Inbound Now #54 - Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Marketing Force

After a long and much needed break from doing the Inbound Now Podcast, it’s back (for this episode)!

I’m actively looking for someone who would like to get involved with the show.  The show has been viewed by over 105,000 people and has a big audience of business owners and professional marketers.

If you’d like to get involved and do some interviews with some marketing legends out there. Drop me a line.

This episodes guest if Rob Fugetta, author of Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force.


David: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of Inbound Now. I’m your host David Wells and joining me here today is Mr. Rob Fuggetta. Rob is the CEO of Zuberance and he is the author of “Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers into a Powerful Marketing Force.” Welcome to the show, Rob.

Rob: Hey, thanks a lot David. Can you hold that book up a little higher maybe next time?

David: Yeah. Definitely. Product placement.

Rob: There you go. Product placement. Love it. Yeah. Yeah.

David: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. So yeah. Rob I wanted to get you on the show because I read the book and I thought it was a fantastic read. I wanted to share your expertise with brand advocacy with our viewers. So I want to dive deep into the entire scope of what is brand advocacy and what does it mean for businesses. Sound good?

Rob: Absolutely. Ready to do it.

David: All right. Cool. Cool. So can you give us a little bit of background? What exactly is brand advocacy?

Rob: I mean it used to be called word of mouth marketing, and it’s really about finding and engaging your most passionate, your most enthusiastic customers and enabling them to tell your brand story or help sell your products without paying them and we’ll talk about that as we go along. But I call this turning your best customers, your advocates into a marketing force on an ongoing basis.

David: Got you. Got you. So is brand advocacy for every company out there or is it really just for the big guys that have tons of staff, tons of assets, tons of marketing people to handle this stuff or can smaller businesses leverage brand advocates as well?

Rob: Well, every company in the world, from a mom and pop shop to GMC and Apple has brand advocates. And you ask most small business people, like ask a caterer or the owner of a hair salon or a restaurant, where do they get their business from? And what they’ll tell you is that it’s almost all word of mouth. And although they may not know the term, what they’re really saying is that the engine for their business, the life blood of their business, is people recommending them. Happy customers which we call brand advocates recommending them. Whether it’s one at a time or it’s business-like [inaudible 02:22]. What I know is that every company has brand advocates.

Now as far as this approach, a systematic approach to brand advocacy, finding and encouraging those advocates to spread word of mouth. Again, all companies can take advantage of that. And it’s just a question of whether you do this with a platform like Zuberance’s, or if you’re a real tiny company you can do a lot of this stuff with an email and a spreadsheet. But if you want to scale it and track it you’re going to need something a little bit more sophisticated and I would say something that’s purpose built for advocacy like Zuberance is. But yeah, advocacy, word of mouth, really all business is a battle for word of mouth and that applies whether you’re a caterer or whether you’re GMC.

David: So you mentioned it is about identifying the brand advocates out there and in the book you say you can do this with a single question. What is that single question and how can you identify brand advocates?

Rob: The question that you’re [inaudible 03:26] is called the [taped warped 03:29] for customer loyalty or brand loyalty and that question was created by Fred Reichheld, who is the guru of customer loyalty along with the customer experience management company, Stat Metrics and here’s the question. It asks, “On a scale of zero to ten, how likely are you to recommend our brand or product to your friends?” And based on the response to that question you can determine whether someone is an advocate, a passive, or a detractor.

David: Got you. Got you. And you cut out a little bit there but you said Net Promoter Score, right?

Rob: Yeah. This question, the ultimate question, comes from Net Promoter. And Net Promoter is a customer loyalty metric, and it’s a way of measuring customer loyalty and the centerpiece for Net Promoter is this ultimate question for customer loyalty, “How likely are you to recommend?” And what we’ve found and what our customers have found is that it is a really simple and elegant way, an easy way to identify advocates, and put simply, advocates are people who respond on that scale of zero to ten, nine or ten, in response to that question. Our customers are asking that question across multiple touch points and communications channels, digital, social, mobile, web, other. And perusing that question across all of those channels to identify their advocates and track their net promoter score.

