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If You Want Customer Referrals, Start Building Relationships

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 31 May, 2017
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How influencer and affiliate marketing can work in tandem to win you more loyal customers

In life and in marketing, it’s always tempting to create dichotomies: those who like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain and those who don’t, for example.

But times have changed, and technology has fundamentally transformed how we consume information and make decisions. Even Jimmy Buffett isn’t taking out personal ads in the newspaper anymore, just as consumers are no longer waiting for brands to give them the information they want.

Instead, people have access to instant information at the click of a button. Through social media, they can also post to large followings, whip up their own movements, and educate themselves — all before reaching out to brands.

These changes mean marketers need to constantly think about how to engage and connect with consumers. Plus, they need to avoid false dichotomies when it comes to prioritizing who can amplify a brand’s message. Both consumers and influencers can serve as brand champions and give huge boosts to a business. The difference lies in who they are, how they relate to your brand, and how you want to work with them.

Spreading the Message

Unlike your customer base that will sing your praises to personal connections, influencers charge a fee to drive your brand’s message to a larger market. Influencer marketing is simply a modern twist to age-old affiliate marketing. Both influencers and affiliates leverage their network of fans, followers, and readers to share your business in exchange for an incentive.

Regardless of who is spreading your message, word of mouth is the most powerful way for a consumer and brand to establish a relationship. Consumers are also more likely to engage with a brand that leaves an impression, provides an experience, or caters to their passions and interests.

But it’s not just about attracting someone new. Failing to market to or engage with faithful customers represents an opportunity cost in terms of leveraging loyalty. These existing customers can help amplify your branding, image, awareness, and other marketing objectives.

Most brands think influencer marketing is the best way to get their messages out to the masses. And while it’s easy — and tempting — to be seduced by the likes, follows, and shares that come with it, influencer marketing's real success comes from attracting customers who stick around for the long haul.

This is where customer referral marketing comes in. By giving your existing customers a way to recommend your product and share it with their networks, your brand can increase awareness while generating even more loyal customers and brand champions.

Creating Loyal Relationships

Generating real brand affection requires tapping into the different types of brand champions who can woo other consumers, pique curiosity, and inspire loyalty. There’s room for existing customers, brand ambassadors, and various influencers in this equation. Here’s how to use each relationship to your advantage:

1. Tap into customer referrals.

Referral marketing happens regardless of whether marketers facilitate it simply because it’s natural for us to share experiences with our friends. The key is to ensure those word-of-mouth interactions occur the right way.

Cultivating a steady stream of these referrals takes time but yields a major payoff. Seventy-four percent of consumers identify word of mouth as a key influencer when making purchasing decisions; in addition, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business found that referred customers are 18 percent more likely to stay with a company.

But how do you establish a reputation that warrants these kinds of referrals? Start by setting high standards for your brand and customer service, and put out feelers to monitor how others perceive your work. Set up online alerts for your brand’s name through Google Alerts or Mention, survey your clients about their impressions of you, and keep your ear to the ground on social media.

When you see a customer who seems particularly fond of you, reach out and ask to share his story. Don’t be shy about asking him to spread the word, following up with him, or rewarding his loyalty with tokens of appreciation.

2. Take it to the next level with brand ambassadors

Engaging with existing customers and reaching out to new ones go hand in hand. Your existing customer base is great to leverage when finding folks who are willing to steward your brand and messaging across their networks.

Even if you’re not into yoga, you can appreciate Lululemon’s way of empowering brand ambassadors to run with their vision and build a larger meaning around it. The company started small and then sought out brand ambassadors who were passionate about it and inspired to turn it into a signifier of a luxuriously leisurely lifestyle. Lululemon’s resulting success is about more than yoga pants and $60 tank tops — it's about a desire for youth, energy, vitality, and health.

As you would with any relationship, decide what you want from brand ambassadorships and what you’re willing to give in return. Sending brand ambassadors some swag or letting them borrow a little brand cachet to help launch their own passion projects will go a long way. Feature ambassadors on your website or blog, and let them link to it from their LinkedIn profiles. Reciprocity can only strengthen the relationship.

3. Make yourself irresistible with influencers.

Using influencers means greater access to a brand-new network, increased brand awareness, and social proof to ease the minds of worried customers.

Recent statistics show that social media influencers have the greatest effect on teens and younger demographics, though more than 80 percent of marketers who have leveraged this tactic report that it has increased engagement and awareness for their brands.

Litter-Robot, a line of self-cleaning litter boxes, benefited greatly by tidying up its approach with affiliates and influencers. It gave brand ambassadors their own unique URLs for sharing, streamlined its coupon-sending, and saw its sales increase by more than 300 percent. The brand sent some extra love to its brand ambassadors and saw impactful results.

Like a man taking out a personal ad only to see his wife respond, brands need to realize that their greatest gifts have been with them all along. Centering existing customers and their word of mouth — whether through customer referrals, brand ambassadors, or social media influencers — is one of the best ways to make loyalty contagious. Marketing their experiences will spread affection for your brand far and wide.

 

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By Expert commentator

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