The Ethic of Brand Advocacy

Posted by | Advocacy, Communities, Reciprocal Altruism, Relationships | No Comments

An army of brand advocates can be a very powerful marketing force.  More and more, marketers are seeking to create or ignite brand advocacy.  They are creating price promotions, leveraging Social Media, and creating experiential campaigns all with the hopes of getting consumers to advocate for their brand.

All of us know different versions of the Golden Rule; “Do unto to others as you would have others do unto you.” The Golden Rule or the Ethic of Reciprocity is a universal philosophy having roots in a wide variety of world cultures and religions.  What if we applied the Golden Rule to Marketing?  What if we created an Ethic of Marketing? “The Ethic of Marketing” should state, “Do unto your consumers as you would have your consumers do unto you.”  Every brand wants consumers to be passionate, loyal supporters of the brand.  They want to create Word of Mouth.  They want Brand Advocates.  If a brand wants to create Brand Advocates, should not a brand first be a Consumer Advocate?

Advocacy is the act of pleading for, supporting or recommending. If we want consumers to recommend our brands, we need to support the consumer.  A Consumer Advocate is someone who passionately supports the consumer.  They do things on behalf of the consumer.  A consumer advocate embraces consumer-centricity to the point of Reciprocal Altruism (a concept introduced by Robert L. Trivers in 1971). Reciprocal Altruism is basically the act of doing something for someone (at some cost to the doer) with the hope that someone would perform an altruistic act in return.  Unlike a common “Tit for Tat” model, a condition of Reciprocal Altruism is that the performance of the altruistic behavior must not depend on receiving an immediate benefit in return.  For the most part, marketers employ “Tit for Tat” models. Every time brand marketers create a consumer engagement, they expect something immediately in return.  They create to get.  They do not create to give.  These are very different ideas.  When we create to get, we are Brand-centric.  When we create to give, we are consumer-centric.

Consumer-centricity places the consumer in the center of our thoughts and actions. It’s about giving what the consumer wants, needs and desires rather than what the brand wants, needs and desires.  Reciprocal Altruism is about consumer-centricity. It’s about supporting consumers.  It’s about being a Consumer Advocate.

In short, if brands really want consumers to be Brand Advocates; Brands should first consider being a true Consumer Advocate.  “Do unto your consumer as you would have your consumer do unto you”:  the new Ethic of Brand Advocacy.


Does Your Business C.A.R.E.?

Posted by | Advocacy, Communities, Engagement, Relationships | No Comments

When we think of the word care, we think about being concerned, having regard or simply having a liking for someone or something. When we think about the acronym CARE, many will think of the international humanitarian agency delivering emergency relief and long-term international development projects.  In both cases, there is an emotional affinity towards and, in many cases, a desire to advocate on behalf of a cause or people.

At ADVENGAGE, we want you to think of C.A.R.E. in a slightly new way.  C.A.R.E. is our acronym for Consumer Advocacy by building deeper Relationships through better Engagements.  This is our mission and our mantra.  For us, it is simple.  If you apply C.A.R.E. to your marketing efforts, consumers will reward you with greater volume.  Our five-step model and assessment tool will help you introduce better C.A.R.E. to your business.

Consumer Advocacy is the desired end state that marketers want for their brand.  We want consumers to be emotionally attached to our business and strongly support it.  Word of Mouth is the desired action we want our consumers to take in support of our brands. An army of consumer advocates spreading the benefits of our brands can be the most powerful marketing force. Advocacy and Word of Mouth are not mutually inclusive. Just because someone shares something of yours doesn’t mean that they are advocating for you.  It just means they are sharing.  For example, you can give a person five coupons to hand out.  They leave all five in their work office around the lunch table so that others can use them. They are not advocating.  They are sharing. Some will even call this Word of Mouth. No one should ever confuse it with Advocacy.

Advocacy and loyalty are also not mutually inclusive.  A person who is loyal to a brand may not necessarily publicly espouse its benefits to their friends, family or co-workers.  An advocate, however, will be a loyal user who, because of their emotional bond with the brand, will spread positive sentiments about the brand publicly.

