3 Ways You Can Let Your Customers' Stories Speak for Your Brand In today's market, singing your own praises can only go so far. Evangelize your customers to speak on your behalf to stay competitive.

By Kate Johnson

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In today's market, singing your own praises can only go so far. Sure, you're passionate about your company and all the great things you're doing — and you should be. But at the end of the day, the voice of your customer will be the strongest indicator of your success. In fact, according to BrightLocal's 2020 Consumer Review Survey, 79% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family. If you're unsure how to leverage your existing customers to attract new customers, without coming off as completely opportunistic, you're not alone. Creating an army of evangelists doesn't happen overnight.

The best place to start is by creating an easy-to-access open channel of communication to collect customer feedback. This can be as simple as a comment box on your website, or it can go as far as one-to-one open conversations with your customers. It could also mean that you have dedicated staff who are committed to encouraging customers to post reviews, mining review forums and engaging with customers on a daily basis.

If you've already created a foolproof feedback loop, you're ready to dive into some more advanced tactics to let your customers' stories tell your own. In this article, I will dive into the merits of three strategies that will give your customers the platform they deserve and give you the testimonials you need to stay competitive in your market.

Create a customer evangelism program

The first step to increasing the effectiveness of your customer feedback is to create an evangelism program. An evangelism program is an effective, mutually-beneficial way to gather customer feedback and maintain a high level of communication with the customers who matter most and are the biggest fans of your brand. According to Forrester, "research shows that 79% of marketers who have turned their customers into advocates see increases in upsell, cross-sell, and enrichment." Keep in mind that this isn't just about offering discounts or other monetary incentives to join (if any!). It's about uplifting your biggest advocates to drive further engagement with your offering and celebrate their success using your products while encouraging existing and future customers to deploy similar strategies.

Get creative with your evangelism program. It can be an avenue to collaborate on a case study or testimonial for your website, or it can be a more in-depth relationship that offers exclusive previews to product or offering upgrades. The sky's the limit, but you'll need to think long and hard about what kind of evangelism program will best suit your company's needs.

To begin building an evangelism program, select a small group of customers you already know are going above and beyond, and create a beta group to test out your initial ideas for the customer advocacy program. Confused about which customers to tap for the beta? Look for individuals who have promoted your NPS, a recent case study subject, or someone who left you a glowing review online (think: G2, Google, etc.). You could even talk to your account managers and see if they have any customers in particular that have been especially excited about your offering as of late. Start small, test out a few ideas, and make sure to take customer feedback into account.

Of course, the key to a successful customer evangelism program is to maintain the highest levels of communication and collaboration with your customers. A program that feels half-baked or disingenuous will do more harm than good. As is the case in all things marketing, it's essential to provide constant value to your customers before asking for anything in return.

Related: 7 Ways to Get Your Customers to Actively Promote Your Brand

Co-market with your best and brightest

Oftentimes, when we think of marketing, we think insular. What great things are we doing? How can we push our brand forward? But, by thinking outside of the box and tapping your customers to do marketing alongside you, you can bring your offering to life in a much more tangible fashion. More so, by making your customers feel like they are a part of your journey through co-marketing, you boost their visibility as well. That's a win-win.

Co-marketing can come in many forms. Whether it's a full-blown campaign, a joint press release, or doing media interviews together on a specific topic you and your customer both have expertise in, the opportunities are boundless. There's also significant evidence pointing to ROI. According to PartnerPath, "after seeing co-marketed campaigns, 68% of consumers are able to make buying decisions before even speaking to sales representatives."

To put your best foot forward, start brainstorming potential customers you think you'd like to leverage. Is there a specific CEO you would love to do interviews with? Do you and a customer have a shared affinity for virtual events? Tap your marketing and public relations teams to help you identify your best customers (the ones who are loyal and are already singing your praises) to reach out to with ideas. Start with customer brands that are recognizable (if possible), and with a senior level leader who has the authority and influence to tell a story. Just make sure you come to them with fully-baked plans you are willing to follow through on. Nothing is worse than leaving a customer high-and-dry.

Related: Treat Customers as Co-authors, Not Targets, and Hit a Marketing ...

Call on customers to speak at your events

Another great way to tap your customers' stories is to invite them to speak at your next webinar or customer conference. Not only is this an effective way to find capable speakers who are brand champions, but it also offers an opportunity to shine the spotlight on your customers and their businesses. The significant rise in virtual events in the past few years makes this easier than ever. A recent report commissioned by the virtual events platform Bizzabo found that 93% of organizers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward. When it comes to planning the logistics of enticing your customers to speak, nixing the need for expensive travel and lodging makes the whole process that much simpler.

The first step is to identify a topic your customer can best speak to. There is a huge opportunity for your customers to delve into a specific aspect of your offering that they love and are effectively leveraging in their business. This could be a certain feature or tactic they pioneered themselves. It's always best practice to have a discussion about what it is they would like to speak about and come to the table with a few selected topics you have in mind. From panels to keynotes, there's a wide swath of formats that can fit any experience or comfort level.

What's better is that new prospects will see just how integrated your current customers are in your long-term planning. By creating a sense of community through your event marketing, you will develop credibility in the market. More so, you won't be known as just another company that claims to prioritize customer advocacy with platitudes and hollow promises.

Knowing when to let your customers speak for you

Successful collaboration with your customers is a journey, not a destination. As you get more granular with your efforts, you will notice that every customer is different. Some will be eager to participate and others will prefer to remain in the background. Finding what works best for the both of you will take time and consideration. But, if you continue to lead by providing a great offering, the customer stories will begin to tell themselves.

Related: Finding Employee Brand Evangelists

Kate Johnson

CEO of Act-On

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