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Festive bonanza: Explore brand advocacy to generate high marketing ROI

Industry veterans throw light on brand advocacy during the festive times, its growth and more.

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Mumbai: Brand advocacy is something that has been on the marketing charts for a while now and continues to do the rounds. With the festive season setting in and the digital bug which has already bitten everyone, companies are going all gaga about their brands, their new launches, etc., and brand advocacy is obviously on their roster of marketing initiatives in a robust manner. In this story, with some industry veterans, I look to explore brand advocacy and how it is going to help brands this festive season; the growth of brand advocacy; trends; innovations; and more.

First things first, what exactly is brand advocacy? Brand advocacy is a method of growing your brand organically—it’s about people who love a brand and converse about it, continue to support the company and its products and services, and promote it too. This word-of-mouth marketing technique helps brands build their target group cost-effectively without spending an exuberant amount of money on traditional advertising.

One of the notable examples of a brand using brand advocacy and being successful in its attempt was when Coca-Cola India did the "Share A Coke" campaign in 2018–19, which was an Indian spin-off of their global campaign, taking 'relationships' as the concept. Google Pay is another brand that, when launched, used the referral programme to organically boost its users’ acquisition. 

According to the understanding of a few, brand advocacy is mostly used in the B2B industry. From a market sentiment perspective, one could look at most players being in the technology, financial, e-commerce, and education segments; those are the leaders at the moment.

Growth in brand-by-brand advocacy can vary from category to category. For example, more than half of Indian consumers make brand and product recommendations in major categories such as food and groceries, computers, several financial services (insurance, savings accounts, credit cards, and home loans), mobile phones, and cars.

During the festive season, on an average, 30–40 per cent growth can be expected in certain categories like food and groceries. Growth can be higher in the affluent segment of consumers and can touch 45–55 per cent. During festivities, 10-12 per cent growth in advocacy can lead to 2X growth in revenue.

Brand advocacy and influencer marketing: same or different?

Influencer marketing, to some extent, sounds like it's the same as brand advocacy, doesn't it? So, how exactly is brand advocacy different from influencer marketing? Or truly, is it the same? How similar or different are these, to and from each other?

An advocacy platform that enables brands to transform their stakeholders into brand advocates, Socxo chief marketing officer Ajit Narayan describes the distinction between the two, in the best possible manner. "They are both similar and different at the same time. like the coin used by Jai in "Sholay." The toss is the same. But the result is always determined by the person tossing the coin in advance," he spells out.

When the term influencer marketing is used, it’s about using mid-tier influencers (who have a following of about 50k–5 lakh followers) as well as celebrities (1 million+ followers). But when it comes to brand advocacy, it is about leveraging nano-influencers (1k – 10k followers) and micro-influencers (10k – 50k followers) within the brand’s communities.

Influencer marketing and brand advocacy may sound similar, but they're not the same and both reside in different consumer mindsets. Influencer marketing is about someone in an influential position considered to be an industry thought leader or have followers speaking about the brand. He/she may or may not be a customer of the product/service.

Brand advocacy, on the other hand, is defined by brand love from customers, employees, or consumers. Someone who advocates for the brand in multiple conversations.

Influencer marketing and brand advocacy are both part of integrated digital marketing but are non-interchangeable terms. They are not the same as they fulfil the two distinct but unique needs of a brand in their marketing ecosystem.

Influencers are change agents with great expertise in creating content that caters to a specific/niche set of an engaged audience. Influencer marketing is a system of identifying people who are already famous on social media and then getting into a process of content sharing about the brand/products/campaigns through them. Albeit, with a dash of flexibility for the influencer to share as per their preferences. However, this is applicable when the influencers are macro and celebrity influencers who have a say in the content.

Whereas advocates are the supporters/loyalists of the brands (typically the customers) who may not have the power to influence but have an impact as they possess an affinity for a product/service. Brand advocacy is a two-pronged process. On the one hand, it identifies those key stakeholders (employees, customers, partners, fans) who are active on social media. But, not necessarily big influencers and marketing to their contacts using their networks.

Brand advocacy in the advertising and marketing mix

Brand advocacy is becoming the leading component in the advertising and marketing mix. The fact is that for such a thing to happen, one needs compounding, and as with everything else, compounding is a factor of time and consistency. Ajit asserts, "One cannot expect to generate big results just by randomly activating a program for three months."

But yes, brand advocacy is always at the forefront of any marketing communication mix. "Focusing on incentivisation and creating a brand narrative that allows first-time customers to come back through loyalty schemes and personalisation, which makes any prospect feel connected, can go a long way," explains Puretech Digital senior vice president of digital marketing Kamaljit Saini.

Especially in the festive season, brands want to reach the masses, so utilising TV and digital to reach out to a large number of people at a time is obvious. The question is, how does brand advocacy assist a brand in this? Or does it have its own role to play?

Kamaljit elucidates, "I think brand advocacy mixed with influencer marketing has a major impact on how a brand is perceived and eventually grows in its targeted segment. It can help a brand become visible to larger audiences, build stronger brand awareness, and increase revenue without incurring any of the costs associated with other traditional marketing campaigns. An important role that advocacy plays in the overall marketing mix is that it allows brand visibility to grow organically and demonstrate the value proposition."

