Historically, advocacy has been a means of initiating change in society. It’s a form of communication that focuses people on an issue and rallies support to engage it and change it from “what is” to “what it should be.” If we apply this notion to brands as a marketing exercise, then advocacy is the evolution of audiences from awareness of a brand’s product, service or stance, to active participation with the brand.
This, of course, can have tremendous impact on the promotion of content a brand creates. Of the various forms of advocacy, content promotion could benefit the most. Some, however, may question the difference between advocacy and awareness. The distinction is quite dramatic. If someone is aware of an issue, they don’t, by default, engage that issue. On the other hand, an advocate is driven by passion and identifies with the overall values of a message around a product, service or issue.
Advocacy is about strategically using earned, owned and paid media to advance a brand initiative. But using media in all its forms is only one aspect of advocacy. Brands have to reach people at the right time with the right message; it’s connecting with the attitude of the people that matters most.
UNDERSTANDING ADVOCACY AS A HUMAN TRAIT
Generally, marketers focus on making an audience aware of an issue, product or service by providing information, developing content that stresses the importance of such in such, and states their company’s opinion or position on topics relevant to the brand. This bodes well, but doesn’t go far enough to elicit and advocate engagement. In addition to educating people and raising their awareness, to inspire people to act on something, it’s important to find those already discussing and acting on a shared issue that impacts the brand too.
Let’s take the ride-sharing Goliath Uber as an example. In cities across the world, Uber is meeting with resistance from its competitors – traditional public transportation companies such as taxi and bus services. In Portland, Oregon, the city is suing the ride-sharing company for violating its Private for Hire Transportation Regulations and Administrative Rules. And this has direct impact on the company, which Laura Lorenzetti so aptly reports in Fortune.
Lorenzetti tells us Uber pulled out of Portland and suspended its services until April 9, while the city updated its regulations for private car services. But that’s only half the story.
There are groups of people now forming as active advocates for the inclusion of Uber into the Portland market, and for the exclusion of Uber in that market. These are advocate audiences because they are organizing around and are passionate about an issue
Reporting for The Oregonian on the Transportation Fairness Alliance rally in downtown Portland, Joseph Rose tells us this organization is building coalition, and the visual representation is not just a rally, but its website too. Uber also has a similar following of people, such as UberPeople.net, which is seeking out supporters locally in Portland through Support Uber Portland.
Saturation is why these groups of people are important to successful advocacy. They are defining message themes and controlling the conversation in the marketplace of ideas, which creates an interesting opportunity for the brand to join the conversation.
MAKING THE MESSAGE MATTER
In message and content development, there is a vast difference between spin and framing. On one hand, spin skews the public discourse on an issue and hides the truth, while framing is open, honest and addresses the beliefs and values of people involved in advocacy. It’s transparent communication and guides people to self-knowledge of the facts of an issue.
In the Uber example, the facts of the issue are twofold. First, there is the question of whether the ride-sharing company violates transportation regulations and rules of Portland. Then, there’s the side of the issue which is market-driven: How does Uber impact the competition among taxi companies and other public transportation services in the city?
A content promotion strategy to engage both the audience of people against Uber and ones for the inclusion of Uber into the Portland market is optimal, because it acknowledges both sides of an issue.
Real persuasion and understanding happens through self-discovery. Through active introspection it is possible to increase an audience’s knowledge of its own shared values. So, creating content that addresses issues from multiple angles, publishing it without reservation and keeping open the channels of communication through social media brings people to a higher, more profound collective understanding and acceptance of shared values (hopefully the same ones espoused by the company).
When this happens people are agreeable to being led because the values they hold are the same the organization holds, and these were agreed upon in the marketplace of public opinion.
HOW TO IDENTIFY ADVOCACY AUDIENCES FOR YOUR BRAND
While advocacy is typically associated with issue management, it can also be used to propel products into the market – especially in highly regulated industries – and it can be used to spread the word about a particularly useful product or service. Regardless of whether you’re promoting content around a product, service or issue, the way you get at discovering advocate audiences is the same.
- Define the problem: Assess the audience’s wants, interests, needs and expectations. Don’t forget to nail down what they don’t want or don’t need, too.
- Understand their relationship to the brand: Find out how your brand impacts the audience and how they impact the brand. Discover how valuable the brand’s visibility and reputation is to that audience.
- Learn about communication habits: Find out which channels an audience is using to share and consume information. Identify influencers inside the audience, and find out if the audience actually wants the information your brand is offering. Don’t assume they do.
- Identify demographic traits: This goes part and parcel with the work we do. It answers the question of who a brand is engaging.
- Guage the personality and temperament of your audience: Understanding perceptions and values of the advocate audience you’re about to engage is important because the messages your brand creates should match those values and perceptions.
Engaging advocacy groups to strengthen a brand’s voice is an important exercise that moves companies away from mere awareness campaigns to truly actionable (and quite possibly measurable) campaigns that impact the bottom line. More than that, advocacy campaigns improve the overall brand reputation and create loyal customers, employees and stakeholders that support, propel and grow the brand into institutions.