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Harnessing the Power of Advocacy Marketing

March 29, 2011 by Steve Knox, Anthony Pralle, Katharine Sayre, and Jody Visser
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This Focus report, covering advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing, is the third release in BCG’s Marketing in the Digital Economy publication series. The series examines a variety of marketing topics, including the evolution of the media landscape, digital listening, organizational capabilities, and multichannel implications.

Marketers are on the frontlines of a communications revolution. Three decades ago, their task was relatively straightforward: deliver a compelling message to consumers through the mass media. Now the market has splintered into a kaleidoscope of competing channels, and the public is tuning out the cacophony of “buy me” messages bombarding it from all sides. In survey after survey, consumers say that they trust recommendations from friends, colleagues, and people they know, as well as online consumer opinions, more than corporate marketing messages. (See Exhibit 1.)

exhibit

There’s no denying the enormous influence of advocacy, but how do you control it? The answer is, you don’t. But you can manage it to create long-lasting competitive advantage in which recommendations lead to rich relationships. In addition to promoting products, an advocacy program can generate ongoing conversations between companies and customers, contribute creative ideas for new products, and facilitate real-time feedback. Cultivating advocates has become a critical part of deepening customer relationships.

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