If someone is paid to recommend a brand or product, can they be classified as a true advocate? If you ask Rob Fuggetta, founder and CEO of brand advocacy platform provider Zuberance, his answer would be emphatically no.
To Fuggetta, the term “advocate” carries a very distinct connotation. He defines advocates as “highly satisfied customers who proactively recommend brands or products without being incentivized to do so.”
“If a brand is paying people to recommend, they are not true advocates. You’re getting into an area where you’re destroying trust with the people they are advocating a brand or product to,” he stated.
In fact, Fuggetta refers to the act of incentivizing people to recommend a brand or product as a scheme. He said, “Schemes that are generating referrals by paying and incentivizing people are not true advocacy. True advocacy cannot be paid for and manufactured, but only earned.”
“For years brands have been using incentives as a way to encourage new customer acquisition. Banks used to give away toasters when a person signed up for a new account. When that stopped working, they use modest monetary incentives. When that didn’t work, they increased the amount,” said Fuggetta. “This is not brand advocacy in action; it’s bounty hunting!”
Citing data from word of mouth research firm Keller Fay, Fuggetta said that 3.5 billion recommendations are made ofﬂine each day in the United States, the vast majority of which are unpaid. “Not only that, the average consumer talks about brands 56 times per week without ever being incentivized to do so,” he added.
This approach may ring true for social media purists like me, but does it work in the market place? “To date Zuberance has generated 30 million brand and product recommendations and no advocate has ever received anything in exchange for their recommendation,” said Fuggetta.
How does the Zuberance advocacy platform work? Three steps are involved:
1. Identify brand advocates. “Our platform asks the ultimate question: ‘How likely are you recommend?’ That question is served up through many channels including social media, email, mobile and on the company website. We continue to ask the question systematically over a period of time, while we constantly build an advocate army,” said Fuggetta.
2. Energize advocates. Scores of 9-10 (based on a 1-10 scale) are given opportunity to share product information. Brands create offers advocates can use to share with friends, but with no personal incentive attached. It’s a “talking point” for customers to use to recommend products they’ve already purchased.
3. Track results. Any activity taken based on sharing recommendations, is tracked, including product purchases.
Fuggetta distinguishes brand advocates from social media fans and followers. He said, “Just because someone clicks on a like button doesn’t mean they will recommend you. It’s the lowest common denominator.” He also distinguishes advocates from loyal customers and cites frequent flyer programs as an example: “Many people are members of frequent flyer programs, but few would actually recommend the airline.”
Zuberance offers a way to systematically survey customers, find out which ones are highly likely to recommend your company or products, then post those recommendations to sites like Yelp and share stories with their friends. Just how valuable is that? Since word of mouth is the most trusted marketing form, it could be of extreme value. At least that’s the way Fuggetta sees it.
“You can’t put old wine in new bottles,” concluded Fuggetta and I concur. Customer trust, loyalty and advocacy is best engendered when accompanied by true genuineness, authenticity and transparency – not with an incentivized agenda.