The Psychology of Advocacy: 3 Reasons Your Customers Love You

Filed Under Agile Business

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Jim Williams

by
March 26, 2013

[Editor's Note: We've talked about customer advocacy and the importance of nurturing communities before, but in this post--originally published on Influitive.com--Jim Williams gets into the nitty-gritty. As Influitive's VP of Marketing, Williams knows an advocate is more than just a hyperactive fan kid. The behavior of a true advocate is powered by a handful of innate qualities, meaning that when a brand can recognize and sustain them, they succeed in nourishing humanness. What better way to promote loyalty than that?]

If there’s one truth that’s coming across loud and clear in today’s socially-empowered world of business, it’s that word-of-mouth has far more reach potential than any marketing campaign. Business has been catching on gradually, implementing strategies to leverage sharing channels in order to organically increase the impact of their messaging.

But while many people may “like” or follow a brand on social media platforms, it’s a much smaller group of true advocates that goes he extra mile. Given real voice and influence, a company’s biggest fans become increasingly interested in finding and heavily promoting their favorite content, services and products.

Why do advocates advocate?  It’s amazing to many people that customers will actually take the time out of their busy day to share their positive experiences with a vendor – and do that without being asked. But here’s the thing about advocacy: it’s buttressed by innate behaviors. People become advocates because they’re hardwired to connect and build relationships, and one way to achieve that is through unsolicited support.

Unpacking the Basics

Within every advocate lives a number of deep-seated drivers, including:

1. Consistency: Cognitive dissonance is defined as an uncomfortable mental state resulting from conflicting ideas. For example, if I believe I’m a good person but also knowingly behave badly, my psyche would be in an imbalanced rut. The desire to avoid this circumstance is so ingrained that our brains are constantly altering cognitions or adding new ones to promote a consistent and balanced belief system.

Consequently, we are on a never-ending journey to see that our expectations meet reality. As advocates of a product or service, this equilibrium is achieved when our opinions are matched by the people we share them with. In other words: our beliefs are made realer somehow when they’re validated, and so we seek to validate them.

2. Reciprocity: The rule of reciprocation is more often than not a binding one. Consider Phillip Kunz, who tested this theory in 1974 by sending out 600 Christmas cards to complete strangers. Five days later, the responses started pouring in. In the end, Kunz got more than 200 replies. “I was really surprised by how many responses there were,” he says. “And I was surprised by the number of letters that were written, some of them three, four pages long.”

Giving people even relatively small things, like a stellar customer experience, motivates them to respond to their feeling of gratitude in ways they know will be immediately beneficial to the company.

3. Feedback: There’s logic behind the success of Farmville and games of a similar nature. Though the action players perform never goes beyond the simple clicking of a mouse, it’s the feedback that keeps them hooked. “Feedback is a drug for the brain,” explained Mark Organ, Influitive’s CEO. “Games dress up feedback in this incredibly sexy costume, surrounded by achievement and social interaction. That’s why they’re so addictive–the human brain desires that connection and reward.”

Similarly, advocates become addicted to the feedback they receive, whether it be from other consumers or the company itself. Take Yelp for example, which employs the use of both. When a user writes a review, other users can rate it useful, funny or cool, encouraging the creation of valuable content from the start. And the more reviews a user creates, the higher their chances of being deemed Yelp Elite by the internal team.

Nature vs. Nurture

Though the individual components that drive advocacy are complex, the result is nothing but organic. Recall the last time you yourself were an advocate for something. It probably didn’t take a lot of thinking–you just did it.

A charming example comes from Organ’s six-year-old daughter. Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt invites kids to make artwork about how much they love froyo, and then displays it right on the walls of the store. Unsurprisingly, kids love it. Organ’s daughter willingly spends entire afternoons making artwork for Menchie’s, and when it’s time for a frozen treat there’s nowhere else she’d rather go. “When a six year old wants to do something, that’s nature, not nurture,” he said. “It’s instinctive.”

The Early Adopter Gets the Worm

As social grows so will the need for marketing departments to not only identify their fans, but their true advocates–the people who naturally believe in their product. By gathering and nourishing this collective, marketers will be able to tap into the very pulse of their consumer base.

This is why branded advocate communities are becoming increasingly important. They house a company’s earliest and most dedicated adopters, resulting in a collection of people who are truly passionate about a product and therefore predisposed to both purchasing it as well as effectively spreading its gospel.

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