The Evolution of Advocate Marketing
Rob McEwen was in trouble. His junior gold mining company, Goldcorp, wasn’t turning a profit. It had produced a disappointing 50,000 ounces of gold per year from its promising Red Lake property in Northern Ontario, and would be out of cash in a few quarters. Raising more money from the public markets would be difficult given the low productivity of the mine.
His geologists were stumped. Several data points showed that there was likely a lot of gold on the property, but after years of searching, the rich veins were still left untapped. Perhaps the gold was much deeper underground. But where? It would cost a fortune and more time than was available to drill the number of deep search holes required to find it—and it was not clear that his engineering team had the technical expertise to find the high-grade ore at depth.
With these problems on his mind, he attended the renowned Birthing of Giants conference for CEOs and entrepreneurs at MIT. It was mid-1999, the time when the first open-source software companies challenged a then- dominant Microsoft in operating systems.
Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, took the stage and explained how he organized legions of volunteer software developers around the world to build a better operating system. The Linux project was a grassroots movement that felt like an exclusive tribe with a valuable mission to the volunteer developers. They could see the impact of their work on the project every day, and they earned social capital in the global developer community. Many of these developers worked harder on the Linux project on nights and weekends than they worked at their day jobs.
In Torvalds’ solution, Rob saw potential to solve his own problems. He had huge amounts of data on Red Lake, but did not have the time, money, or expertise to find what he was looking for. What if he could recruit the world’s armchair geologists to engage on the project?
Over the protests of his technical staff, Rob made available to the public all of the data he had on Red Lake. Then he announced a $450,000 prize for anyone who could locate the main vein of high-grade ore. The prize inspired thousands of virtual prospectors, and not just geologists—mathematicians, experts in 3-D visualization, data scientists, graduate students, military engineers, and even non-technical people submitted proposals.
Like the Linux developers, people from different realms of expertise began to work together to find the gold online, like a giant international treasure hunt. One collaboration between a geologic consulting firm and a leading-edge computer graphics company created a powerful 3D map of the property. The map showed the Goldcorp team where to drill.
They found over $6 billion worth of gold deposits over 110 sites. That’s at 2000–2001 prices—in 2017 terms, it’s more like $24 billion. More than half of those sites were completely unknown to the Goldcorp geologists. The contest also cut the exploration time by several years. Goldcorp is now the second-largest gold mining company in the world, and the most profitable. These amazing results are all a result of Rob McEwen open-sourcing his proprietary mining data and mobilizing the world’s virtual prospectors to effectively do what his own team could not.
The story of Red Lake’s treasure shows us the future of how effective companies will operate. The division between employee and other stakeholders like customers, partners, platform developers, investors, and enthusiastic industry participants will be far less clear, and in some cases will vanish completely. After all, the world’s largest transportation company, Uber, owns no cars, nor directly employs drivers. The world’s largest accommodation company, Airbnb, owns no hotels, and does not employ lodging staff. The world’s most robust encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has a tiny staff, and is maintained with an army of volunteers. The critical skill for success in this era of the social web is in building a system to discover, nurture, and mobilize communities of stakeholders. In other words, it is in building relationships.
Torvalds and the open-source movement has shown that, if organized properly, a global community of software developers can produce higher-quality software more efficiently. The advocate marketing pioneers featured in this book have shown that leveraging community is a better way to go to market as well. In fact, there is little that an employee can do that a properly organized and motivated member of the community could not do better.
What we see for the future is this: communities of enthusiasts become so infused into companies that it becomes standard operating procedure to leverage them in every part of the business, as routine as engaging employees to accomplish a goal.
MARKETING AND BEYOND
Advocate marketing has the potential to transform a business far beyond the marketing department, into sales, customer success, product development—teams that bring tremendous value to an advocate marketing program. The more diverse the internal champion and stakeholder set, the more appealing the program to advocates. The technical- minded advocate, for example, relishes catching software bugs, being first to solve support questions in your community, having access to information and opportunities that align with your product team, and building their own professional brand. You might attract such an advocate with exclusive membership benefits, as well as offers to speak at an industry event or build a relationship with your PR team.
Just as a cross-departmental advocate experience will grow a program because it’s more targeted to the motivations of the individual advocate, the teams contributing from across the organization also benefit. The developer now has quick, easy access to beta testers and end users to run his ideas past; the media relations manager can source same-day quotes; the salesperson has a new pool of happy, reference-able customers who are ready, willing, and able to share their story with prospects. The more diverse and embedded advocate marketing is across a business, the higher the return on investment for both company and advocate.
