How (and why) to Cultivate Individual Relationships with your Brand Advocates?

Sometimes the most obvious things are totally ignored, and then one wonders what happened! A classic example of the lack of individual relationships is the Samsung story where they cancelled a blogger’s airplane ticket on a press trip for refusing to write about the brand.

Relationships are the life blood of your brand advocacy program especially in the social business era. However, you need to cultivate and build those individual relationships.

This can prove challenging as the size of your brand advocacy program grows. Read on to learn how you can refuel your brand advocacy program with the fuel of the Social Economy – Individual Relationships.

Brand Advocacy: Why focus on building individual relationships?

Brand Advocates - Individual RelationshipsBrand Advocates are people, people are individuals, having different goals, styles of working and preferences. Painting them with one common brush is ineffective. Brand Advocates are individuals first, they may have similar needs but expect and deserve to be treated as individuals.

The Corporate Challenge – Treating advocates like sheep

People are not SheepTo be successful with Brand Advocates, you don’t need to be Colin Powell (they are not an army to be commanded) or St. Paul (they are not sheep to be herded). You need to be sorta like Casanova (they are to be treated as individuals).

Advocates are looked upon as external to the organization and hence one often finds the approach to building relationships like that of herding sheep. This is a big mistake and it’s often just because the organization hasn’t thought thru the process of a brand advocacy program or is experimenting with it or just testing the waters. Don’t do this, as it kills the spirit of the relationship even before it begins.

Brand Advocates - How to Cultivate Individual RelationshipsHow do you build individual relationships with Brand Advocates?

 

Every relationship has a beginning, a middle and and end or a continuity. Cultivating a relationship mean that one works on nurturing the relationship through the lifecycle of the relationship.

The Beginning of a RelationshipStage 1: The Beginning of a relationship

  • Boy Sees Girl
  • Boy smitten by Girl
  • Boy meets Girl

Map this to how you discover, and how your advocates interact with you. Maybe the first look happens when you observe them tweeting sweet nothings on Twitter about you. Or  when they come across your program on your website. Or they physically meet you the brand advocate manager. Yeah believe it or not physical meetings still happen.

- Each interaction point provides an opportunity. It might begin on the advocacy page on your website or at a networking event. You need to specifically design this to encourage relationships with the brand advocate. You need to plan out how they will be welcomed into your brand advocate program.

They Meet AgainStage 2: The mid path – Boy meets her again

- You need to plan and have regular interactions/meetings. It’s a dance you have to do, as it enables you to be comfortable with each other and helps you establish rapport and a relationship. Without regular interactions one loses sight and touch which is necessary in building an individual relationship.

- You need to nurture the relationship. It’s like dating all over again, and then some. You need to cater to their expectations and that brings up the next challenge.

Building individual relationshipsWhat if your brand advocates run in the hundreds? Will individual relationships work then?

 

I could literally hear that big BUT come up. How do you scale your operations in the enterprise?

Here are some quick ways to get started (advanced tactics below)

- Regular telephone conference calls (works up to 30 people). 30 per week, works out to 120 a month, and 360 per quarter.

- Offline physical meetings – at events or conferences or even hold periodic roundtables. (works up to 100-200 people)

- Online webcasts – ( works up to 100-200 people at one go). You could do this weekly for advocates across different regions, states, countries etc. (200 a week, 800 people a month)

Important: Not all advocates will be comfortable with each of these mediums, some will prefer physical meetings, some online interactions. Don’t expect all of them to turn up just because you’re making yourself available.

Lots of Brand AdvocatesWhat if you have thousands of brand advocates? How can you scale building individual relationships?

There are various ways in which organizations can scale to building individual relationships.

Multiple Brand Advocacy Managers

Most large organizations have a ratio of 1:80 or 1:100 i.e. one brand advocate manager per 100 brand advocates. This ensures that the individual relationship is maintained between the organization and the brand advocates.

Incorporate a Buddy System or a Council

Buddy System - Peer Support

No matter how many brand advocate managers you have, you can’t be everywhere all the time. A Buddy System is the way out. Older brand advocates act as mentors supporting newer brand advocates. This helps in the initiation process of  building relationships between the organization and the individual. This greatly speeds up the relationship building and provides the added value of extra hands to manage the growing brand advocate ecosystem. The biggest value added is the building of relationships amongst the brand advocates themselves, reducing the load on the brand advocacy manager.

Similarly Councils, are like an advisory board comprising brand advocates who primarily play a role in easing and speeding up the individual relationship building:
- initiating new brand advocates,
- familiarising them with the brand advocacy program,
- providing support and also help in
- facilitating relationships amongst brand advocates and
- providing structured feedback back to the organization.

Both the buddy system and the council help in easing the process of building individual relationships between brand advocates and the organization.

Stage 3? What when the relationship ends?

Brand advocates needs are going to change over a period of time, some may just not be able to participate due to work or other constraints. Most organizations provide a path back and to be connected with these brand advocates. This is typically done by maintaining informal communities of ex-brand advocates.

How to build a deeper individual relationship?

To build a deeper relationship you need to ensure that certain minimum activities are performed by you.

  • Segmentation - Different people have different relationship triggers. On a program level you need to make sure you’ve segmented your audience in order that the right people get the right messages. This is crucial especially as the size of your brand advocacy program increases. (Learn more about Segmentation)
  • Evangelism – Reciprocity – When you praise or do something for others, it tells them you care. Additionally, it automatically ensures a similar return gesture from them, thereby deepening the relationship.
  • Frequency of interactions – People often suss over this and I find that more than frequency it is the consistency in interactions which matter. Take a pick whether it’s weekly or even monthly interactions, stick to your schedule and vary it to accommodate their requests.
  • Face to Face – Nothing, I repeat nothing beats face to face interactions. You need to ensure that these interactions happen. I’m not going to even bother to elaborate on this, however this is possibly the most important part of building a deep individual relationship.

Summary

In the social business era cultivating these individual relationships will decide the success of your brand advocacy program. Individual relationships are the life blood of your brand advocacy program. You need to design your program to nurture the relationship. The least of the benefits would be to avoid incidents like the Samsung blogger mishap.

Next Step?

Please do drop a note in the comments below to share how you’re cultivating individual relationships with your brand advocates and let me know if you have any questions.

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  • Mita Hegde

    Brand advocacy and creating brand loyalty go hand in hand.                                                     Human contact is not replaceable.                                                                                                                       There is a need to identify persons with people skills for any organisation. This person /s  are the ones who will be the brand ambassadors as well as human interface . This is a very fundamental requirement for an organisation for building brand loyalty.