Basically, there are three different types of brand loyalty; Promotional Loyalty, Performance Loyalty and Emotional Loyalty. Promotional loyalty is what brands get from consumers as a result of the common practice of couponing or in-store discounting.  These price-off or discount promotions incentivize the consumer to purchase more of the brand.  Performance loyalty comes when the product performs a task or function in such an appreciably way that competition cannot match.  Lastly, Emotional loyalty happens when a consumer develops a relationship with a brand that is more than transactional.  This leads to an emotional bond built on trust and a perception of reciprocity.  In a previously written article, “The Relationship Continuum,” I highlight the differences in relationship types.

Promotion loyalty rarely provides a sustained competitive advantage versus other brands as price discounting and couponing is easily copied. Performance loyalty provides a nice advantage versus competition until the performance is copied or exceeded by new technologies.  Volvo is a great example.  For the longest time, Volvo stood for safety.  It held a significant safety technology advantage versus other competitors.  The problem is that many other competitors have either caught up or exceeded Volvo’s safety claims.  Emotional loyalty, stemming from a deeper than transactional relationship, has significant advantages.  The stronger the emotional bond to a brand, the more difficult it is for the consumer to separate from the brand because of price.  Developing relationships with consumers can help insulate brands from competition as long as the brand continues to invest in the relationship.

Relationships are built through engagements. Are the brands trying to sell to the consumer every time the consumer engages with them?  Is the brand creating engagements that are Brand-centric or consumer-centric?  Is the brand trying to connect with the consumer on an emotional level or seeking to communicate all the features and benefits the brand can deliver? Is the brand creating multi-sensory consumer experiences or are they only reaching out via efficient mass media vehicles? Are brands developing marketing with the expectation that consumer will immediately purchase their product or are they being altruistic in their marketing?

There are many factors that contribute to developing a relationship between a brand and a consumer.  In my article, “Moving from CRM to CRD”, I discuss five of the six factors I have uncovered through my years of developing consumer relationships for P&G and Vocalpoint.  Frequency, breadth and depth of communications as well as listening, responding and inspiring are essential component to developing greater interactivity between brand and consumer.  Greater interactivity leads to greater familiarity.  Greater familiarity leads to greater comfort.  Greater comfort leads to greater trust.  Greater trust, in turn, leads to a deeper relationship.

Relationships can only develop if the consumer chooses to engage with the brand on an emotional rather than functional level.  Interactivity is critical to relationship development.  Engagement is critical to interactivity.  If a consumer chooses not to engage, there will be no interactivity.  No interactivity means no familiarity and so on and so on.  Therefore, the nature of the engagements is critical to developing a relationship.  The ADVENGAGE model teaches brands how to engage in a manner that leads to greater interactivity that ultimately leads to Advocacy.

Advocacy just doesn’t happen.  You do not create advocates because you are using Social Media.  How you engage and the messaging you use to engage are more important. Again, at ADVENGAGE, we believe in C.A.R.E.  Contact me at gdejesusllc@gmail .com and let us show you how to C.A.R.E.


Give Them Something to Talk About

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In 1990, Bonnie Raitt recorded her smash hit Something to Talk About. There are a couple of lines in the song that go; “Let’s give them something to talk about. A little mystery to figure out.”  These two lines, although the song writer did not intend it to do so, represent a critical principle of driving Word of Mouth; Schema Disruption.

A schema is an organized cluster of pre-conceived thoughts or ideas that we use to make sense of different aspects of our environment.  These mental frameworks organize our knowledge and assumptions about something and are used for interpreting and processing information.  Stereotypes are examples of schemas.  When you disrupt a schema, people will begin to engage more deeply.  Why?  It’s about returning to a static state of mental equilibrium. Therefore, people have a natural desire to either; a) disprove the disruption and return to their original schema or b) approve the disruption and change their existing schema. A key here is when you disrupt a schema, you force the brain to engage. When you deeply engage a person, you can then get them to better understand your proposition.  “A little mystery to figure out” is a great line.  We want consumers to spend the time to learn more about our products.