Below is a department-by-department look at how advocate marketing can positively impact each team.
If there’s a single sweet spot for advocate marketing, it’s events. Whether they are small face-to-face events like user groups, or massive industry events like the Marketing Nation Summit, advocates and events are the ideal mix of happy customers and a high-energy social setting.
The best advocate marketing plans for large events are rooted in the overall event plan, which is typically the responsibility of an event marketing manager and should be available upon request. Study the overall goals and objectives for the event and align your advocate marketing efforts to support the top-line goals.
Is there a share of voice (SOV) metric? Plan a Tweetup.
Are booth staff hoping to scan 2,000 badges? Incentivize advocates to drive traffic to the booth.
Are there on-site sales meetings planned? Determine which advocates in attendance would be best to have on call, should the opportunity arise for an in-person reference.
Always align your advocate marketing plan to the master event plan to ensure you’re delivering the right value at the right time, and raising your success profile within the organization. With all the event metrics in mind, however, don’t forget to make the plan engaging. Events are the perfect venue for a highly gamified advocate experience.
ADVOCACY IN ACTION: CISCO EMEAR
Cisco EMEAR (Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Russia) had a vision for their program. They’re an example of being primed and ready to dive headfirst into the deep end of advocacy. They embrace the advocacy mindset internally.
A large part of Cisco’s strategy is structured around events advocacy. When they launched their program earlier this year, it coincided with Cisco Live—their flagship event—an annual event with thousands of attendees. This year, the event was held in Berlin.
The launch of Cisco’s advocacy marketing program was linked directly to Cisco Live so that they were telling a cohesive story to advocates. Anyone who had registered to attend Cisco Live was also invited into the program, so there was cohesion between an onsite experience and the virtual experience of the advocacy program. Marrying the virtual and in-person aspects of an advocacy program is key for events marketing. The most successful programs incorporate an online aspect.
Relationships can, of course, be developed to a certain point online, but until you get on the phone, or see someone on a webinar or in person, your relationship will be suspended in that virtual space. As an advocate marketer, your mission is to look every single one of your advocates in the eyes at some point. With Cisco Live, they mapped out an exciting gamified experience in their advocacy program, so that folks in the advocacy program received a next-level experience.
Advocates entered a big, inflatable dome with an open top, and inside the dome was a huge wraparound television screen playing videos on a loop about advocacy, why it mattered to Cisco, and what the program was about.
It was white-glove, with staff circulating trays of champagne. Registered advocates were allowed into the VIP area. If you weren’t yet an advocate, you could register for the program and then enter this exclusive area. Cisco did a great job of amplifying what they were doing around advocacy, making current advocates feel special with exclusive VIP gamification onsite, and recruiting new advocates onsite, as well, with their advocacy dome.
Cisco Live is a high-budget, high-profile, company-wide event. The advocacy team strategically put advocacy on the map at Cisco. They had a splashy presence, and anyone at Cisco who didn’t know the full scope of the advocacy commitment inside the business certainly saw it at Cisco Live.
Advocacy should be used to complement existing event plans, so that all events have some sort of an event plan or an event marketing plan. By leveraging and engaging advocates aligned with that plan, you’re helping the business meet their goals, and helping meet their objectives for that spend, which, again, is important for such events.
A company is only as good as the product or service it delivers to its customers. The best way to ensure your product meets expectations is through constant market feedback. However, getting authentic product feedback from your customers can be like pulling teeth. Why rely on surveys, focus groups, and beta programs when a powerful advocate program can give you real-time feedback in a fraction of the time—from your ideal customers?
Most companies say customer experience is a priority, but their teams aren’t prepared or coordinated enough to make that priority a reality. It starts with a strong alignment between customer success and advocate marketing.
“Advocacy will be the future of marketing because it isn’t about simply trying something new—it’s about results. It’s clear that allowing your customers to speak for you is what drives marketing, because prospects want to hear from people like them.”
—VALERIO BATTELLI, CUSTOMER MARKETING EXECUTIVE, CISCO
This partnership has the power to unlock the true potential of your customers: genuine advocacy that will help you grow your business faster, not just through up-sell and cross-sell revenue, but through second-order revenue generated by advocacy.
CS teams can use an advocate marketing program to educate and motivate customers to become more successful, which will turn them into even stronger advocates. Posting product tips, case studies, and other helpful content can show advocates how to get the most value from your product, and speed up the onboarding process. Asking advocates to share their success stories and product tricks through your program will make it easier for CS to find and communicate stories with your content and marketing teams.
