What motivates advocates more than money (and free stuff)?

Starwood Hotels Associate Director of Social Media and Search Marketing, Abbey Reider, has some unconventional advice for brands looking to entice consumer advocates: Don’t reward them. The less “quid pro quo” the relationship, she says, the more likely it will evolve organically, and become stronger over time.

A recent Zuberance study corroborates her view. After surveying 1,445 brand advocates – defined as those who recommend at least one product, brand, or service per year – it’s clear that rewards aren’t the best motivator for most. While some companies reward consumers who share feedback or spread brand messages, this research makes it clear: If all you do to encourage feedback is give away free stuff, you won’t engage most advocates.

What does spur advocates to spread the word, and what does it mean for brands? Here are three findings from the study.

You can’t buy advocacy – great experiences prompt a majority of recommendations

A great experience with a brand, product, or service is the number one reason for advocating. Half of advocates cite this reason, trailed by 37% who make recommendations in order to help others. And those who make recommendations primarily to receive discounts, free products, or other rewards? They’re only 1% of total brand advocates.

The best way to get people recommending your brand is to be a brand worth recommending. Make great products, deliver great experiences, and consumers will sing your praises. And to incentivize further, emphasize how their recommendations help others shop. Send contributors reports showing how many people have read their recommendations, how many voted them helpful, and other metrics that detail the value of their efforts.

Consumers are recommending more products, more often, to more people than ever

In 2006, the average consumer recommended 3.7 products, services, or brands per year. In 2012, that number is up to 9 annually – with 32% recommending 10 or more, and 16% advocating 15+. The average advocate today recommends these products 26 times per year, and 30% recommend once weekly or more. And advocates’ average social network sizes have grown from 82 in 2006 to 300-600 today.

As more consumers trust recommendations (online and off) over brand-created ads, the conversation around brands, products, and services grows. To be part of that influential conversation – and rise above the growing noise – making consumers happy is paramount.

Advocates recommend common household items and tech products fairly evenly

Technology is the most-advocated category, with 25% advocates in the study claiming to recommend tech products. But products needn’t be expensive, flashy, or complex to get recommended. Twenty-four percent of advocates say they recommend common commodities including food, beverages, household items, and beauty products. And 67% say they recommend both consumer products and “business products” such as business software or consulting services.

Never think word of mouth doesn’t apply to your industry. If people use your products, however complex or mundane, you can bet they’re talking about them – for better or worse. Are you giving them good things to say through great experiences, and encouraging that conversation?

The trend is undeniable: in a word-of-mouth-driven marketplace, offering great products and services that meet and exceed expectations is more important than ever. Brands that monitor consumer conversations, and act on them to constantly improve their offering, will succeed.

2 Responses to “What motivates advocates more than money (and free stuff)?”

  1. I love the idea on letting contributors know how their content has helped other shoppers.  Another good idea would be to let detractors know their opinions have been heard and the company is using their feedback to help improve the product or service.

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