There’s a lot being published these days about how to break into noisy digital environments and capture the interest of people whose attention spans are shorter than ever.
Yes, you can achieve this goal with things like paid Facebook ads and sponsored tweets. You can do it by pushing content on native advertising platforms like Outbrain and Taboola.
But I’m going to let you in on a little secret… There’s another approach that’s guaranteed to help your startup build buzz without the time and expense associated with digital marketing campaigns. If you really want to make a splash, what you need is an army of advocates.
Think about Apple’s fanboys. How many additional sales do you think Apple made – not because their products were the best, but because the social buzz surrounding them was so strong that people just had to be a part of it?
Every loyal brand advocate is a walking, talking advertisement for your company. And when you consider that 84 percent of respondents in Nielsen’s latest Trust in Advertising report cite word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family members as the most trustworthy source of advertising, it’s clear that these power users have the potential to pay off big for your brand.
But the best news? Building an army of these advocates is easier than you think. Here’s how four entrepreneurs and startups are leveraging the power of social advocacy:
Noah Kagan is pretty much an internet business legend at this point, but if you aren’t familiar with his work, he was employee #30 at Facebook, and is consistently ranked one of the best growth hackers working today.
With credentials like that, you’d expect that Noah would have locked himself away in a tower by now – spending his days counting stacks of money – but instead, he’s currently the Chief Sumo at AppSumo, his tech tools startup that offers products at extremely low (and sometimes free) prices.
Giving away great products at a great price certainly goes a long way towards delighting customers and converting fans into brand advocates, but Noah doesn’t stop there. Consider the following anecdote from Danny Boice of Speek:
“At Speek, we use AppSumo religiously for great deals on the tools we use to run our business. One day, I got a box from Noah Kagan (the CEO of AppSumo) that contained some amazing cookies—completely out of the blue! It was a random, simple gesture that meant so much to me as a loyal customer. I thought it was absolutely brilliant of Noah to do this.”
Losing a customer here and there won’t break Noah, but it’s not just about the money for him. It’s about finding fun and exciting ways to connect with his clients – and that’s something you can do as well.
Tip: Send swag to loyal customers
The great thing about sending small gifts to customers is that it really is the thought that counts. You don’t need to send something big to make an impression – even a simple, handwritten card is enough to stand out, brighten people’s day and turn them into the kind of customers that’ll go on to recommend your products to everyone you meet.
Few startups take sending gifts of swag more seriously than Buffer. The company employs a dedicated Community Champion – Nicole Miller – who spends 50-60 percent of her time “managing swag stock, packaging writing cards and gathering addresses.” Miller estimates that she spends 1-1.5 days a week where her entire focus is “Buffer love.”
So what does that translate to in real terms? Miller estimates that her office ships out 40 to 60 cards and packages a week, for a total of more than 1,200 hand-written cards, gifts and more.
Miller also provides a helpful breakdown of the costs associated with all of this mailing:
- Notecards – $.92 per card/envelope (+$.49 domestic mailing)
- T-shirts – $9.47 per shirt (+ $5.00 domestic mailing)
- Hoodies – $23.07 per hoodie (+$8.00-$15.00 domestic mailing)
- Moleskine notebooks – $6.80-$19.74 each (+$2.00-$8.00 domestic mailing)
- Stickers – $.29-$.56 per sticker
- Mugs – $9.11 each (+$15.00 domestic mailing)
A full read of Miller’s recent blog post on how Buffer delights its communityis well-worth a read, but in the meantime, here’s one of the best takeaway tips for you:
Tip: Listen to your audience
Many of Buffer’s best ideas for sending swag come from checking in on its customers’ social profiles. In one particularly delightful case, the resulting care package wound up being sent not to the customer, but to her dog – with a package full of the dog’s favorite treats and some stickers to give to “her human.”
Like Noah Kagan, Neil Patel is well-known in digital marketing circles as the founder of KISSMetrics, CrazyEgg and the popular QuickSprout blog.
With all these competing demands, you’d think that Neil would be too busy to connect with everybody who’s interested in engaging with his brand. But take a look at any of his recent blog posts, and you’ll find Neil himself there – responding to each and every comment he receives.
The time costs of doing so are substantial. As of August 20th, 2014, Neil estimated that, to date, he’d responded to 50,969 web comments (plus several thousand others across the web), spending an average of one minute reading and responding to each message. That’s a staggering amount of time, but Neil views it as an essential part of his marketing strategy, saying in the picture above:
Sure, Neil admits that there have been financial benefits resulting from this high level of engagement, but even more important is the way that these actions make his customers feel.
Tip: Find a way to help
That’s what it all comes down to for Neil – helping people. Adopt that same philosophy at your startup, and do whatever it takes to help your prospects and customers solve their most pressing problems. Even if you can’t end world hunger or make PC software run smoothly on a Mac, your willingness to help out will leave a lasting impression and go a long way towards converting neutral customers to true brand advocates.
When I Work
At When I Work – an employee scheduling app that helps small business owners create employee schedules in just minutes – we’ve made customer delight a top priority.
The following are just a few of the steps we’ve taken, as well as how they’ve paid off for our business:
- Whenever our team brings on a new customer, we send out a handwritten thank you card. The cost is virtually nothing, but so far, we’ve seen that the cards are shared about 70 percent of the time on the customer’s social profiles. We’ve also seen our referrals go up by 23 percent since we started doing this.
- We also send out free branded t-shirts to customers. Of those that have received the shirts, roughly 17 percent have recommended our product to a friend.
- Finally – and this is one of my favorites – if you ever have an issue with our product, we’ll mail you your favorite candy to ensure that you have the sweetest experience possible with When I Work (get it?).
Again, these aren’t big gestures. A candy bar costs a dollar, and shipping it to a customer isn’t much more than that. But when you consider the financial impact this small gesture could have in terms of customer retention and future referrals, it’s practically a no-brainer.
Tip: Measure the impact of your efforts
I’m a data junkie, but even if you aren’t analytically-inclined, I’d still recommend putting some effort into tracking the impact of your efforts, whether in terms of brand sentiment, conversions or some other metric. Doing so will tell you whether or not your efforts are paying off, as well as whether some types of promotions inspire more positive feelings than others.
So now, I want to hear from you. What do you do to make your customers feel special and to encourage them to advocate for your brand to their friends and family? If you have any tips or tricks of your own, leave them in a comment below!