The team at Zahra, recently hosted a conversation style interview with Gina Miltiadou, Co-Founder and Director of Zahra|Content That Connects, and our Founder & CEO Leanne Papaioannou on brand advocacy; how it nurtures emotional bonds, builds trust, and drives business growth. The secret? Ultimately, it all boils down to authentic connections made by aligning brand and customer values and offering personalised solutions. Read on to learn more about brand advocacy and strategies that will create lasting customer loyalty. 

What is brand advocacy and why is it so important?

Leanne defines brand advocacy as an emotional connection driven by a whole lot of rational interactions. It sounds complicated, but if you think of it in its essence, brand advocacy, brand love and brand loyalty are all emotional connections – and those emotional connections are driven by trust. Trust is then built upon loads of these little rational interactions. Gina adds that when customers are brand advocates, they essentially become ambassadors for a brand, sharing their positive experiences and recommending brand products to others.

Why is all of this important? Well, Leanne notes that without affinity, customers become brand agnostic, choosing whatever is available. But when a customer has an affinity and love towards a brand, differentiation comes into play – and from a brand’s perspective, it’s the raison d’être of what they should be trying to achieve.

According to Gina, customers who are advocates of your brand are also more likely to be more open if you make a mistake. They tend to forgive more quickly and provide constructive feedback, allowing the brand to fix the issue and continue the journey.

The brand advocacy gold standard

We talked about so many excellent brands during our conversation, but LEGO came up as one brilliant example of a brand that has successfully built brand advocacy. It’s one that’s close to our hearts; growing up with it ourselves, then revisiting it when new family members are welcomed into the world. Plus, it’s always been a part of the landscape – and continues to be for good reason.

What you might not know is that LEGO has nurtured a community of loyal customers by doing so many clever things, including its stand-out LEGO Ideas Platform. Through this platform, LEGO invited its customers to submit ideas for new LEGO set designs which the community would get to vote on. Any idea that got over 10,000 votes was then considered for production. But that’s not all; LEGO took it one step further and announced that any LEGO sets that went into production’s creators receive 1% share of the revenue from that LEGO set. “So, it’s really harnessing the community’s creativity, and engagement, but also making them shareholders in the business. Ultimately, there is no better way to inspire brand love!” Gina notes.

We’ve barely tipped the iceberg in terms of the clever things that LEGO are doing to connect with its customers, but one key thing that Leanne noted during our conversation was that it’s all of these initiatives and activities combined that create stickiness between the consumer and the brand, not just one standout campaign but continuous engagement.

Once upon a…

Storytelling is pivotal in content marketing and loyalty initiatives that generate customer advocacy. Storytelling humanises brands and forges emotional connections with customers. Gina emphasised that storytelling is the absolute pillar of content marketing and by weaving customer stories into marketing fabric, brands validate customer experiences letting them see themselves in the brand’s narrative. This practice fosters a strong, loyal community.

Leanne underscores this by highlighting that on social platforms, it’s the stories that truly connect. “It has to be a balance of your sales and service comms, which is quite functional, versus that emotional connection piece,” she explains. Effective storytelling makes customers feel their values align with the brand, encouraging them to become advocates. Brands often think they lack a story, but as Gina points out that; “Everybody has a story. Why did you come into being? What makes what you do so special?” These stories resonate deeply, making people choose to support and advocate for the brand.

Crafting customer journeys: Map, personalise and reward your way to loyalty

Crafting seamless customer experiences requires a blend of strategy, empathy, and innovation. “I would say that it always starts with the organisation making a decision, whether they want to be customer-centric or they want to be product-centric,” Leanne emphasises. By adopting a customer-centric approach, brands can meticulously craft every touchpoint to enhance satisfaction. “So we would always start by saying if you want to create brand advocates, and it is the key objective for your business, then do the journey mapping by standing in the customer’s shoes,” she advises. Through journey mapping, brands can identify pain points and opportunities for improvement, creating moments that delight and inspire loyalty.

