We have been doing some interesting work with our colleagues over at Blue State Digital lately. The fundamental approach is to apply the same disciplined advocacy approach used in Obama for America campaign to brands. Not just brands in the non-profit space but commercial B2C and B2B brands. The obvious question is how anyone might expect that we can move customers or stakeholders for a major brand with the same urgency of a presidential election. How can we expect consumers or employees to care as much about a company or brand as they do for their elected official or a community referendum to the point they will take action? It's true that not all products earn the same attention as a hotly contested election. The principles of advocacy can apply to brand communications. We can drive people to speak out in support of a company or brand, and not via some trickery or robo-calling but by cultivating a valuable relationship.
I read a great post from Beth Kanter on "Knitting Together Your Website, Email, and Social Media Content" which reminds me of the action-mindset of most non profit marketers. They have tight budgets and need to be crafty. They are also more akin to direct response marketers who try and adjust. They can be formidable social media marketers (and one reason some non profit advocacy groups like Greenpeace have become ninjas while brands remain "white belts" at best. The non profit marketer has got quite a few things to teach the big brand marketer. And I am not talking about lesson for the brand's social good program. I am talking about selling product and building brand value.
So here are two specific things that we can apply to brand marketing:
1. Don't just publish content, drive action
All of Beth Kanter's recommendations in that simple post reveal an intuitive commitment to action. After all, non profits need donations, petitions signed, demonstrable advocacy, volunteers, rally supporters and more. Its all action. Beth has three steps she covers:
Step 1: Connect Everything
Step 2: Share Across Channels
Step 3: Reinforce What Works
In Step 2: Share Across Channels, she makes a great point about using the right channel for the ask (e.g. email for donation-asks)
"But what if you want supporters to connect with others who are also giving to the same campaign? That’s where social media can be highly effective. For example, on your thank-you pages and follow-up emails, you could encourage your supporters to share a story about why they are giving to your cause on your Facebook wall. Both calls to action – donate in email and share in social media – support the overall campaign by capitalizing on the strengths of the two different channels."
It's all action. Not just donating but capturing personal stories and testimonials and sharing across social media. Her overall recommendation of connecting all parts of your digital presence demands that brands start with a strategy that guides their design and use of websites, Facebook pages and email message arcs by the actions they need users to take. Advocacy specialists are keen real-time marketers - always adjusting messages, offers and so forth as they experience what works and what doesn't. This nimbleness could be the 3rd "way" that brands could adopt but I will save that for another post. (you might argue that this is the discipline of direct-response marketing and while that's true, advocacy marketers seem even nimbler)
More and more brands are publishing more and more content on the Web. We often speak about brands becoming media companies (e.g. American Express [cl] is this with Open Forum). They create more and more content to meet thought leadership goals or provide customers with more value through information, utility and entertainment. This quickly makes me think of brands emulating magazines which, of course, sounds so 1995. Rather than create and park content, brands could learn a lot from advocacy experts who craft and use content to drive action - advocacy or some more transactional conversation. Why dump a collection of videos on YouTube (and pulled into Facebook) when you could create an advocacy arc through the sequential publishing of the videos with asks to the engaged audience?
2. Build your lists
Facebook wants brands to invest heavily in their service. Not only do they want brands to build large engaged fanbases within Facebook, they want to embed Facebook in their websites via Facebook Open Graph. As ReadWriteWeb dissected the login feature:
"Login with Faces & Facepile: The simpler publisher plugins enhance Facebook Connect. They makes it easy and compelling to sign in by leveraging Facebook cookies and showing faces of Facebook friends who are already members of the service."
Rely solely on that and you lose the data about your users. No email-based crm system. Advocacy groups, especially those running political campaigns, know how important it is to manage and grow a list of willing folks who can be called upon to advocate, take action, recommend to friends and donate. Without control of that list and the ability to integrate your email outreach with your use of social media, you will lose a big asset. You will lose your ability to expand the effectiveness of your list by accruing more and more information about your constituents. What do brands want to accomplish via social media? in some way or another, they want to activate people to advocate for their product or service (yes, and purchase).
Advocacy experts have honed their abilities to drive action over the short term. I cannot speak to their ability to cultivate them over the long term. Brand managers and CMO's alike think in short term as much, if not more, than they do about long term relationships. As such they could turn to these advocacy experts to learn a thing or two.
(image borrowed far too casually from: www.unmalumni.com/howler but thanks)