Chad Hetherington

Promoter, backer, campaigner, champion … these are all synonyms for advocate, and precisely what an advocate marketing program is all about.

That’s a very surface-level intro to these campaigns — and what they help brands achieve. Here, we’ll expound on advocate marketing just as you might have your happy customers do for your products or services when you launch one of these initiatives. Buckle up!

We’re going to:

  • Give you an overview of advocate marketing.
  • Talk about some of the advantages of advocacy programs.
  • Explain the fundamental steps in building a solid campaign for your business.
  • And even give you some real-life examples of wildly successful advocate marketing campaigns from some of today’s most recognizable brands.

What Is Advocate Marketing?

Every brand wants to make advocates of their customers because it helps drive their growth, boost their credibility and, well, make them more money. It’s great when this happens naturally, and it often does when you have a solid product or service that people love.

But there’s nothing wrong with throwing a little fuel on the fire (in fact, we encourage it). An advocate marketing program is a type of campaign that intends to turn existing customers into brand advocates who champion your name and your offerings and encourage more people to buy what you’re selling.

An advocacy marketing strategy isn’t just for the little guys who’re just getting started, either. Some of the largest and most recognizable brands in the world deploy advocate marketing strategies (more on those later) that bring in hundreds of thousands, millions and sometimes, even billions of dollars in additional revenue.

Advocate vs. Affiliate vs. Referral Marketing: What’s the Difference?

You might be asking: What’s the difference between advocate marketing, affiliate marketing or even referral marketing? At first glance, these 3 strategies appear very similar — and in some senses, they are.

As with all marketing programs and campaigns, the ultimate goal is to attract more customers, but the differences here are in how exactly that is accomplished and in what ways the participants are awarded — if at all. Let’s break it down, short n’ sweet:

  • Advocate marketing: Encouraging a loyal customer to become an advocate for your brand with (usually) no incentive to do so; however, sometimes there is.
  • Affiliate marketing: Paying individuals, usually influencers, a commission for each purchase or sign-up they generate for your business. This may also be referred to as influencer marketing.
  • Referral marketing: Providing an incentive or reward for willing participants who recruit friends and family to purchase your products or sign up for your service.

Capeesh? Sometimes these terms may be used interchangeably among each other and, depending on the context, can mean the same thing — but this is how we’re distinguishing the strategies.

5 Advantages of Advocate Marketing for Your Business

There are plenty of benefits that come bundled with an effective advocate marketing program — some of which are better experienced through this particular method than they might be with others.

On top of all of the advantages we’re about to walk through, brands often save a generous amount of money with advocate marketing programs, because as we outlined above, handing out incentives and rewards isn’t necessary with this approach, which leads us to our first point.

1. Reduces Customer Acquisition Cost

Word of mouth (WOM) is a transcendent method of advertising. When brands focus on their engaged customers by deploying an advocacy marketing strategy, they build the foundation for more accurate and convincing WOM, which often leads to many other benefits that we’ll discuss.

2. Encourages User-Generated Content

User-generated content is a gold mine. Essentially, it’s free advertising. Sure, you may have to put some advertising spend up front to get the ball rolling, but once it’s in motion, it’s often perpetual. Advocate marketing could be as simple as encouraging customers to share a review of your product or a picture.

There’s a compelling case of this in one of the examples we’ll share below, so keep scrolling!

3. Increases Brand Engagement

A byproduct of user-generated content, advocate marketing programs help brands increase their engagement across the board. Increased interaction does wonders for your brand image and, obviously, is a large part of how a new customer will discover your business.

When you have an army of supporters championing your brand, it gets people interested.

4. Builds a Strong Brand Community

The feeling of being a part of a community is unmatched. The camaraderie, the shared interest, the feeling of belonging — who doesn’t want that? Advocate marketing programs are, in a lot of cases, built on this premise.

Plus, the bigger and stronger your community, the more influential you become. It’s a win-win for your business and your customers.

5. Makes You More Trustworthy and Reputable

When your brand has a roster of customer advocates and a strong community preaching about how great your products or services are, it’s very difficult to disagree or be skeptical. The strongest advocate marketing programs encourage thousands of people to engage with your brand and sing your praises, making you appear more trustworthy and reputable at first glance — and the people who join you will see that to be true even below the surface.

These advantages just scrape the surface of what customer advocacy marketing can do for a brand. Another rather large advantage of advocacy marketing is that it can complement your other content strategies, creating a well-rounded marketing ecosystem for your business.

These all sound great, don’t they?

But now you’re left asking: OK, but how can I do this for my brand? Well, stay with us. Some juicy examples for inspiration are coming your way!

Building an Advocate Marketing Program That Delivers

From a holistic view, advocacy marketing shines brightest when brands are able to provide a sense of community for their customers (and potential customers). One of the best ways to facilitate that today, while also passively encouraging sales, is with social selling or social advocacy.

