I recently sat down with Rob Fuggetta, founder and CEO of Zuberance, the leading brand advocacy company, to discuss the importance of brand advocates. Check out my interview with him to learn all the different things advocates can do for your brand and how to engage them.

CH: To start things off, tell us a bit about your company, Zuberance.

Rob: Zuberance manages and powers Brand Advocate programs for some of the best-known consumer and business brands in the world. Our mission is to help companies build what we call “Advocate Armies” – virtual communities of a brand’s most passionate, enthusiastic and loyal customers – and then help companies to leverage these armies to drive more positive word-of-mouth, leads, and sales.

CH: What led you to start the company?

Rob: During most of my 10-year tenure with Regis McKenna, I co-managed the Apple account. I spent a lot of time working on-site at Apple and became very aware of how passionate consumers can become about a brand. Shortly afterward, I saw some Net Promoter research that showed that while Apple may be the poster child for brand advocacy, it is certainly not alone. Nearly every company in the world has highly satisfied customers and other people who recommend that company (or brand or product), and in surprisingly large numbers! That was inspiring for me, and I decided to start a company that would help brands find, engage, and activate these Brand Advocates.

CH: And why is now the right time for a company dedicated to Brand Advocacy?

Rob: Well, brand advocacy is hot! IBM did some research a while back where they surveyed over 1,700 CMOs globally. IBM asked these CMOs “What is your number one digital priority?” 67% of the CMOs said driving advocacy and loyalty is their number one priority.

CH: Wow!

Rob: Yeah… Advocacy has moved to the front burner of the CMO’s agenda. I think that reflects a growing belief that the fastest way to grow (when growing is tough) is to turn the funnel upside down. Instead of focusing on Advocates at the bottom of the funnel, make your Advocates into your marketing department. Let your enthusiastic customers tell your story and help you sell your products! More companies are aware that they have Advocates and those Advocates are amplified by social media. They’re very interested in learning how they can reach, engage, and activate those Advocates.

CH: Are Brand Advocacy and Customer Loyalty related?

Rob: Absolutely! For example, we have several customers in the fitness industry – an industry that has a 30% industry-wide attrition rate. But we’re seeing examples where Advocates are reminding people why they joined in the first place, and raising awareness of all the different services that these clubs offer, like spa services, swimming lesson, and personal training. Advocates are encouraging their friends to go to Zumba classes and group exercise classes. The more people engaged with your product or service the less likely they are to churn out. Advocates for the brands that we work with in the fitness industry are not only becoming more loyal themselves, they’re also helping those companies reduce their attrition rates. Now, if you’re a big fitness company like 24 Hour Fitness or Anytime Fitness (both Zuberance customers) and you can reduce your attrition rate by 1-2% – that can have a significant business benefit…in the millions of dollars.

CH: How do you get Advocates to engage and take action? What truly gets Advocates mobilized?

Rob: The key thing is to make it easy for Advocates. Give them online applications and tools that make it convenient for them to recommend your brand or product. And by the way, it’s not just reviews. There about 10 different things that Advocates can do on behalf of the brand – like writing testimonials, answering prospects’ questions, and sharing offers with their social network.

CH: How would you characterize the results Zuberance customers have seen with Brand Advocacy programs?

Rob: We see that about 70% of people in an Advocate’s social networks respond to an outbound communication from an Advocate – that is, they interact with that content, download it or they go to a website or a landing page to learn more.

What’s equally stunning is that we’ve found that, on average, among those people who download or interact with that content or recommendation provided to them by an Advocate, 30% of them then take that final step that the marketer would like them to do whether that is to sign up for a webinar, buy a product, or redeem a free trial offer… That’s 50 to 60 times higher than the online conversion rates for traditional marketing and paid media!

I look at the data a lot, and in some cases we’ve seen conversion rates even higher than that. One Black Friday campaign for one of our customers got a 56% conversion rate for an offer that Advocates shared with their social networks – 56%! I’ve been in marketing for 25 years and, you know, I’ve never seen conversion rates like this! They’re truly extraordinary.

What we’re talking here about is the power of a trusted recommendation, peer-to-peer recommendations, versus paid media, which research shows most people don’t trust, and in fact many people just flatly ignore.

CH: By the way, congratulations on your book, Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force.

Rob: I’m really excited about that… in fact I recently got my first royalty check from my publisher the other day! I opened up the envelope with lots of excitement. Then I found the check was for $10.00. So, I bought two lattes and called it a day.

(But seriously…)

CH: As an authority on brand advocacy, how do you feel about putting all your secrets in the book?

Rob: It actually is doing quite well and the response has been really fun and gratifying. The book is almost like a cookbook – what ingredients you need and in what order you need to assemble those ingredients in order to do advocate marketing.

Now, if you’re a big company, you probably should have some sort of technology platform (hint hint!) that can help you do this at scale… but I really believe if you read the book tonight, you can go into the office tomorrow and put together a game plan for how you’re going to create and mobilize your own Advocate Army.

Like a lot of consumers, I’m tired of being targeted and treated poorly by marketers who seem to have no lack of ways to insult people’s intelligence. Word of mouth marketing has always been the most powerful and effective form of marketing, but until now there really hasn’t been a way to scale word of mouth marketing, or track it… so to the extent that the book inspires more marketers to do word of mouth marketing, and make the art and science of marketing better, I think that’s a great thing!

CH: Rob, thanks so much for your perspective on using brand advocacy to power digital customer loyalty and engagement.

Rob: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks!

For more insights from Rob, follow him on Twitter at @robfuggetta

Want to learn more about brand loyalty and how to engage digital consumers? Check out the Get More Engagement blog.

[Note: this post first appeared on Get More Engagement which covers engagement marketing trends, tips, and advice.]

(Photo Credit: Sean Driscoll)