Cassandra Jowett on Customer Advocacy

This is the part of a series of interviews with B2B marketers. In this post we're talking with Cassandra Jowett from Influitive on customer advocacy.

Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do at Influitive?
My name is Cassandra Jowett. I joined Influitive a little over two years ago to lead our content marketing strategy, including eBooks, whitepapers, customer case studies, the blog, social media and PR. The goal of our content, social and PR strategies is to establish advocate marketing as a new category of marketing, create even more advocates for Influitive’s brand and, of course, generate leads. Influitive is a very content-first company; I was the third person to join the marketing team. The leadership team here really values content, so I feel very lucky to be doing what I do.

Cassandra Jowett

Cassandra Jowett

How did you get into marketing?
Like a lot of marketers, I got into marketing by accident. When I went to journalism school at Ryerson University, I thought I’d become a journalist and change the world with my writing. I did a few reporting internships, including at the National Post. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do and caught the startup bug. In my last year of university, I took a summer internship with a brand new startup called I was the first person founder Lauren Friese hired and I basically cold-called HR people all summer. I’m not a salesperson, but I figured that if I could call people as a journalist, I could call prospects on this list. I quickly learned that if I got my calls done by 1 or 2pm, I could spend the rest of the time writing blog posts, posting on Twitter and creating content for customers.

When I graduated, Lauren hired me to start TalentEgg’s career resources section and build the content marketing and thought leadership strategy. I learned a lot there, but after nearly five years at TalentEgg, I joined Influitive. Now I feel like a real marketer, not just this misfit journalist who fell into marketing. I’m part of a generation of young journalists who are transitioning into the fast-growing field of content marketing.

What’s the 30-second pitch on Influitive?
Today’s buyers are increasingly leveraging their peers’ opinions to make purchasing decisions and they don’t trust traditional sales and marketing tactics. Influitive’s advocate marketing software helps marketers overcome this challenge. Influitive’s AdvocateHub platform allows companies to capture the enthusiasm of their biggest advocates and incorporate it into sales and marketing programs, as well as across the social web where buyers are looking for feedback from their peers. From reviews and customer referrals to case studies and references, passionate advocates can help support all stages of the buying cycle. They can also be incredibly powerful elsewhere in the company too, such as in product development, content creation or even recruiting. It’s a better way to develop 1:1 relationships with your customers at scale.

 "Don't be a lone ranger. Round up your advocates and create a stampede behind your brand."  was the theme for Influitive's   booth at Dreamforce 2015 in September.

 "Don't be a lone ranger. Round up your advocates and create a stampede behind your brand." was the theme for Influitive's booth at Dreamforce 2015 in September.

It’s like trying to get your best customers do your selling for you.
That’s part of it, but there’s so much more to it. Every company asks their customers the typical NPS (Net Promoter) question: on a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to refer our company to someone else you know? Companies collect that data, sit on it, and don’t actually ask their customers to do any referring or endorsing. That’s crazy! We take that one step further. Once customers say they like you and are having a great experience, you can ask them to become an advocate for you in all the ways that make the most sense for them. Every advocate is different, but when you provide the right experience for them, they become more engaged with and loyal to your company.

How is building an advocate marketing program different from marketing to prospects?
When you’re getting people into the funnel and pushing them through the buyer’s journey, it’s all very goal oriented – you want them to become a lead, then an opportunity, then a customer. That’s what marketing to prospects typically looks like.

Customer marketing used to be all about cross-sell/up-sell, getting more revenue. And it still is, but now there are so many more opportunities and it’s not just about sales. Everyone has a SaaS product now and you need customers to stick around because they don’t become profitable until years into your relationship. Companies must maintain those long-term relationships and making sure they have a strong connection to your company helps you keep them long enough to be profitable for you.

You should also be asking your advocates to help you get more customers. People don’t believe ads – even content if it’s coming directly from the brand. They need social proof from their peers. The only way to get that is by engaging your customers and weaving their social capital into your marketing.

"Advocates help your content production, budget and distribution go so much farther."

How does this change your messaging? You said you’re very content-centric. Are you writing less about yourself, more about others?
Definitely. Our advocates drive our content marketing strategy from the beginning to the end. From ideas and requests all the way to production and promotion, we’re always running experiments to see what else we can do with our advocates. We’ll share multiple eBook titles or graphic treatments with our advocates and get them to vote for their favourite.  You can get them involved in the minutia of content production. It’s really cool to be able to engage people that way. Our customers are marketers. They want to raise their profiles, get their personal brands out there, and be seen as thought leaders in the industry. So any way we can help them do that, we try really hard to do so.