We know what you’re thinking, and no, this doesn’t mean unwarranted Instagram DM’s — it’s more sophisticated than that. It’s a way of building relationships with your customers and nurturing their interest in your brand. Start by establishing yourself on social media and encouraging (and facilitating) a dialogue.

Social selling is different than social media marketing in that its foremost intent is not to directly advertise or sell your products or services to potential customers but to do so indirectly by:

  • Establishing a dialogue about your brand.
  • Building up a strong community with stronger relationships.
  • Bringing an active part of those relationships with your customers.

Advocate Marketing Strategies That Work

There are myriad ways to approach an advocacy program, and creativity is encouraged. That said, there are some fundamental strategies and tactics that we know are conducive to a program’s success. To make sure you’re getting off on the right foot, consider these 5 foundational elements:

1. Target the Right Audience

If your brand is already established, no matter to what extent, you likely know who your target audience is already. When developing your customer advocacy marketing campaign, you must target the right people — people who you know will have an interest in becoming a part of the community you’re building.

2. Make Becoming a Brand Advocate Easy

Think about how potential advocates will participate in the campaign. If you’re thinking about requiring registrations, sign-ups, or enrollments, make sure that instructions are clear and the requirements are straightforward. Of course, sign-ups are not necessary for a successful advocate marketing program, as we’ll learn from a couple of the upcoming examples.

3. Provide a Second-to-None Brand Experience

The better a brand or customer experience you can deliver, the more excited your customers will be about advocating for you … and they will! We suggest brainstorming about every possible interaction that someone might have with your brand — whether online or physically — and optimizing them for maximum enjoyment and satisfaction.

4. Take a Customer-First Approach

It’s a business cliche but put your customers first. When they feel valued, listened to and taken care of, they’ll be more inclined to become a brand advocate based on the stellar customer experience that you’re providing.

5. Make It Shareable

What good is brand advocacy if whatever you advertise cannot be easily shared? To get the most out of an advocate marketing campaign, you’ll have to strategize around how advocates will share amongst each other.

Take advantage of the fact that nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket and is on some form of social media. For advocacy marketing, hashtags are your best friend.

Examples of Great Advocate Marketing

We’ve arrived at the + Examples that this blog title teased, and these are some great ones! While all of these examples are from rather notable brands who, let’s be honest, would still be illustrious had they not deployed an advocate marketing program, they’re a pretty remarkable testament to what’s possible when done right.

Without further ado, here are three famed cases where advocate marketing has possibly shone the brightest.

Tesla’s Advocacy Scheme

Love it or hate it (or the people in charge of it), Tesla has been able to gamify its approach to advocacy marketing in a big way. With over 4 million cars sold to date, the sale of Teslas has only been increasing each year.

The electric vehicle titan has an ongoing advocacy program where loyal customers are incentivized to champion the company and, upon a successful referral, both parties are awarded a $1,000 discount on their next vehicle purchase.

This is their standard approach to advocacy marketing that, in a lot of ways, whispers tunes of referral marketing — but hey, the two are fairly similar anyway. Where things got really exciting is when the company offered a chance to purchase a limited edition Founder Series of their Model X (for bragging rights, I suppose) to people who could complete 10 successful referrals via brand advocacy. There was even mention of the first person to successfully do this getting the vehicle for free. Talk about a great prize!

advocate marketing program tesla

Adidas Creators’ Club

This advocacy initiative from Adidas may be the pinnacle of advocacy programs.

Back in 2016 when this initiative first launched, it was monumental. It offered a ton of high-value rewards to advocates of the brand. But what did that include, exactly? Well:

  • Subscriptions to personal training apps.
  • Priority customer service.
  • VIP access to events.
  • Product personalization and customization opportunities.
  • Early access to product drops.
  • Celebrity meet and greets
  • Concert tickets, and more.

Advocates receive points and progress through levels and tiers, each with unique rewards. Through and through, Adidas understands what its target audience and customers want, and it offers these things to them in exchange for advocacy. Genius!

Lululemon’s Ambassador Program 

Perhaps the most outwardly community-driven example of advocate marketing is Lululemon’s Ambassador Program.

The athleisure brand’s approach to advocate marketing strongly focuses on community, creativity and, of course, fitness. In Lulu’s own words, this is exactly how they work with their ambassadors:

  • Inspiration. Our ambassadors inform everything we do, from product and store design to how we show up in our communities.
  • Classes and Events. Our ambassadors teach classes and host don’t-miss events — online, in stores, and in your community.
  • Product. Our ambassadors sweat hard in our gear, give us critical feedback, and collaborate on product collections.
advocate marketing program ambassadors

Now you know what advocate marketing is all about, why it’s so effective and how you can develop your own campaign. And if these advocacy marketing examples are indicative of what these kinds of campaigns can achieve, then what are you waiting for?