Top 10 Ways to Reward Customer Advocates

Paying for advocacy isn’t a smart move. It lessens the impact of advocacy. It’s unethical and it can get a company in the FTC’s crosshairs. And it’s just freakin’ lame. It’s like saying, “Since our product isn’t worth talking about genuinely, how about I give you 10 bucks to write a review.”

Here are 10 ways to authentically reward Customer Advocates:

  1. Give Advocates sneak peeks at new products and services earlier than other customers. If your company is a consumer electronics manufacturer or a software firm, give Advocates first access to a new DVR or version of your graphics software.
  2. Hold special events for Advocates only. If your company is a restaurant, hold a special event for Advocates where they get an exclusive preview of your new menu or meet your new executive chef. If you’re a retailer, hold a special Advocates only preview of a new store opening. Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill and Vertical Response, an e-mail service provider, are two companies that thank Advocates by inviting them to special events.
  3. Provide Advocates with exclusive offers that they can share with their friends. Don’t give Advocates the same offers you give to all customers. Give Advocates unique offers that show that you recognize them as your true VIP’s. If your company is a hotel, give Advocates a weekend package for their friends only.
  4. Give Advocates early access to exclusive content. This includes content like white papers and research studies. If you’re a biotech company, make sure your Advocates are the first to get a new research study.
  5. Ask Advocates for their opinions. If you’re an apparel company and thinking about a new sportswear line, give Advocates the opportunity to voice their opinions about the line before others.
  6. Give Advocates special access to company leaders. Starbucks gave one of its Advocates- “Starbucks Melody”- an opportunity to meet company founder, Howard Schultz. Can you imagine how thrilled Virgin America Advocates would be to meet Sir Richard Branson? Even if you don’t have a rock star CEO, giving Advocates the opportunity to have direct dialogue with senior leaders of your company can make them feel special.
  7. Give contributions to nonprofit causes on behalf of Advocates. One of the best ways to reward Brand Advocates is to make cash and/or in-kind contributions to deserving nonprofit organizations on behalf of your Advocates. This approach motivates Advocates, boosts your corporate image and reputation, and serves a useful social purpose.
  8. Honor your Advocates. Webroot has started recognizing its Advocates with its Webroot “Advocate of the Week” program. This is yet another great way to encourage advocacy without paying for it.
  9. Let them know that their recommendations matter. One of the best ways to recognize Advocates is making sure they know their advocacy is working. Awhile back, one of my colleagues recommended someone they knew for a position at our company, Zuberance. They were delighted when I sent them an email thanking them for the recommendation and letting them know that the person was doing a great job. You can do the same thing systematically online by showing Advocates which of their friends they’ve recommended are also now customers and Advocates themselves!
  10. Give Advocates VIP levels of service. If your company is a hotel or a resort, you may provide Advocates with a town car or limousine while they stay at your property or a personal VIP guide. If your company is a software provider, offer Advocates a special help desk for VIP customers only.

Letting your Advocates know that you recognize their contribution is the best reward imaginable. A simply thank you note or email from the CEO of your company goes a long way with Advocates.

Branding Strategy: Get Your Advocates to Share Their Stories

Another great way to energize your Brand Advocates is to invite them to create stories. Stories are brief written or video statements where Advocates talk about how your company, brands, or products are making their lives better, easier, or more productive. Advocate stories are powerful because they’re real. They help you build credibility, generate referral leads, and accelerate sales.

Buick, a brand on the comeback trail, wants consumers to shift the way people think about luxury- and about Buick. So Buick is getting its Advocates to write and share stories about why they love their Buicks. In only a few weeks, Buick Advocates have written over 1,600 love letters and 16% of Advocates have shared them on Facebook.

Different From Reviews

Advocate stories differ from reviews in three ways:

  1. Advocate stories are typically about Advocates’ experiences with your company or brand versus with a particular product.
  2. Since Advocate stories focus on company or brand rather than specific products or services, they typically do not include star ratings as reviews do.
  3. Advocate stories are often more personal and emotional than reviews. They often focus on Advocates’ feelings rather than product features and benefits.