Ajit talks about the growth of brand advocacy as an advertising and marketing aid specifically for the festive season. He says that the former is growing at roughly 15–20 per cent or more and is bound to become a consistent add-on to traditional ways of marketing in the next five years. "The true value and power of brand advocacy will be the growth of individuals as potential micro-influencers, and it goes beyond just branding to contribute to the employer, brand, and culture of the organisation," he adds.

Brand advocates are 50 per cent more likely to influence others' purchase decisions than regular customers. "As advocates are acquired organically with limited or no cost increment, brand advocacy will see a further boost through innovative gratification and referral schemes, which are already making an impact in D2C categories across all major existing and upcoming brands," points out Kamaljit.

Brand advocacy and the festive season

It’s a fact that brand advocacy has been a part of the overall marketing mix for most brands. Kamaljit believes that since the advent of social media, active review channels and aggregating platforms, brand advocacy has gone to the next level.

As per a Nielsen report, 92 per cent of consumers trust recommendations from brand advocates. "Although the influencer market is a hot topic these days, brand advocacy indeed has a greater potential to push for a larger ROI and has a much bigger contribution towards the campaign’s success. As it has been already established and it is a fact that Indian consumers are much more active advocates, the market size for brand advocacy will continue to grow in leaps and bounds during the festive season. Especially, post the pandemic, several brands have gone D2C in most of the consumer segments and brand advocacy is ever-increasing both in size and volume," he tells.

Pondering whether the online traffic is as much during the non-festive season as it is during the festive season, the reality is that festivities do drive volume with regard to traffic numbers, but it varies from category to category. Typically, consumer durables, food, groceries, electronics, gifting, personal care, etc., observe incremental growth on the back of significant discounts and offers during the festival season. Traffic during the festive season sees a jump as a number of people spend more time evaluating these offers online before making the purchases. The actual purchase could be made online or offline. Add to that, the huge shopping festivals launched by e-commerce brands contribute to the big jumps in digital traffic.

Brand advocacy needs to be planned from a short-term or long-term perspective. "From a short-term angle, the brand should be a part of the consideration set. It helps to build trust if the brand is new and buyers feel more confident in buying the product. From a long-term point of view, there should be brand pull and customers should come to you rather than you going to them," emphasises Social Panga co-founder Himanshu Arora.

He adds, "During festive times, brand advocacy is even more important to pushing the purchase cycle and making sure that brand is a part of the consideration set."

As compared to non-festive times, one wonders about the kind of jump that is witnessed in the festive season with regard to the usage of brand advocacy by brands. Ajit is clear to spell out that brand advocacy isn’t a magic wand. "It takes time, patience, and a mix of a great engagement programme combined with the discipline of consistent activity."

Brand advocacy-an effective tool to build organic value 

Organic reach is what brand advocacy delivers. And that too, from a peer-to-peer perspective. "Content alone does not deliver trust. By leveraging individuals to share and converse, brands get a bigger reach along with trust, which ads cannot deliver alone," says Ajit.

Everyone knows that the festive season is the best time to get noticed. There are categories which are more relevant to the festive times, like lifestyle, FMCG, etc. Himanshu points out, "Brand advocacy or coverage around the brand during the festive season will help the brand to be at the forefront of consumer minds and allow it to capture the mind space of the new customers."

An ideal purchase journey ends in brand advocacy. Above all, there’s a strong correlation between brand advocacy and brand performance. Hence, word of mouth matters. "It allows the brand to grow and helps with organic customer acquisition through referrals. With the help of a brand advocacy index, marketers can demonstrate how critical advocacy can be," says Kamaljit.

Boosting revenue through brand advocacy, trends and innovations

Brand advocacy is a behaviour that involves a customer supporting or recommending a brand that they love. Having brand advocacy programmes at the core of the marketing mix can help amplify the brand and, in turn, boost revenue. Kamaljit adds, "It builds trust, enhances the reputation, increases the loyalty towards the brand and, above all, gets valuable insights to further improvise on the value proposition."

While conversing about the latest and upcoming trends in the field of brand advocacy, Ajit mentions that brand advocacy in international markets has evolved into a building block for corporate culture and employee influencer growth. This is the fundamental shift in marketing, where giving visibility and value to employees, etc., is more pronounced than asking them to keep sharing content.

As per Kamaljit, the use of technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are going to be key in enhancing the overall customer experience through personalisation.

Speaking about the innovations that one would encounter in brand advocacy, Ajit asserts that it is heading towards becoming a key element in organic social media marketing. As we know, online channels emphasise paid marketing over organic marketing for brand pages. While social media is the way to reach and connect, individuals are starting to play a larger role in the organisations and brands they relate to.

"This leads to building and using tech stacks that connect social media from a 360-degree organic perspective, including the addition of technology to present links better, share them in innovative ways, and get back the lost traffic," he says.

According to Kamaljit, building brand advocacy through marketing technology solutions is also going to be one of the leading innovations in this arena. The use of technology will enable brands to personalise the consumer experience and provide differential customer service.

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