David: Got you. Got you. So where is a good place to actually ask that question? I guess, what part of the process? Is it via email? Do you do it actually in person like they fill out a card? What’s the best way to collect this data?

Rob: Well we would recommend that you ask this question everywhere at every customer touch point, every place that a customer interacts with your brand or product. One of the most effective ways of asking a question that is to ask that question via email. So literally every company has some sort of opt in data base. And posing that question to customers is a very quick and easy way and oftentimes, depending on the size of your customer base, you can identify tens of thousands of advocates almost instantly. And, as a matter of fact, and I put this in my book, Box,, which is a file transfer and collaboration platform. In a matter of about 24 hours identified 25 thousand advocates. So they were able to build that advocate army quickly, essentially just by sending an email out to their customer base.

But there are other ways as well. Like for example doing posts every few days on Facebook or tweeting out every few days, how likely are you to recommend us? So leveraging all of those ways but probably email is the easiest if you have an email data base.

David: Got you. Got you. So when someone fills that out with an eight or a nine or a ten, what are you doing with those people now? Those advocates.

Rob: Well that’s where the advocacy program really begins to shine because as soon as a person answers nine or ten, at least with the Zuberance system, we make it easy for that advocate to recommend the brand or product. And I’ll give you one example, when someone says nine or ten, we can invite those advocates to rate and review a company’s products or services. And so we have an experience board that is a lot like the user experience on Amazon, Yelp or Trip Adviser. And when someone says nine or ten, we say, “Hey David, that’s great, how would you like to rate and review this product?” And so the user then uses that application to create a review and then they can share that with their friends or post it on third party sites. It’s very simple and straightforward, but it’s a great way of leveraging and amplifying advocates.

David: Got you. Got you. So you’re taking those advocates and in effect putting them into a separate marketing campaign that’s I guess enabling them and making it easier for them to actually become an advocate?

Rob: Oh you bet. Yeah. A couple of things, first of all, when we identify or when a brand identifies its advocates, we think of that as a sustainable marketing department or force for the brand, right? So I mentioned reviews, but there are many other ways that brands can and are leveraging their advocates. For content creation, not only reviews but testimonials or stories, as we call them for answering prospects’ questions, for sharing offers, for helping launch products.

We don’t really think about this as a campaign. It’s more like an ongoing marketing program. And importantly here, when we say marketing program, it’s not targeting advocates so much, because as marketers we are always about targeting audiences. This isn’t really about targeting advocates. It’s really leveraging advocates as a channel and going through advocates to reach audiences, so making, in effect, your advocates a part of your marketing department. And so reviews, stories, testimonials, offer sharing, all of that are ways to leverage your advocates.

David: Got you. Got you. Cool. So what about the people who don’t fall into the advocacy scale, how would you move them up that ladder to get them to an eight, nine or ten? In the book you list five proven ways to create a brand advocate. What are those ways? Can you elaborate?

Rob: Well, when we work with customers, we always tell them very authentically, you know, we can’t really create brand advocates for you. That’s your job. The way that you create brand advocates is to provide really compelling and unique customer experience.

Just about every category that Apple participates in, Apple creates an experience for their customers that their customers love and are willing to recommend. So that’s really the brand’s job.

At Zuberance we can’t do much with that. And by the way, the number one thing you can do to create brand advocates is, as I said, create a great product. Or, as one of my heroes and mentor, Steve Jobs said, “Create an insanely great product or an insanely great experience.” That’s the brands job.

But what we can do once you’ve created those advocates and as I said, every brand has advocates, we can do something for you that you may not be doing today and that is to systematically find those advocates and then to give them the tools to tell their friends their friends your story or help you sell more products. I also want to mention, David, we always get this question, so what happens to those people who don’t say nine or ten, in other words who aren’t advocates, what do you do with them?

And through our platform we can route those customers based on their response down different paths. So one quick example is if someone says zero to six, highly unlikely to recommend the brand or product, we can route them to customer service and support. If they say [inaudible 10:20] seven to eight, they are considered passives and we may give them some content or an offer. So we do have ways of routing people based on their response to that ultimate question.