EVOLUTION DEPARTMENT BY DEPARTMENT
In this book, we’ve explored the ways in which advocate marketing has established itself as the road to success for future-facing businesses. The field, however, is essentially in its youth. What will advocate marketing look like as an adolescent concept, or when fully mature? How will this evolution translate to each department within your organization?
SALES AND MARKETING
To enjoy the full distribution potential of advocates, the advocate marketing platforms of today need to enlarge to embrace much more casual participants than deeply engaged stakeholders like customers.
The power of using advocates in sales and marketing lies in reducing prospects’ fear of making a decision; this is done through trust, authenticity, and transparency. We see these platforms evolving so that they become the virtual equivalent of an intimate customer dinner, where highly relevant customer advocates are seated next to potential buyers and perform the conversion work directly.
Anyone who is enthusiastic about the idea behind a company should be invited in to the community and be encouraged to participate. As one experienced chief marketing officer told us about how he instructs his team on purchasing new software, “Before you become a customer, you should first be a member.” The community will be the main place to understand the experience of becoming a customer, not the company website, email nurturing, or live customer conference.
We see the trend continuing with advocates playing a deeper role in all areas of distribution strategy and tactics. In everything from developing new positioning and messaging, to the creation of ads and the delineation of new pricing and packaging, winning companies will figure out how to get their advocates involved at the outset, and how to make them work well with their in-house staff.
There is a rich tradition of users helping users on support boards, going back to the 1990s. Oftentimes the best way to solve a tactical problem is to find people online who have solved that problem, and post a solution. By applying game mechanics intelligently, some companies have dramatically cut their costs of technical support.
We see support use cases as a small fraction of the full potential of this idea. The customer success movement is about companies taking full ownership over the value received by customers. This is much more impactful than how, for example, a piece of software is used tactically. In order to take maximum advantage of a technology, a company needs to staff its rollout and ongoing management properly, integrate it into its value chains, and have the right metrics for success. These are items that the advocate community can play an important role in achieving for other customers.
We can see the root of this approach in local user groups, where users of products meet to discuss how they can improve their performance using those products. For many of the technology companies we serve at Influitive, these meetings appear spontaneously, without the prodding of company management. In fact, even though we have a vibrant advocate community, local user groups were initially created outside of it until we figured out how to bring them in. The common element to the local user group is geography—they are local, so people can meet face to face for a high-quality, high-bandwidth information exchange experience.
We anticipate that there will be many more of these types of groups, that some academics call phyles, with more axes of classification than geography. Industry, use case, and situations can be much more relevant than where the company happens to be physically located. For example, at Influitive, our companies tend to cluster around the identity of the advocate: educators, human resources professionals, office managers, chief financial officers. A use case, such as the generation of referral leads in the case of our own software, is an area where birds of a feather may flock together. All of these phyles can be most efficiently and effectively organized within the advocate community.
Increasing sophistication in customer success processes and technology has enabled better forecasting of when a customer is not experiencing sufficient value and may churn, or cease renewal of their subscription. Today, this will trigger some sort of an alert, and an account manager might call up the customer to see how things are going. For a variety of reasons, those calls often go answered.
What if, instead, the person calling was someone who has a similar industry, use case, and situation, a peer who can show how to generate a lot more value from the service? We see this as the future of customer success, powered mostly by advocates who participate because they believe in the mission, enjoy seeing their impact and value the social capital inside and outside of the advo- cate community.
PRODUCT AND ENGINEERING
Rob McEwen found his gold with an army of armchair geologists and engineers. The open-source movement is powered mainly by volunteer software developers. Carl Pei’s OnePlus Forums helped design the game changing OnePlus One smartphone. One of the best-selling new flavors of potato chips in Canada was sourced by a Frito-Lay advocate who came up with the idea for a poutine flavor. Smart companies are tapping into their communities of enthusiasts for ideation and development of products. This is a trend we predict will accelerate.
We talked earlier about CarbonBlack, which has created a number of different committees where advocates can participate in product development. For example, the Design Committee is limited to a couple of dozen participants, who meet with the chief technology officer and team of product managers, designers, and engineers to collaboratively work on the next generation of product features. This is a level deeper than what we have typically seen in the past, which is mainly around ideation.
The best companies are putting their advocates into the lab to work hand-in-hand with technical staff. Companies that do this will not only build better products, but have a chance to create something that changes the nature of competition through faster learning and iteration.