Positive schema disruption can create a “wow” moment if the new information is specifically relevant, trusted and positive. It makes sense that people will engage in things that are specifically relevant to themselves or to someone dear to them.  The greater the specificity; the greater the engagement.  For example. Pet owners ears perk up when information about pets are communicated.  However, Chihuahua owners listen more intently when they hear a story or information about Chihuahuas.  Why? It is more relevant to their specific situation. Of course they want to listen intently as the information may either relate to their current situation or provide helpful or fun information that they can use to nurture their little Hercules (I always think its cool when little dogs get big powerful names.)  If the information is not relevant to the listener, engagement does not really occur.  Men do not really engage with feminine products.  Younger audiences do not relate to denture creams.  Why bother?  The only exception to this is if the information can help out someone a person cares deeply about.  Then, the information becomes personally relevant.

Is the disruption believable?  The easiest way to disprove a schema disruption is for the information to come from a non-trusted source.  In this case, the information is dismissed and the person returns back to their original schema. People do not trust everyone and everything.   Our current schemas help us understand there are people and sources that are more trustworthy than others.  The State Farm commercial “They Can’t Put Anything on the Internet that Isn’t True,” spoofs this insight well.  People are savvy.  Many who are trusted in their own rights will do the diligence to make sure the information they hear is accurate or at least from a credible source.  This is why recommendations spread between friends and family are so powerful.  Because of the relationship, these sources are inherently trusted.

Disrupting schemas in a positive way is very important to driving Word of Mouth.  Nicholas Christakis in his book Connected talks about “the Spread of Goodness.” In his book (great read by the way), he talks about “the purpose of social networks is to transmit positive and desirable outcomes…” It is through the spread of positive information and emotion that people contribute to the growth of their networks.  Let’s face it.  Most of us like to spread happiness.  It makes us feel better when we see the smile on another’s face.  When we share a piece of information that will help some one improve their current situations.  “Debbie Downer” was a hysterically funny SNL skit however, no one really wants to be her.  No one wants to be her because no one wants to be with her.  When was created, a key desired outcome of our communications (besides drive word of mouth) was to “Brighten our Audiences’ Day.”  We wanted to spread joy.  We knew that our creation of joyful communications would lead to others spreading joy through their social networks.

Disrupting specifically relevant schemas with communications and experiences that are credible and joyful drives word of mouth.  Just because you use Social Media doesn’t mean you are creating word of mouth.  You have to create communications that are worthy of spreading.  As Bonnie Raitt sings, “Let’s give them something to talk about.  A little mystery to figure out.” Do that in a trusted, joyful way and you too may have a hit.



What is Vocalpoint?

Posted by | Communities | No Comments

In 2006, I led the creation, development and launching of, a community of women with children who loved to learn about new things and share them with their friends.  Vocalpoint was designed to systemically and measurably drive consumer Word of Mouth. We created qualified emotionally “disruptive” brand experiencesso potential consumers can experience a brand’s “wow.”  We introduced brands through our trusted relationship with our Vocalpoint Members.  This combination created emotionally charged Brand Advocates that shared through their social networks (both digitally and face-to-face.)

P&G worked on building an internal Word of Mouth capability since 2001.  Its first foray was called Tremor, a community of approximately 230,000 teens (mostly 16-19 year olds) who had a natural desire to share their opinions with basically anybody who was willing to listen.  These teens were screened for their “Connector” traits.  A Connector was someone with wide social networks and flowed freely between them.  Their ability to speak to and potentially influence many others made them quite valuable. Having an army of “Connected” teens speaking on behalf of products sounded great.  During the couple of years I led Tremor marketing, we had many in-market successes and developed many case studies on how Word of Mouth can drive incremental volume to brands.  The problem was, however, Teens were not the desired target audience of most P&G brands.  Before the Gillette acquisition, you could count on one hand how many P&G brands focused on teens.