Three Strategic Uses For Advocates’ Stories

Here are three situations where Advocates’ stories can be especially helpful:

  1. Support brand messages. Advocates’ stories can help communicate and add credibility to your brand message. CDW, the online retailer’s brand message is that CDW “gets IT.” (IT, in this case, also stands for Information Technology.) CDW can get its Advocates to create stories about how their experiences show that CDW deeply understands the needs of IT managers.
  2. Rebranding and repositioning. Advocates’ stories can add credibility to your claims if you’re trying to change perceptions about what your brand or company stands for. Jamba Juice wants to transform its brand from a made-to-order smoothie company to a healthy, active lifestyle brand. So we recommended that Jamba get its Advocates to create stories that support its new positioning.
  3. Rejuvenating. Advocates’ stories can help reinvigorate your brand’s image. Ball Corporation, makers of the iconic glass jars used for canning vegetables, needs to find a way to be relevant to today’s women. So they’re inviting Advocates who are a younger demographic than Ball’s traditional customers to create stories about how easy it is to make delicious, healthy food at home.

Give your Advocates the opportunity to share their story about your brand. You’ll find they’ll come up with more emotional and compelling content than your ad agency can.

Now Available! Download Chapter One of New Book, Brand Advocates

About Brand Advocates In the social media age, power has shifted from advertising’s Mad Men to millions of passionate Brand Advocates. Their trusted recommendations are driving purchase decisions for trillions of dollars in sales of cars to computers; soap to software; hotel rooms to home appliances; fitness memberships to fish tacos; and more. In this ground-breaking book, advocacy expert Rob Fuggetta shows marketers and business leaders how to identify Brand Advocates; energize them to spread positive Word of Mouth and drive sales; and track results from advocacy programs. Brand Advocates is chock full of colorful real-world stories of Brand Advocates and innovative marketers who are getting eye-popping results by turning Advocates into powerful marketing forces.

Click here to download Chapter One now!

To purchase Brand Advocates, choose from the retailers on the right.

Lauren McCadney, CDW's Passionate Marketer

Lauren McCadney is all about passion. Smart, articulate, and always striving to make a difference, McCadney is the social media guru at CDW, a $9.2 billion provider of technology solutions for businesses, government, education and healthcare based in Vernon Hills, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.

McCadney is an accomplished, visionary marketer who joined CDW in 2005 after a lengthy career at telecoms company SBC (which later became AT&T after it acquired AT&T.) The Enterprise Council of Small Business, a division of the Corporate Executive Board, recently named McCadney the 2010 “Small Business Marketer of the Year.”

McCadney is passionate about photography and considers it her gift. She specializes in portraits and events. “I’ve always wanted to tell stories and I also LOVED pictures,” says McCadney. “After much soul searching I realized that photography is my means of expression,” she says.

McCadney is also passionate about kids. “I believe that every child deserves a chance. Unfortunately, not every child receives one. Therefore, you’ll find me doing what I can to make a difference whether it’s sitting on a board, throwing a fundraiser, or volunteering my time,” says, this graduate of Howard University and the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University who lives in Chicago.

And McCadney is also passionate about customer relationships, social media, and brand advocacy. She’s championing and driving CDW’s Brand Advocate program, which in only a few months is quickly approaching nearly 1,000 CDW Advocates.

Energizing Passionate Customers

Unlike other companies, McCadney and CDW didn’t have a compelling marketing problem like negative Word of Mouth they were hoping to solve by leveraging Brand Advocates. Instead, with the skilled eye of a talented photographer, McCadney saw an opportunity that others hadn’t recognized yet: turn CDW’s enthusiastic customers into a powerful marketing force. “Research shows that three out of four people no longer trust what advertisers say. But nine out of ten are going to trust what a peer says,” points out McCadney.

McCadney knew CDW had passionate customers she could leverage. From her early work in social media she saw them support, promote, and defend CDW on Spiceworks, an online community for small business IT professionals. “I realized there were people who were passionate about CDW to the extent that if an issue came up about CDW, they would rush to my (CDW’s) defense. They could actually get in there and kind of diffuse things before I could get to it. So my thinking was already, “How do I start to identify these folks on a larger scale?”

