You’ve probably heard of “brand advocates” who help promote products they use on social media. (Maybe you even have some online brand advocates of your own.) But did you realize that your business has brand advocates off-line as well?

The concept of brand advocates has been around for decades under many different names. Ken Blanchard called them “raving fans;” Apple dubbed them “evangelists.” Essentially, the idea is the same: A business’s best customers are its most powerful marketing tools.

What Makes Brand Advocacy So Effective?

Brand advocacy has several advantages as a marketing method:

  • It doesn’t cost you anything, which lowers your customer acquisition cost, increasing your profitability.
  • It builds trust. According to a Nielsen survey, 82 percent of all consumers and a whopping 92 percent of consumers aged 18 to 34 ask other people for recommendations before making a purchase.
  • It strengthens your bonds with your most satisfied customers by creating an ongoing relationship.

How to Get Started with Brand Advocacy

Now that you know the benefits of brand advocates, how can you get your best customers to help market your business? Here are six ideas to get you going.

  1. Create a VIP panel. Putting your brand advocates on a VIP customer panel not only makes them feel special, but also benefits your business. Give your VIPs early access to new products or services, and ask them to share their experiences. Ask for their feedback on how you can improve your customer service, or what new products they’d like to see you introduce. You’ll get valuable insights in addition to free marketing.
  2. Involve your brand advocates in content marketing. Create an email newsletter just for your brand advocates that’s full of helpful content. Encourage them to forward the information to people they think might find it useful, and to share it on social media.
  3. Reward brand advocates for their help. Discounts, exclusive offers, and promotional materials are easy ways to thank your brand advocates for spreading the word. (Make sure, however, that you don’t reward customers for posting online reviews—this can violate the rules of review sites.) You can also hold special events to thank your brand advocates. If you sell B2B, you can reward your brand advocates by advocating for their businesses as well.
  4. Give them plenty of your business cards to pass out. Whenever you meet with a brand advocate, give them a small stack of your business cards. Mail them a few dozen business cards every few months. Ask them to share the cards with others who might need your product or service.
  5. Ask your best customers to serve as references. Do prospective customers often have questions about your product or service? For example, if you sell software to businesses, or landscaping services to homeowners, prospects probably want to talk to your past customers before making a decision. Find out if your top customers are willing to talk to prospects about what it’s like to work with your business. (Just make sure you don’t overload any one customer with reference calls.)
  6. Ask them to provide customer testimonials. See if your best customers are willing to write testimonials about your product, service or company. If they’re shy about their writing skills, have an employee interview them and write up a testimonial for the customer to approve. Better yet, ask if your customer would be willing to film a short video testimonial, or be interviewed on video about how your product or service helped them. Share the testimonials and videos on your website.

Once you get started with a brand advocacy program, you’ll find that it’s one of the most effective ways to market your business while also learning more about your customers.