But personalisation takes this relationship to the next level. “The more relevant a brand can make content to a customer, the more that customer is going to engage with the brand because they feel like the brand understands them,” Leanne explains. Drawing inspiration from industry leader Aer Lingus, she highlights their innovative rewards programme, AerClub that goes beyond the transactional. “Aer Lingus are really at the top of the list in my mind as far as customer experience communication, engagement, recognition, and rewards,” she notes. “They actually offer their top-tier customers the chance to invite any of their family members to be upgraded to the next tier on their loyalty programme. So you can imagine the hero effect!” From tangible benefits to experiential perks and even emotional connections, Aer Lingus sets the bar high for customer experience. By adopting a similar approach, organisations can forge deeper connections with their audience, turning customers into passionate advocates. So, whether it’s journey mapping, hyper-personalisation, or thoughtful rewards, the key lies in putting the customer first and creating experiences that resonate on a personal level.

The real deal: Authenticity, consistency, and strategy in brand advocacy

Building brand advocacy is akin to constructing a sturdy house – it requires a solid foundation of authenticity, reinforced with beams of consistency, and meticulous plans for strategic precision. As Leanne passionately articulates; “Authenticity and transparency are non-negotiables for brand advocacy because they foster trust and credibility.” Any crack in authenticity can lead to a collapse of trust, and Leanne warns against sporadic transparency, “So if it’s like, ‘Oh, Tuesday, we’re not going to be transparent today, you know, but on Thursdays, we always are’, that’s not going to work,” she explains. Instead, she advocates for a steadfast commitment to open communication, even in the face of adversity, coupled with a genuine display of real customer experiences.

Authenticity isn’t just a checkbox on a corporate to-do list; it’s central to meaningful brand-consumer relationships. In parallel, Gina sheds light on the evolving landscape of brand scrutiny, where consumers peer through the glass windows to your company’s core. “Every interaction, everything that you do, consumers are viewing you through your purpose, vision, mission, and values,” she remarks, underlining the relentless gaze of today’s ‘glass box brands.’ In this era, authenticity isn’t merely a desirable trait; it’s a survival imperative. “It’s no longer good enough to put a statement out there and not deliver it through each touchpoint,” Gina asserts. Consumers demand a seamless blend of rhetoric and reality, where promises are upheld consistently across every encounter.

Advocacy Metrics: How feedback and analytics drive loyalty programmes

Leanne stresses the importance of core business metrics such as customer retention, referral rates, brand sentiment, and brand trust scores all of which directly impact a company’s bottom line. “Those are the three holy grails of measuring customer advocacy. And these can all be monitored via customer feedback, social listening tools, and of course, loyalty programme analytics are so important to this.”

Gina adds that brand advocacy boils down to customers buying more, staying longer, and promoting the brand. “Retention rates are hugely important,” Gina adds; “as it costs 8-10 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain one.”

In the context of Chilli Pepper and Zahra, the level of brand advocacy can be measured through employing the RFM model to track the Recency, Frequency, and Monetary spend of customers. “These are metrics that you can use all at once,” Leanne explains, “to identify your most loyal customers.” By leveraging these metrics, businesses can pinpoint their most devoted customers and strategise ways to enhance brand advocacy.

The loyalty loop: Boosting business growth with advocacy, rewards, and stellar content

It’s clear that prioritising brand advocacy demands a concerted effort to forge authentic connections with customers at all stages of their journey. As Gina iterates, it’s crucial to pinpoint customer pain points and ensure your brand serves as the ultimate solution at every interaction. It’s essential to invest in a robust content strategy that resonates with customer values and to implement a strong loyalty programme that recognises and rewards them for choosing your brand time and time again. “You really need to think about how you’re going to reward your customers throughout their journey,” Gina emphasises. Moreover, continuously leveraging customer feedback is vital for ongoing improvement. “This is about having a solid strategy based on your customers’ pain points,” Gina stresses, highlighting the need for constant iteration and enhancement. By adhering to these guidelines, businesses can effectively nurture brand advocacy, foster enduring customer connections, and drive sustainable growth.

At Chilli Pepper, we specialise in commercially sound customer loyalty strategies that help organisations to build deeper, more profitable and more long-term relationships with their customers. While the incredible team at Zahra, specialise in helping brands build lasting relationships with customers through purposeful content and experiences,