And she knew CDW had a large number of customers willing to recommend the company. But until recently, CDW wasn’t leveraging these enthusiastic customers.

“We would look at the (customer loyalty) report and collectively say, “Look, our number went up again. This is great.” But we weren’t doing anything with this group that was rating us a 9 or 10 when asked “How likely are you to recommend CDW”. Ultimately, I asked myself ‘Why aren’t we asking them (Advocates) to do something? Why aren’t we doing something to recognize them, thank them, ask them to act on our behalf. I think they would.’ “

She was right.

Working with Zuberance, McCadney has begun systematically identifying and energizing CDW Advocates. McCadney and CDW started energizing its Advocates by inviting them to rate and review their CDW experience. Within just a few months, CDW Advocates have created nearly 700 positive reviews, a valuable content asset that CDW is publishing on its website plus in its catalog and email marketing campaigns. “They (CDW Advocates) tell the CDW story better than any copywriter could because they are relating our story from a personal perspective. They know what’s important to IT Professionals and do an amazing job of clearly explaining why you should shop at CDW or the value that we bring,” says McCadney.

Beyond Ratings & Reviews

McCadney is taking CDW’s Advocate program beyond ratings and reviews. “Reviews are just the most tangible manifestation that this individual is an Advocate of our brand,” she says. So CDW is looking to implement user generated content in the form of Success Stories and they’re exploring Customers Building Customers. “For me, I view energizing our Advocates as an entirely new and relevant way of marketing. And that’s something I’m very passionate about,” says McCadney.

Three Key Tips

Here are the three key lessons from the CDW case study:

1. Go beyond Net Promoter. Asking customers how likely they are to recommend your brand or product and measuring your Net Promoter Score is important. Get more value from Net Promoter by making it easy for Promoters to actually recommend you.

2. Give Advocates multiple advocacy tools. Advocate are willing and eager to recommend you in lots of different ways. Go beyond Advocate ratings and reviews. Give your Advocates ways to create and share or publish testimonials, offers, plus answer prospects’ questions, and more.

3. Evangelize evangelism. Energizing Brand Advocates represents a different marketing approach for many marketing organizations. Be prepared to champion the cause of advocacy including educating your colleagues about the benefits of leveraging Brand Advocates continually.

Extreme Brand Advocate Story: Justin Dorfman, a CDW Champion and Friend

Most people assume that advocacy is limited only to sexy or cool brands like Apple, Starbucks, or Porsche. Not true. Advocates of business brands can also be just as enthusiastic. Hard-Core CDW Advocate: Justin Dorfman

Justin Dorfman is a self-described “hard-core CDW Advocate.” (CDW is a leading provider of technology solutions for business, government, education, and healthcare. Ranked No. 38 on Forbes’ list of America’s Largest Private Companies, CDW features dedicated account managers who help customers choose the right technology products and services to meet their needs.)

Dorfman, 26, is a support engineer for NetDNA, a content delivery network based in Los Angeles. Dorfman’s passion for CDW was ignited back in 2004 when he bought his first product – a RAID controller, a device that manages physical disk drives – from CDW while working for Western Costume Company, a costume warehouse in Hollywood. He was so impressed with CDW’s responsiveness and customer service that he said: “Oh my God, I’m in love with this company.”

The Internal CDW Champion

Since then, he’s purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars of computer gear from CDW while serving in IT positions for other companies. For example, when he started a new position as a junior systems engineer in December 2009 at Mahalo, he started buying gear from CDW. “I turned Mahalo into a CDW customer,” says Dorfman. In the 16 months he was at Mahalo, the company purchased about $200,000 in computer gear from CDW, largely as a result of Dorfman’s enthusiastic advocacy.

CDW has never paid Dorfman for his recommendations. “I put my reputation on the line for CDW and they’ve stood by me. They deliver every time,” says Dorfman. He adds: “They’re reliable. They don’t lie. You get your own account manager. There’s no calling and waiting on hold. They care for IT professionals. They know what we’re up against. They really get it.”

Establishing Advocate Relationships

Dorfman has become Facebook friends with CDW Senior Account Manager, Matt Cipolla. Cipolla has even recommended Dorfman on LinkedIn. “We know each other’s girlfriend’s names. We’re on a first-name basis. You’re just not going to get that from other IT companies,” says Dorfman.

