your PR agency or a company like Nielsen BuzzMetrics to monitor the conversation.  A good conversation is worth the time.

5 Responses to Super Brand Advocates aren’t new but you need to listen to them

  1. Great post, Dave. I think the big opportunity for marketers is to start thinking more critically about how we both profile and nurture “brand advocacy.” This is an obsession of mine lately. Might mean we need to re-engineer much of our thinking about profile “inputs.” For example, we tend to over emphasize demos when we ask consumers to fill out forms and surveys, yet rarely probe degrees of advocacy, influencer, or, how shall we put it…”propensity to leave a digital trail.” Secondly, and right to your headline, we need to better understand the symbiotic relationship between listening and advocacy. Advocacy begins, I think, when a brand takes meaningful steps to validate a consumer’s emotional need to be heard (or to at least have that opportunity), Will it make a difference if at some point — offline, via email, twitter, or whatever — you acknowledge that I dropped a few thoughts on your blog. Of course. I’m not going to paint your name on my forehead, but you get the idea….

    – pete blackshaw

  2. Dave Knox says:

    Pete – Great thoughts as always. Now here’s the question I struggle with when it comes to profile “inputs” because I agree we are missing a major opportunity when we focus just on demographics. Do the best advocates even know they are advocates? And what is the right way to tell someone is a super brand advocate? Sure they easy way that some people do it is just by counting the number of connections a person has….how many IM friends, how many twitter follows, how much traffic to their blog, how many friends on Facebook or Myspace, etc.

    But are those really your brand advocates or just merely culture influencers or connectors? It’s tough to really measure the passion someone has for a brand or their propensity to talk about your specific brand unless they have openly stated their support (for instance by joining Guiness 1759 Society or writing a blog like Starbucks Gossip – http://starbucksgossip.typepad.com/). I like your idea that the responsibility is in the brand’s hands to start the advocacy by “validating the consumers emotional need to be heard.” But I also think there is a step to identify the consumer before that….its just that no one has really cracked that nut.

    If someone had, the guys at Potbelly would know I drag a group of friends to eat there whenever I am in town that has one and Potbelly would be forming a relationship with me as a consumer….

  3. Fair push, but you need to start somewhere, and the clear empirical suggests that there’s so much theoretical over-thinking around these nuances that brands seemed paralyzed to even take a step forward. Most feedback forms — especially in CPG — have barely budged. I watched Lafley on Charlie Rose (via Google video) last night and he underscored the importance of listening to complaints. They all matter, he suggested, and they must be understood and valued. So let’s start there. What else would a brand want to know about someone who complains. Would you care that he/she also fancies YouTube (of course), or blogs (youbet), and dips around message boards in his/her idle moments. Of course. Knowing that helps you better forecast impact, or plan for your next sampling campaign.

    Are they brand advocates? It’s easy to assume they are not, because they often share “tough love,” but I think consumers who exercise this “third moment of truth” (what she expresses after trying a product) represent perhaps the best opportunity segment for nurturing advocacy, buzz. Easier said than done, and this is a big reason I think marketers need to ‘bear hug the consumer affairs department…and vice versa.

    You also make a fair point that advocates don’t alway know when the are advocates. Some, in fact, drive advocacy, by merely being the “first to try” (a new product) or “first to experience” (a faulty product?). I sometimes refer to this as “situational influence.”

    Good thread here. let’s keep it up. good to reconnect.

  4. Dave Knox says:

    Listening to complaints as a business strategy…that seems to be the theme of this upcoming book I heard about called “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000”. Maybe you’ve heard ot it?🙂

    You’ve hit on a great point and not enough companies are paying attention to it. Too many businesses (P&G included) don’t pay enough attention to complaints. Consumer Relations is its own group at P&G when it should be part of marketing (like you say). Every brand should put Consumer Relations on the work plan of one of their ABM’s. That person should be going through the Consumer Relations calls, setting up TweetScans for their brand name, searching on Google Alert and browsing through YouTube. Hell, I wouldnt mind if Consumer Relations had a way to forward a consumer directly to a brand manager if they think it is appropriate. I’d rather my phone ring to talk to a consumer than to talk to an agency cold calling me!

    Complaints resonate loudly but too many brands have earplugs in .

  5. virusha says:

    Do you have any advice on how to contact brand advocates? what is the preferred way to communicate with them and how can you identify them. Is a brand advocate someone who has good things to say about your brand just once? or are they brand advocates forever?

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