Are you a loyal consumer? Do your favourite shops reward you for consistently shopping with them?I have a loyalty card from the local coffee shop because I go there a lot for my morning coffee so I get my card stamped for every coffee purchase I make. The use of this card encourages me to choose this coffee place because after a certain number of stamps I will get one for free. It’s pretty typical of a loyalty card. The salon down the street from my house uses a similar program through Rogers called Vicinity Loyalty Program. It’s based on points that I collect and redeem for additional services. These programs are all transaction based. They are designed to encourage repeat purchases – and for the most part they work well, especially for small local retail. But they don’t build the relationship beyond a repeat purchase. Many organizations need more than a repeat purchase.

Advocacy marketing is less about encouraging transactions and more about building a relationship with your client. Instead of asking for a purchase, you ask for testimonials, beta testing, new product feedback, referrals, and so on. Getting existing customers to talk about your product or service (in a positive way) is an excellent way to spread the word and attract new customers. Consumers place more trust in friends and family so their feedback on a product or service has greater impact than a sponsored ad. In return for their participation you give them a reward. Advocacy rewards vary from free product and product discounts to event VIP status or even free trips. However, you may find that many clients do not need a reward as they do this out of loyalty and love of the brand or company. Still, it’s good to reward.

Some quick tips as you look deeper into your own Advocacy Program:

Plan everything out in detail.

Doing your research is key and will make the difference between an Advocacy Program that has wings or falls flat.  What are your resources? What do you want to achieve? How are you rewarding them? How does this connect to the business plan? Meet with stakeholders to gain buy-in.

Pay attention to the customers you choose to invite.

It’s important to get the buzz going and to do that you need a lot of energy and drive. This comes from those mega fans and VIPs that believe in your company. Develop a persona of this customer and find out what they value and how they’d like to participate (research works well here). A screening process  should be developed to look for the qualities you need and go from there. How will you invite them? Who will invite them?

Make sure your program is sustainable.

Start by putting a team in place that can manage the program. Build your program to benefit the business and run it as a part of the company – advocacy is not a campaign. Report back to stakeholders and employees on what is going on. What are the successes? What are the wins? Keep the energy high and the ideas flowing from all departments.

Measure it.

Measure it all so you can prove your ROI. Look at how many advocates are joining and at what rate (how successful is your outreach?) Who’s participating (are they active or just lurking?  Activities completed (shows engagement) And what impact that has on your goals (see step #1) e.g. how many leads have been generated? Are the leads qualified? Have the leads lead to a sale?

Starting this from scratch can be daunting. It may be worth it to check out some of the organizations who have already invented the wheel like Influitive. They have an advocacy platform and lots of great tips and training to get your program up in no time at all.

Carolyn Bergshoeff is the founder of WindWater Marketing, a small business marketing firm in Toronto, Canada. Carolyn helps her clients build their business and client relationships. Visit or email for more information.