There are few industries that need brand advocates more than the pet food industry. With so many poison pens waiting to pounce on brands for mistakes and shortcomings (real or perceived), companies need as much positive representation as they can get. Brand advocates can serve the traditional role of product recommendation, and they can also have your back when they encounter negative feedback about your brand online.
Social media has become a very important tool in obtaining and nurturing brand advocates. In a 2011 survey, Polaris Marketing Research reported that 19% of people who 'like' a brand page on Facebook do so to recommend or connect their friends to their favorite brands. Engaging with other customers was important to 17% of those surveyed. Random recommendations posted on social media are immeasurable but obviously include a considerably higher percentage of social media users across a wide range of social networks.
Furthermore, brand advocates are more active in social media than your average Internet user, which makes them that much more valuable, according to a 2011 survey by BzzAgent. Their activity often extends beyond mainstream social media into other online communication, such as forums, blogs, consumer feedback sites, instant messaging and e-mail. Not only are they influential, they're also influenced themselves by the information they find online.
A 2012 survey by Zuberance provides a more general view of the number of brands, products and services that US Internet users have recommended, with 38% of participants saying they've recommended five to nine products. According to Internet World Stats, there are 273,785,413 people who use the Internet in North America... do the math. If you could turn just 1% into brand advocates for your pet food brand, your reach would be virtually unlimited. Remember the old shampoo commercial? "And they tell two friends, and so on, and so on..." Now it's those same people telling two HUNDRED friends and potentially many more than that.
Facilitating brand advocacy
Giving pet food brand advocates what they need to be your biggest fan isn't difficult, but it does demand consistent effort:
- Information sharing is a favorite activity of brand advocates. A TNS survey, "The Impact of Digital on Growth Strategies: CMO Imperatives for 2012," found that worldwide, the most common reason for recommending brands online was to offer advice. Keep your website and social media pages up to date with as much information as you can manage to provide.
- Honesty and open lines of communication are the most important demands of today's pet parents, and social media facilitates both. Brand advocates are not going to recommend your product to their friends and family if they're not certain about it. Answer their questions and listen carefully to their suggestions.
- Customer service can be economically managed through social media, and many people expect you to do so. If customers reach out to you about your pet product on social media and you don't promptly reply, it will translate as "I don't care and you don't matter."
- Express your appreciation for their loyalty, input and effort. This can be as simple as a public thank-you, random product or company swag awards, contests or coupons. These people are as invaluable to you as your top sales person, treat them well.
The typical brand advocate personality is both vocal and helpful, which extends to their offline persona. Gaining a fan online often means they're cheering for you offline as well. All things considered, it's worth investing substantial company resources into winning and nurturing pet food advocates.
eMarketer.com released a fantastic report in October, "Brand Advocates: Scaling Social Media Word-of-Mouth," that "...will help you leverage connections with these everyday influencers to amplify word-of-mouth online and increase engagement." You can download it free for further information.
Gaining and nurturing brand advocates for your pet food brand would be a lucrative new year's resolution for 2013. I look forward to hearing about your success all over the Internet.