In past studies, it has been estimated that $483 billion is spent on promotional marketing. Whether it is coupons, rebates, sampling, sweepstakes or contests, there’s no denying promotions are an important way for CPG brands to drive sales, awareness, loyalty, engagement and much more. A marketer’s worst fear is designing a promotion that gains no real traction with consumers. No one wants to throw a party where the guests don’t show up. As marketers, our job is to design a plan that attracts participation, engagement and sharing.

The typical promotion launch strategy I witness involves building a robust media plan, carefully crafting social media messaging, scheduling CRM email blasts and designing beautiful landing pages. While these are all incredibly crucial tactics, it’s important to face reality sometimes. The bad news is research shows that consumers will largely ignore most of the assets marketers have been diligently working on. Forrester shared that only 32% of consumers trust information from a company or brand website and 22% trust emails from brands/companies. A meager 18% trust posts on social media from brands and 13% trust ads on websites. It’s hard for marketers to feel good spending most of their money and resources in these channels. However, there is one channel that is always noticed: word-of-mouth.

Consumer-to-consumer recommendations are one of the most powerful channels to cut through messaging clutter. Offers shared by consumers convert higher than offers shared by brands and referred consumers are more likely to be loyal customers. When consumers share your promotion, they help bring it life, provide social proof, establish trust and maintain brand value. Moreover, word-of-mouth actually increases your overall marketing effectiveness – meaning ads, posts, emails and landing pages are all enhanced.

I’ve heard a lot of marketers say that they will generate word-of-mouth about their promotion by “going viral!” It is a common misconception and an unfair expectation to marketers that magically “going viral” is the only way to generate meaningful word-of-mouth scale. Advocacy and word-of-mouth is often looked at as the by-product of a promotion. In reality, word-of-mouth and advocacy is something that can be planned, targeted and scaled for your brand just like your ads, social messaging and emails. You don’t need to cross your fingers and hope that it will catch on.

There are two types of voices that brands can leverage when trying to generate awareness of an upcoming promotion: advocates and influencers. Here are a few tips for leveraging each.

Advocates

Lay the groundwork. One of the first things to do is to create an environment where you can easily access your advocates and build a direct relationship with them. This is not something that happens overnight, but by building a home for your valuable consumers, they quickly become reliable resources.

Give them special treatment. Your advocates are your salespeople — recognize and reward them. Make advocates the first to know about your next brand promotion and make it easy for them to share with friends.

Foster the relationship. Putting in the effort to provide a valuable experience for an advocate pays ten-fold. This is especially true for digital coupons, in-store promotions and sweepstakes that you need to get off the ground quickly.

Influencers

The influencer landscape consists of a spectrum. An “influencer” may be anything from a famed YouTube vlogger to the head of a neighborhood book club. They are people who may or may not be engaged consumers, and they have a unique ability to drive action among the audiences they impact.

Target and personalize. It is critical that your influencer represents your consumer target. Context is everything and having the right person talk about your brand will instill the credibility and trust that drives action.

Provide a brand experience and use the promotion as a call-to-action. It’s important to invest in a special brand experience for your influencer such as a free product trial. Then, arm your influencers with your promotional offer to share as a call-to-action. This helps trigger conversion from audiences while making your influencer the hero to their network.

It’s true that “post and pray” and “pay and spray” strategies don’t work anymore. Proactive social amplification is no longer the icing on top of the campaign cake, but a fundamental part of the planning process.