For marketers, one challenge remains paramount: getting your message to stand out from the noise that consumers encounter daily. As brands continue to flood the market with their own unique messaging, marketing regulations are working to keep the public from growing weary.

For instance, the California Consumer Privacy Act will restrict how companies handle, store, and use consumer data. A recent TrustArc survey found that 86% of respondents hadn’t adequately prepared to be compliant when the law takes effect in January 2020. On top of that, Apple, Facebook, and even Google are rolling out privacy policies that automatically delete third-party cookies — making it difficult for digital marketers to reach relevant customers. Many of these privacy initiatives, such as intelligent tracking prevention, make it harder for advertisers to reach customers.

So what is the best way to cut through the noise and consumer weariness? Encourage others to share your message. Word-of-mouth recommendations and brand influencers can build brand loyalty and, eventually, lead to consumer advocacy. Allocating your marketing spend toward WOM and influencers is a great way to build brand advocacy in these trying times.

Cultivating Brand Loyalists

To get an idea of the role WOM and brand influencers play in consumer advocacy, consider that a Digital Marketing Institute survey found that 49% of internet users follow at least one influencer who is contracted by a brand to market its offerings. In a study conducted by referral marketing platform Ambassador, 83% of consumers said they trusted recommendations from family, friends, and colleagues; 74% of respondents in that same study said word-of-mouth advertising was a key factor in their buying decisions.

Considering that bad brand news spreads faster than the good variety, organizations should all strive to build strong customer advocacy. A White House Office of Consumer Affairs study notes that dissatisfied customers typically tell up to 15 other people about their experiences. Conversely, happy customers whose issues are resolved only tell about six people at most. Considering it takes at least 10 positive reviews to offset one negative one, this all probably seems a little unfair.

Due to the popularity of social platforms and digital marketing automation tools, generating positive brand traction doesn’t require face-to-face contact. According to Hubspot, 79% of top-performing companies have used marketing automation for three or more years. Automation can boost customer satisfaction and loyalty with targeted and meaningful interactions. In a Kapow report, 68% of customers said they had left a brand because they felt it was indifferent toward them. As more companies adopt personalized marketing automation, companies with excellent customer experience will cultivate customer advocacy.

At the same time, companies must strike a tricky balance between automation and human interactions. When people are frustrated, they will want to talk to human beings — not a chatbot or an automated answering system. Predictive analytics, dynamic creative optimization, and AI can serve as extensions of your marketing team, but nothing beats the human element. To build sustained customer advocacy, your digital solutions must deepen — not replace — the human element.

Spreading the Word

Casual supporters won’t become brand ambassadors overnight — the process takes time and should be organic. With slow and steady growth in mind, here are three ways to encourage people to truly embrace your brand:

1. Provide value. Give your ambassadors or supporters a reason to come back for more. Make it something they can get behind, such as educational resources, helpful information, giveaways, shoutouts, or competitions.

Host charitable fundraisers or show off your civic involvement. Think of it as a give-and-take relationship. Businesses provide a service to their casual supporters, who in turn give their loyalty and continued support.

2. Understand your customers. Track where customers are, where they’ve been, and where they might go. Use data as a guide to support your marketing efforts, but don’t rely on information that might be vulnerable to distortion.

According to a Forrester study, about 29% of respondents said they rely “completely” on big data when making decisions. More than half of the brands surveyed agreed that small data is critical to unlocking the thoughts and emotions behind customer actions. Be active and authentic in the process — even with the negative reviews — to build consistency within your audience.

3. Let the customer experience speak for itself. Digital marketing has made the customer experience more complex than it was 10 years ago. There’s also all that advertising clutter that customers encounter on a daily basis. In a Huffington Post piece, marketing strategist Mehmood Hanif claims the average internet user encounters about 11,250 ads per month.

Detach your company from that blur by looking for opportunities to refine your brand. Find these in the challenges that most consumers encounter regularly: consistency, differentiation from competition, customer experience continuity, and customer awareness. These challenges create opportunities to sharpen your brand or advertising efforts, which can ultimately lead to increased market share.

Maintain a direct connection to consumers via social media or other marketing tactics. Ask them questions to get them involved or engaged. Don’t overdo it, have a clear plan, and make sure your interactions feel human. Coupled with intensive strategy and messaging, thorough research makes it easier to build awareness and trust around your brand.

As challenges grow for marketers, especially in the digital realm, a refined word-of-mouth strategy is an invaluable tool for turning casual customers into brand ambassadors. The more voices you get behind your brand, the more likely your message will come through loud and clear to your target audiences.

Curious about how digital channels are affecting the automotive industry? Sign up for my company’s on-demand webinar to learn about new digital technologies, channels, and strategies that will give your service department more opportunities for sales and revenue.