David: Got you. Got you. So when you do route those people that are a detractor if you will to support or something like that, is that in an effort to move them up that ladder?

Rob: Well, it can be. That can be the result of that, right? For example, if someone went to your restaurant, they really liked the food, but they had a bad service experience and they write about that and therefore they rank you say, three or four, so they are considered a detractor. If we route them to service and support or customer support, then you can find out more about what happened. Maybe offer them a free meal. And then once they come back and have a better experience, they can move from being a detractor to maybe a passive. And sometimes even to an advocate.

Because as you know companies are filled with people. People are not perfect. People make mistakes. So from time to time you’ll have an experience where maybe the experience wasn’t very good or the interaction with the customer wasn’t very good. But when you make it better, when you correct it for the customer and you show them you care, it’s really amazing how people can go from being a detractor to being an advocate when you make it better for them. So yeah, that can happen. So we can find not only advocates through our [inaudible 11:48] but we can find detractors and passives as well.

David: Got you. Got you. So with the one single question the Net Promoter Score, do you find that it’s a little skewed in the fact that someone who really loves the product or really hates an experience, they’ll be the ones filling out the survey? Do you have a bias there with the passives not even filling out the survey?

Rob: Yeah, it can be. I should point out that with what we do at Zuberance, we don’t do a scientific Net Promoter research study. So we are doing more of an Iowa straw poll. And we’re putting on a brand’s website, “Tell us about your experience, how likely are you to recommend us?” Or we might put that question in an email.

So that’s different than a scientific method Net Promoter study where you’re going to interview a cross section of your customers and you’re going to do it in a scientific, validated way in order to come up with a true measure of your NPS, your Net Promoter Score. So I think that there is some bias. Those people who are even willing to answer the question, “Would you recommend,” or “How likely are you to recommend us,” may have some strong feelings either way. But what we’re really trying to do is, it just turns out that asking that question for ultimate, that ultimate question for customer loyalty is just as simple and easy way to find advocates.

And by the way, it’s not the only way. We have a listening platform that we can use. So David if you are on Twitter and you say, Zuberance rocks, love Zuberance. Then we can automatically find you and engage you and validate that you’re an advocate. And so we do social listening as well. It just turns out that asking this ultimate question is and being able to quickly associate it with a unique email address that is a really easy way to find advocates.

David: Got you. Got you. So that Twitter example, so you’re searching Twitter for the sentiment of the tweet, right. When you identify that person that says, “Zuberance rocks.” I’m going to tweet that later today. You know what would you do with that person on Twitter? Would you add them into a list or put them into a potential campaign or start talking to them on Twitter and activate them? What would be the process there?

Rob: Well if you said, “Zuberance rocks.” We’d probably have Kara deliver a case of beer to your house tonight and thank you for the recommendation. But no, actually what we would do is we would probably engage you automatically and say, “That’s great David. Thank you for saying that. How would you like to write a story or testimonial about the marketing power of brand advocates?” So we’d give you an opportunity in this example to create some content. We can take that content and make it easy for you to share it.

So we want to really engage you further. We want to encourage you to become a more forceful advocate of Zuberance, if you will, a more effective advocate by engaging you and then giving you the tools so that you create even more content and then you share that content with your friends.

David: Got you. Got you. So what company in your mind has one of the best brand advocacy programs?

Rob: Well, geez, I can give you a consumer and I can give you a business example. On the consumer side, one of the top programs going today in the advocacy sphere is Rubio’s. Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill. You know they’re popular here on the West Coast for their fish tacos [inaudible 15:17], and through the program that they have today they’ve created an army of over 75,000 advocates and those advocates have created over a quarter million recommendations and they’re sharing those recommendations on Facebook, on Twitter, on Yelp and elsewhere. They’re even sharing offers and coupons that’s bringing people into Rubio’s to buy more fish tacos and more great Mexican food. So they really have it right.

