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Brand Evangelists … Fuel for Loyalty Program Growth

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By: David Slavick |

Posted on December 7, 2018

In traditional advertising and marketing circles the most desired result from brand impressions is advocacy.  Advocacy represents belief and that breeds word of mouth - something money can’t buy.  Are you a brand believer?  What did it take for you to take on an almost spiritual bond to a product or service?  As a marketer, have you mastered the art of advocacy creation?

According to the AMA’s WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) 64% of marketing executives indicated that they believe word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing.  However, only 6% say they have mastered it.

Amazon Prime users are all in with the brand.  The brand has surrounded their lives with great price/value, outstanding service, time savings/convenience, and best of all entertainment through original programming.  Ten years ago, who could have imagined an online marketplace touching someone’s life to this depth on a daily basis.  Have you advocated to your friends and family, and encouraged them to sign up for Amazon Prime?  When you did it, were you self-assured, certain that their experience would be as rewarding as your own?  This belief in the brand, confidence to recommend, and even willingness to stand up to criticism by others should they have experienced something less than fully satisfying – all of these behaviors speak to the power of brand advocacy.  Much more powerful than loyalty.

Other brands that create believers to ultimately achieve advocacy through comprehensive engagement: NIKE, Apple, Sephora and Nordstrom.  They have a commitment to measure advocacy through:

  • NPS – Net Promoter Score
  • Sentiment Scores/Ratio
  • Satisfaction Scores
  • Customer Experience Quality Scores
  • Retention Measurement
  • Surveys
  • Referral Rates

Most program owners fail to envision advocacy as a key metric to measure when building or even re-designing their relationship marketing program.  Brand advocates can contribute to new customer acquisition, and at times advocacy can help to stem attrition through their unbridled defense of the brand to friends and family when dissatisfaction may occur.  Marketers would love to have advocates who, without hesitation, will share their belief in the brand and all that it represents to them.  This is much more powerful than social media likes and posts on Yelp, TripAdvisor or Hotels.com.

Consider these events where brand love, advocacy - true evangelism - once existed. When brands make mistakes or fail to satisfy brand love is fleeting.

Firestone Tires

The brand was cool.  The white sidewalls were everywhere on Formula One cars.  They were original equipment on your new high performance sedan.  And then, there was a recall due to flaws in the manufacturing process.  Suddenly they weren’t as safe as you thought they once were.  You decided to no longer bring your car to a Bridgestone/Firestone service center for maintenance, you replaced your original tires with Michelin a much less sexy but highly dependable tire, and you cancelled your proprietary credit card from the auto center, opting instead to use your Capital One card to earn miles vs. maintenance discounts.

GM Cars & Trucks

You grew up in Detroit and were loyal to General Motors, and loved your SUV.  You always recommended GM brands to your friends.  And then GM had problems with ignition switches and more.  While still a brand lover, you were no longer inclined to be an evangelist for the brand.  You even cancelled your GM co-brand credit card because future purchases were likely not going to be from the GM family of brands, so the accumulated rebate for use of the card toward a future new car purchase was no longer attractive.


You loved ordering flowers from FTD.  For years you took advantage of their free shipping program and sent flowers to family and friends, plus arrangements and gifts for your spouse.  You renewed your free shipping paid membership every year.  When several orders were less than fresh, or delivered two days after Valentine’s Day and then Mother’s Day in the same calendar year you weren’t so in love with the brand any longer, and didn’t renew your free shipping membership.

A loyalty program cannot overcome loss of customer confidence no matter how much equity was achieved over time. 


These customer journeys are real.  Each of these brands have won and lost advocates due to product quality and service issues.  As an evangelist of a brand, the consumer puts their reputation as a trusted advisor on the line.  How would they ever anticipate that tires could shred, or engines might catch fire, or a once dependable delivery service would fail successively time after time?  A loyalty program cannot overcome loss of customer confidence no matter how much equity was achieved over time.

So, how best to get started to build a foundation of brand evangelists who can fuel new customer growth and retention objectives?

  • Build listening capabilities through call center, website and even in-store feedback so your customers can share every business day. Make certain the feedback is shared within your organization, to both those with a need to know and those that can take immediate action to address those concerns.
  • Train your associates (both external and internal) to not only actively listen to customers, but when in person read their body language as a signal for dissatisfaction – don’t let them leave the store or restaurant without resolution – or risk the customer telling hundreds of friends and family members to stay away forever.
  • Ask your customers for feedback, suggestions, and respond quickly through social dialogue and/or phone or mail. Plus, take action when warranted.
  • Show appreciation for those that do share their experiences – whether negative or positive – with an appropriate gift or letter or credit.
  • Never negotiate or triage a complaint from a customer – give them a credit or provide a make-good equal to or better than the consideration they expended for the product or service related to the complaint.
  • Strive for zero quality defects – every tire that blows out, sweater that doesn’t hold its shape, dinner that disappoints, flower arrangement that dies a day after delivery is a risk to future purchase, and if not addressed correctly, leads to negative advocacy

Lastly, as a program owner, plan to audit your current customer listening post.  Do you have the right social listening tools in place?  Are you getting information from your call center that accurately reflects customer call types and complaints?  Do you have a feedback loop with your stores to learn about customer complaints relative to any issues with offers, redemption, etc.?  Is your credit card partner doing all they can to meet/exceed cardholder needs when they inquire about questions about their statement, requests for credit line increases, missing transactions that impact their reward balance?  These operational considerations are foundational.  Spend the time in early 2019 to dig deep to uncover any issues and build new processes and methods to solve for them.  Your future brand advocates will thank you for it!

David Slavick is a Digital Global Strategist, Technology Expert in CRM/Loyalty Innovation.