In addition to evangelizing CDW to colleagues and friends offline, Dorfman recommends CDW online on Twitter (@jdorfman, where he has 443 followers as of July 2011;) by re-Tweeting CDW’s content and deals; talking them up on his blog (; his personal website Frugal IT; and on Spiceworks, an online community for IT professionals, where he created a “I love CDW” icon.

Lauren McCadney, Sr. Segment Marketing Manager for CDW, says: “I believe he (Justin) has come to represent the future of marketing: influential Brand Advocates that establish a personal relationship with their favorite brands. I've worked him for more years than I can count. And it was only in the last five years that I've come to really know customers like Justin as both a source of consumer insight but also as a friend.”

Read more: Extreme Brand Advocate Stories

-Rob Fuggetta, Founder/CEO, Zuberance

Extreme Brand Advocate Story: MINI Advocate’s MAXImum Advocacy

George Hamma is an owner of a BMW MINI. But there’s nothing small about his passion for his beloved car.

Hamma, a youthful-looking 65, enthusiastically recommends MINI to hundreds of his friends, co-workers, and even complete strangers.

The Sunnyvale, CA resident is an active member of the Northern California chapter of the MINI owner’s club. He also shares his passion for MINI on his Facebook page, Twitter @ghamma, and on his personal website, where Hamma – an avid photographer – posts photos of MINI owners’ rallies.

Hamma is an active participant at, a site where MINI owners meet to talk about their cars and motoring (about 16,500 members). Hamma has engaged in hundreds of conversations with current and (possibly) future MINI owners.

That’s George in the photo standing proudly next to his MINI, a 2011 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4, which he named “Fenton” in honor of a local ice cream parlor where his favorite flavor is also black and tan like his MINI.

MINI’s Super Salesperson

As a direct result of his advocacy, six friends have bought MINI’s. At about $35,000 per MINI, Hamma has generated about $200,000 in revenues for BMW, making Hamma one of MINI’s best – and certainly one of its most cost-effective – sales people.

MINI hasn’t given Hamma anything – not even a MINI t-shirt or key chain – in exchange for his advocacy. “I recommend MINI because it’s fun to drive. It’s a great product,” says Hamma. “Every time I drive my MINI, I get a big smile on my face,” he adds.

Hamma says he’s such an effective Advocate of MINI that his local MINI dealership has suggested he join their sales team.

“My local MINI dealership wants me to come in and sell MINIs for them,” laughs Hamma. “Hmmm...wonder how much that pays?” he chuckles.

Singing MINI’s Praises

A while back, Hamma enthusiastically recommended MINI to a fellow member of a professional chorus.

“I’m not kidding. The very next week she shows up at chorus practice in her new MINI. Same model as mine,” Hamma says.

Mad about Motoring

Hamma is a car enthusiast who drove BMW cars in the 1960s and 70s on the rally circuit. He occasionally takes lunch breaks from his job as a senior product tester at a Silicon Valley tech company by driving his MINI “quickly around twisty little roads” near the company.

“The other day I went over there and thrashed it pretty good. I came back to the office with a big smile on my face,” he says.

MAXImum Word of Mouth

MINI is one of those passion brands with millions of Advocates and enthusiasts like Hamma. MINI stokes this passion with the MINI Owner’s Lounge, a private, online community for MINI owners; MINI owner rallies and special events; online reviews and more. Plus, MINI gets plenty of organic positive Word of Mouth from user-created online communities, forums, events, and more.

MINI Hazard

One of the few drawbacks of owning a MINI, Hamma says, is that it has caused him to have a sore right shoulder.

“Every now and then, my wife will remind me if I’m driving a little too fast,” chuckles Hamma.

An occasional sore shoulder is a small price to pay for the fun of driving his black and tan MINI, says Hamma. “I tell all my friends and colleagues: If you want to have fun driving, go get yourself a MINI. You will not regret it,” he says.


Read more: Extreme Brand Advocate Stories

-Rob Fuggetta, Founder/CEO, Zuberance