[inaudible 15:48] who is VP of marketing at Rubio’s, she knew they always had really enthusiastic customers. In fact their mission is to create raving fans. So they are doing their job. They’re providing a really great customer experience. But what Karen said to me was, “Hey Rob, we’ve got this great experience. We know [inaudible 16:10] love out there. We just haven’t integrated that or amplified it. And now that they are in the second year of their program and they are getting fantastic results. So I consider them best of class in the advocacy and the B2C every year.

David: OK. What about the B2B space?

Rob: Yeah, on the B2B side, one of the companies that I think is doing a bang-up job with advocacy is a company called Parallel Software. And Parallel sells virtualization software. They provide a software package that allows you to run Windows on Mac.

And they’re doing a great job with their advocate program. To date they’ve created an advocate army of over 35,000 advocates. Those advocates have created over 100,000 pieces of content like through testimonials. They are sharing that content through places like, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

And the VP of marketing at Parallels, Kim Johnston, is a visionary marketer who has really embraced advocacy. You know one of the things that Kim said about her advocates which I put in the book, which I thought was a really insightful comment is that she said she was learning as much from her advocates as they are getting from Parallel. Right, so the thing about the relationship she’s establishing with her advocates.

And recently when they launched Parallel’s Desktop 8, they engaged their advocates early and got their feedback about what should go into the new product, and then involved them in a Beta program. And then when the product came out those products were primed and ready to talk about how great the new product was.

So Kim is a great example of a marketer who really gets advocacy. She understands the power of consumer generated content and she’s leveraging it in a very, very powerful and productive way to not just drive home impressions and clicks but to really build a movement around her brand. And the reason that I really love that story is because that’s a B2B marketer. And that’s in a category, desktop virtualizations software, even Kim herself would acknowledge it ain’t very sexy. You know it’s utilitarian. But there you go. 35,000 to 36,000 advocates raving about Parallel’s software. So I think that’s a good example on the B2B side as well.

David: Got you. Got you. So with that advocacy program are they getting preferential treatment? They’re getting the new product first? They’re getting maybe discounts, coupons. Are they paying? With this discounts and what have you for advocacy? Or, I guess, I lost my question in there, but basically, is it okay to pay for brand advocates?

Rob: Yeah. We’re all in favor of pimping out your advocates. We think buy them clothes, cars, expensive liquor. No, not at all. As a matter of a fact, through Zuberance we’ve generated over 30 million recommendations for consumer and business brands or products and no advocate has ever gotten paid for anything or gotten any incentive. No swag, no coupons, no tee shirts, no mugs, no hats, nothing corny or sleazy like that.

And the reason for that is two-fold. Number one, advocates don’t require that. That’s not part of their motivation or their behavioral type. What really rewards advocates, it’s almost like a Zen thing; advocacy is its own reward, right. So when you recommend something to a friend, whether it’s a restaurant or a movie or a book and your friends enjoy it, you feel good about that. You recommended something and there it is. It’s its own reward. Only one percent of advocates in a recent survey by Loyalty Wins said that recommendations are driven by things like incentives or rewards.

So first, we don’t have to pay or incentivize advocates. But here’s the second point that is really important and I really want marketers to listen to this [inaudible 20:11] here or as I call them. If you share a bunch of coupons with your friends and one of them buys it or a couple of them. You are going to get something for that, like a free trip through the buffet line at Circus Circus or something like that.

Listen, you don’t need to do that. And it’s lame. It’s lame to say, I’ll give you five bucks if you recommend me. It’s lame and it’s inauthentic. What you really need to do is find your authentic advocates and give them the opportunity to recommend you, and they’ll do it. And so you don’t have to pay for it.

And lastly, I rant about this a little bit because as you can tell we are really opposed to paying people for recommendations or giving them incentives right? It’s a little like this, the last time you were a candidate or [inaudible 20:54]. It’s almost like saying to your references, “Hey listen, say something good about me and if you do, I’ll buy you a bottle of wine.” I mean, that’s sleazy right? You would never do that. But you would facilitate that interaction between your references and the hiring manager. And by the way, if you got the job you might then give them a bottle of wine. It’s just that you don’t want to make it a quid pro quo [inaudible 21:14] for a recommendation. Or you don’t want to say, “If you recommend me you get something special.” And that’s where we draw the line. We are 100 percent authentic, and we don’t believe in paying advocates when found it is unnecessary to do that.