Vocalpoint was developed in 2006. Vocalpoint was a community of connected women with children and represented a better strategic fit for P&G brands.  This was a brand I had the opportunity to develop from white paper concept to in-market launch.  Vocalpoint was developed under the premise that people had a natural desire to share with others.  The brand stood for “exchanging unexpected gifts of knowledge.” Every word of our equity statement was chosen carefully.  “Exchanging” was about sharing but it was important that the share be between Vocalpoint and the community.  We wanted to converse directly with the community, not passively listen to what they had to say. “Unexpected” was about surprise.  Through the years we realized (with the help of cognitive scientists and psychologists) that disrupting existing consumer schemas was an essential component of word of mouth. “Gifts of Knowledge” was the final element.  We wanted to spread joy through enlightenment.  It wasn’t enough to give someone a sample and ask them to try; we wanted to give them a sample in a way that was gift-like and gave them a new perspective.  In essence, we wanted to change an existing negative or boring perspective about a product and also brighten their day.  All together, Vocalpoint was about bringing a large group of women together under the idea they would be able to exchange (they share; we share) cool new ideas, information and opinions. This resultant participatory engagement would create a deeper more trusted relationship.  We believed this relationship coupled with our gift-like approach to messaging and materials would inspire our community to share with their friends.  The goal was to put a smile on their faces and that they would put a smile on other faces. It was about spreading joy, not just spreading product news.

Vocalpoint continues to grow.  It was built on the ideal of creating and spreading joy as well as allowing people to be heard. Over the years it has carefully grown from 300,000 highly engaged women to over 600,000.  This may not seem like a lot however, it was about developing a two way connection with people rather than buying facebook fans that have low engagement rates. Unlike the way most brands treat facebook fans, we were not interested in collecting fans like it was the nuclear arms race.  We had to make sure that we could brighten their day by providing everyone in the community “gifts of joy” from time to time. Ultimately, we developed relationships that went beyond the simple transactional relationships that most brands have. Spreading joy helps you develop relationships. Developing relationships helps you create advocacy.

I am no longer a part of Vocalpoint but I will always be a part of Vocalpoint.  If you want to get your brand’s message in front of a highly engaged community of women, I strongly suggest contacting Dan Carruthers at  MKTG Inc. is the agency of record and now produces all content for Vocalpoint.  If you want to create your own version of Vocalpoint, contact me at  I can work with your brand team and brand agency to take your existing digital assets and create a hub of advocacy.

If a tree falls in the woods

Are You Really Engaging Your Consumer?

Posted by | Engagement | No Comments

We are all familiar with the philosophical question posed by George Berkeley in the 1700s; “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  In answering the question, George Berkeley goes on to write, “objects of sense exist only when they are perceived.”

This was incredibly profound in its day.  Today, we as marketers continuously ask ourselves a similar question.  If a marketing campaign is launched and there is no one around to hear it, does it make an impact?  For many years now, marketers have been screaming that television is dying and it ability to reach and grab consumers is waning.  I am not here to argue this point.  My point is, the same argument against television as an effective marketing vehicle, can be used against most, if not all, marketing mediums.  If a consumer does not perceive or engage in your message, does it make a sound?

So much focus is placed on the medium to deliver high expectations of consumer engagement.  Digital communications were introduced as a more efficient and effective way to engage consumers.  Social media is being heralded for its ability to engage consumers where they want to engage. Yet, when you look at the engagement rates of most of these mediums; they are very low.  It is estimated that on average less than one percent of a brand’s Facebook fans will “LIKE” a brand message.  Approximately 10% to 12% of consumers who sign up or opt-in to a brand’s community will engage in the brand’s digital communications or track on the website.

We have an Engagement Gap.  If we assume approximately 1% of a Brand’s Facebook fans “LIKE” something; then 99% do not.  If we assume that 12% of a Brand’s digital database visit the website; then 88% do not.  This is the Engagement Gap.  Please understand, this is not intended to be a comment on the efficacy of digital or social media but rather a comment on our use of it.  Savvy marketers have long understood that brilliant television campaigns can deliver fantastic business results (and yes they are measurable.) The converse is that a below average or poor creative campaign will yield nothing.  Creative content drives results. Creative content drives engagement.

Top-notch marketers spend a lot of time and resources working with their creative agencies to develop great copy.  How much time and resources are spent developing top-notch digital and social creative?  Television is very costly.  It makes sense that marketers do not want to make a mistake with this vehicle.  Digital and Social are low cost.  Are marketers ok with less than effective creative because the vehicle is cheap?

Digital and Social vehicles are brilliant marketing tools.  They do a fantastic job in carrying the creative content from one person to another.  However, just because they are great vehicles, it does not mean people are automatically going to engage.  The creative message is responsible for doing that.  Digital and Social can lead a horse to water; only engaging content can make it drink.

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