STRATEGY, OPERATIONS, AND FINANCE
Of all the functions of a company, strategy, operations, and finance are closest to its core. It can be difficult to imagine how these core functions may be better performed by the advocate community than employees—yet we are seeing precisely such innovation.
Today, Lego enjoys one of the most valuable and beloved brands in the world. Their entertainment empire extends from branded toys to mobile apps, from feature films grossing hundreds of millions of dollars to theme parks and retail locations all over the world. It’s hard to imagine that this once-humble, near-bankrupt producer of plastic bricks could be mentioned in the same breath as Disney, yet it’s an apt comparison today.
There are multiple virtual and real-life communities at Lego that open-source their strategy to determine the markets they should compete in, and how to compete in those markets. There is a site called Lego Ideas, where anybody can suggest new products, services, and business lines. Winning proposals provide an opportunity to work with Lego executives. The award-winning and profitable Architecture line of Lego bricks, which is targeted at adults and sells for more than twice the price of Lego for kids, was the brainchild of a Lego advocate who created Lego masterpieces for fun and convinced top management that there was a profitable segment in adults.
Lego’s brilliant CEO, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, appointed in 2003, receives a lot of credit for his genius strategy. He in turn credits his communities of advocates with its creation.
Opening the company strategy to customer advocates encouraged even more innovation by making the company more transparent and trustworthy. An innovation site in Japan, Cuusoo, not only sources ideas, but pays royalties to the customer-innovators for life. The revenue-sharing model forced openness about company financials that built an even greater sense of community with its innovators. Cuusoo drove some of Lego’s greatest contributors to its financial success with joint licensing deals with brands from Disney, LucasFilm, and Minecraft, all suggested and voted on by members of Lego strategic innovation communities.
Can company operations be better performed by the community? In the future, we see this being an instinct or reflex. The first people to consult on solving operational problems will be the advocate community.
MANAGING COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
In the future, we foresee advocate engagement platforms that sense the different aliations of advocates and provide the ideal experience for them that cuts across lines. Social media feeds are increasingly adapting to participants depending on their situation, and they provide a useful metaphor that may work well for the disparate communities in which advocates participate. Hierarchies are valuable tools for managing highly complex initiatives like global enterprise-wide advocacy, but ultimately, success is about the advocate user experience, which can cut across that hierarchy in multiple directions.
We also envision more of the benefits of advocacy shared with the advocates themselves, through stock owner- ship organized by a Blockchain mechanism. After all, they drive a lot of value for the companies and products that they care about, and having ownership encourages a long-term, more strategic approach to advocacy, as opposed to simple quid quo pro. Would this ownership cause advocates to be less effective because their integrity is compromised?
The answer is likely no, especially if the incentives are modest enough. We also believe that mechanisms will evolve that rate the effectiveness and trustworthiness of advocates, as a form of whue—a virtual currency that correlates to contributions to society in author Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
We already rate the accuracy of advocates in our own minds, so it feels natural that we will see those mechanisms extended. On sites like Quora, Stack Overflow, and Reddit, this social capital is already being tracked and managed.
Marshall McLuhan instructs us to take every medium to its logical extreme to predict what it will flip into, as radio flipped into television and television flipped into YouTube. If a much larger population in the world is advocating, the quality of those advocates become crucial to understand.
When a company has a corporate-wide initiative to build advocates and mobilize them, organizational design becomes important for success. Who should be responsible for the success of the overall initiative? How can it be ensured that the overall program is cohesive, yet responsive to the needs of all divisions, departments, and geographies?
The GE rollout of its Six Sigma Quality Initiative points the way for how to manage advocate marketing in the largest of companies. First, there should be someone accountable for overall advocate engagement across all divisions, stake- holder types, and geographies. This Chief Advocacy Officer, reporting to the CEO, ensures that the power of advocates is being implemented everywhere, and the company is achieving its advocacy goals, moving up the capability maturity model.
Just as in major enterprise rollouts like Six Sigma, the complexity can be mind-boggling. If there are sub-communities for geographic locations, divisions, and stakeholders, how best to handle, for example, the needs of Japanese partners for a startup division of a large company, if there are advocate communities for Japan, partners, and the division?
There are no easy answers here. Often, the solution has already been identified through other global enterprise initiatives and how they are managed. It’s the job of the Chief Advocacy Officer to figure out the best approach.
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Author: Mark Organ, CEO, Influitive