David: Got you. Got you. I totally agree. I mean paying for reviews you are just going down a slippery slope into just unethical land.

Rob: The thing too, David, is, I actually put a study about this in my book. There is a study done that found that you as a consumer if you find out that a friend is being paid or earning something or getting something personally for recommending, you’re actually less likely to buy. You follow that? You are less likely to buy if you find out your friend is getting something out of it because then it’s like, “Dude are you an affiliate with this company are what’s going on here? Why are you spamming me with all this stuff?”

And so it doesn’t work. It’s not effective and it’s not sustainable. You can only spam people so many times before [inaudible 22:19] on. But if you find an authentic advocate. Someone who loves Lexus or BMW or Parallel Software or Rubio’s or Samsung, and they truly recommend, they do it because they’ve had a great experience. That’s what you really want to do versus some lame pay for referral scheme.

David: Got you. Got you. Cool. So Rob, where can people find you online?

Rob: Well a couple of different places. Obviously, We also have a blog that Zuberance, and we are putting a lot of content on that blog that is leading edge thinking. The real world [inaudible 23:00], and I think we’re pretty transparent ourselves in that blog about what works and what doesn’t work. We’ve certainly learned what not to do and we’re willing to share that as well. So check out our blog and as far as the book itself. The book, “Brand Advocates,” I think I happen to have a copy of it right here. Isn’t that, there you go, all right. That’s the part of the Letterman interview where the book pops up.

David: Oh, yeah. I got to get the zoom in on the shot.

Rob: Product shot. Here’s the thing about the book is that I think about the book as being split into two halves, and the first half is what I call inspiration. Really what my mission was to do in the first half is really inspire marketers about who advocates are and how willing they are to recommend your brand or product without paying them.

The second half of it is how to. David, I think as you read through the book or even just made a cursory glance, you can see that I really wanted to have this be very pragmatic and very practical. So I think, hopefully, if the book achieved its aim, it inspired people, but it also gave them a really clear road map on how to identify their advocates, how to energize them, and what and how to track.

And so the second half of the book is all about that. And there’s a website associated with the book. It’s and lastly, Twitter @RobFuggetta. Great way to carry on the conversation if you find this inspiring at all. Love to hear from you.

David: Got you. Got you. Cool. Well we’ll put all those links in the show notes and yeah I appreciate you coming on the show. We learned a ton about brand advocacy and I believe our audience did as well.

Rob: Yeah. Can I close by giving you my favorite brand advocate story? Do we have time for that?

David: Yeah. Sure. What’s your favorite brand advocate story?

Rob: My favorite brand advocate story comes from Rubio’s. I want to tell you about for the Rubio’s brand who goes by the screen name of BellaRubyMomma and [inaudible 25:10].

So what BellaRubyMomma wrote was that she first discovered Rubio’s fantastic fish tacos when she was pregnant and all she could eat and all she craved was Rubio’s fantastic fish tacos. In fact, when she went into labor she was eating a Rubio’s fish taco, and then when her baby was born-she had a little girl- guess what she named her? Ruby.

David: Wow.

Rob: So there you go that’s my favorite brand advocate story.

David: That is quite an advocate. I must say.

Rob: That’s what we call an extreme brand advocate, and of course, not all advocates are naming their baby after their favorite brand. But I think it just…number one the story which is fantastic. There is no advertising copywriter there that could create a story like that, and if they did you probably wouldn’t believe it anyway. But the other thing it shows you is just how passionate people can be about brands and how willing they are to advocate and recommend the brand in all sorts of ways. Not just stories but reviews and offer sharing, etc. I know we have some stuff on our website about BellaRubyMomma, and that’s my favorite …