To say the least, I am not gardening inclined; the idea of having a garden was much nicer than the reality of having one. The wisteria was everywhere and the flower beds were in a sorry state. Thankfully, living in London has many benefits and sorting out small snags such as being the harbinger of death to any plant in the vicinity can be easily rectified. 

Upon realising the state of my garden I did what any 21st century professional would do… I started Googling. This yielded some great results: 10 services around my neighbourhood, all with nice websites and with very reasonable prices. But before making a decision on who I should contact I had a thought - my neighbour has a wonderful garden, why not ask her who her gardener is? Surely whoever she uses could work their magic on my sorry little plot of land.

As it happens, her wonderful garden is the result of her being a diligent and talented gardener. However, she was able to give me a few names of people and services that she has worked with in the past. Without even thinking, I called the guys that she recommended most highly. A website or further references were not needed; my neighbour’s word was enough. So this got me thinking: why did I choose them over the others, about whom I had far more information? It all boils down to word of mouth and customer advocacy. She fully trusted her provider and had become their advocate and in turn convinced me that they where the right service provider for me.

According to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising Report, people still trust recommendations from someone they know far more than any other source. 83% of global respondents said they fully or somewhat trust recommendations from friends and family. But this trust is not only limited to people they know: 66% of respondents said they trust consumer opinions they found online. Why is it, then, that these recommendations play such an important role in our decision making process?

It comes down to the fact that most forms of owned channels are perceived (and let’s face it, by their very nature are) biased. Even some influencer channels (even when meant to be impartial) such as reviews by magazines, newspapers and other form of branded media are seen to have been tainted and people feel these opinions are dictated by financial gain. The more independent the review the higher on the scale of credibility it stands. And it is these reviewers, the independent ones, the ones that speak highly of your service, product or brand that are your advocates.

In the B2B arena the same proves true. According to CustomerAdvocacy.com, 84% of B2B buyers will make a decision based on word of mouth recommendations. This is not to say that traditional marketing and advertising has no weight in decision making, however most professionals will seek advice from peers when making a decision. This advice is given more gravitas than a message deployed by a sales person. 

Most marketers will include a variety of methods on how to reach their target audience in their mix. However, not many have a plan on how to effectively integrate advocacy marketing. Advocacy marketing should be mapped into your business plan. But it proves evasive for most, as it can be tricky to identify your advocates and most importantly, it is many times impossible to control what they say or how they say it. This has a positives and negatives. On the plus side, advocates can be as enthusiastic as they want about your product. They are not limited by the impartialness that seems to dominate influencers. They can literally become your biggest fans and will try to convince others of how wonderful your product is. By the same token however, they can be your harshest critics and their comments can be very damaging. They might also inadvertently say things that go against your brand principles and unwittingly damage your reputation. Lets not forget that in the age of social media, an advocates comment or criticism can be amplified dramatically. Their voice can travel very, very far. 

In order to reap the benefits of Advocacy Marketing, you should think of creative ways of nurturing it within groups that are key to your brand development. One thing you can do is build communities that add value to your customer base and your brand, giving your advocates a place where they feel appreciated and where they are able to voice their opinions. These advocate communities are great platforms to tap into and their comments will not only help amplify your brand presence, but can also serve as sounding boards for new product ideas and are an invaluable source for customer insight.

You can also generate ideas that will naturally engage your customer – ‘Complete this survey’, ‘review this product’,’ become an expert member in our forum’ or ask for their feedback. One important thing to keep in mind is that you must keep your advocates engaged and motivated, otherwise they will grow bored or feel unappreciated and just walk away. 

At the risk of sounding as promoting ‘Big Brother’ tactics, you also need to be very aware of what is being said around you. Constantly monitoring your brand presence in all channels will allow you to react appropriately when damage control is necessary or acknowledge advocates when appropriate. Quickly responding to situations or comments in itself can be part of your advocacy marketing tactics. By responding swiftly to suggestions or criticism you could potentially transform a critic into an advocate. As well, by acknowledging your advocates, you will strengthen their attachment to your brand. 

Advocacy marketing has always been around but it has taken different forms as means of communication evolve. If you have not thought about it, you should; if you are already practicing some sort of advocate marketing, keep it up. Your clients will be hugely appreciative when they realise the many upsides to it. 

As for my garden, I am happy to report that it is looking great thanks to the recommendation from my neighbour. This is a case where advocacy marketing was not only effective but it will probably amplify, as I am quite happy to recommend my gardener’s services should anyone ask me about how I keep my garden so nice. 

- See more at: http://www.baseone.co.uk/beyond/2016/07/how-advocacy-marketing-saved-my-garden#sthash.LrmWRtOU.dpuf