At this point, we have hundreds of advocates supporting us in our content efforts. I feel really lucky to have that and I think Influitive has ruined me for working anywhere else [laughs]. It would be really challenging to do all of this without an advocate marketing program. Advocates help your content production, budget and distribution go so much farther. 

So where does someone start? How do you build outreach to your customer base, or get your team involved? I always hear people say “We’ve asked too much from Acme Co.” or “We’re not in a great place with them.”
Yeah. I think that’s why a formal advocate program needs to be in place. When people say that they mean, “We’ve sent our customers too many emails, they’re sick of hearing from us, or they’re ignoring us.”

One, emailing customers to ask them to do things isn’t ideal. Everyone gets so many emails. It’s really hard to stand out against thousands of other emails. Two, there’s nothing in it for them.  They give you what you want, you say thank you, then you go on your way. It leaves them feeling like they helped, but they don’t know what they got out of the deal. It’s not to say everyone is selfish, but there should be something for them – especially if you want them to help you more than once.

With an advocate marketing program, instead of emailing your customers those requests, the asks are just there and they’re tailored to the person who’s looking at them: whether that’s by region, by products they use, by their seniority – you probably shouldn’t show the same ask to a co-ordinator as you would a CMO, for example. Just like with content or social media, you have to know who you’re engaging with.

From there they should see what they get in return, even if it’s just a thank you. When you use an advocate marketing platform, you can give them points, perks and access to your company they couldn’t get anywhere else. 

You’re trying to get them to opt-in to programs instead of constant outreach?
Yeah – the idea is that it’s somewhat exclusive. All of your customers won’t be in there, just top advocates who get that direct access to the company. It’s also about building a larger community related to your product, or company, or its services. Having the opportunity to network with other people who are like them and build a network of peers, is also appealing to a lot of people. Not only can they interact with those people, they can build their social capital with peers through the advocate marketing platform.

"It’s not just who you’re selling to, but who your customers are after they’ve bought your product."

What are the biggest challenges with running an advocate marketing program?
1) Securing budget and resources can be tricky because it’s typically not already a line item in the marketing budget. Having CMO level support is important; if they don’t see the value or potential right away, it can be hard. You’re constantly trying to prove the value. That’s a challenge before you even implement a platform, or if you’re doing things ad-hoc without one.

2) Although there is a lot of automation and scaling in advocate marketing, it’s a very personal thing. It requires a personal touch and a lot of creativity. You have to really know your advocates, both on the whole and in personal relationships, and let them get to you know you. It’s understanding not just who you’re selling to, but who your customers are after they’ve bought your product. The persona you’re selling to and the end user (who actually become your advocate) are different. 

3) Keep things fresh – you need people coming back all the time. My colleague Truman Tang, our advocate marketer, is always trying different experiments with Influitive’s own advocate marketing program, VIP. It’s not a set-it and forget-it type thing, it’s ongoing. It’s a living, breathing community. You have to feed and water it every day. That can be a challenge, but it’s also super rewarding for those who do it right.

It seems like there’s a lot of up-front work in getting started, even just educating your team internally. Where should people go to learn more? Who should they follow on Twitter?
1) Plenty of analysts are already talking about advocate marketing, so they’re a great place to start. Check out Megan Heuer (@megheuer) and Bob Peterson at SiriusDecisions, Hank Barnes (@Barnes_Hank) at Gartner, and Laura Ramos (@lauraramos) at Forrester. They’re all talking about advocate marketing and have some great resources if you want to learn from non-vendor sources.

2) As Influitive’s content marketer, it’s my job to educate people on what advocate marketing is and how to do it really well. I would encourage curious marketers to check out our blog and the many eBooks, customer success stories and other resources available on our website. A good place for beginners to start is The Advocate Marketing Playbook or 10 Award-Winning Advocate Marketing Success Stories.

3) Your peers. Talk to other marketers who are already doing advocate marketing and learn from them. You could post a question for them in the Influitive VIP Community right now or sign up to attend Advocamp (March 7-9, 2016 in San Francisco).

"There are people behind all of your customer logos, and people want to engage with other people."

Earlier you had mentioned advocate marketing going across the whole buyer’s journey. Is it truly going from awareness through to purchase and renewal?
Definitely. Advocate marketing is a bit of a misnomer; it has the word “marketing” in it, so people just hear marketing. But when you look at how it touches your organization, it impacts everything from product and development, to customer success and sales. There are so many ways to get people involved.

If you look at the buyer’s journey, advocates already impact the buying process a lot: reviews, social media – people are looking for social proof. If they don’t find it then your company is left out of their shortlist. Usually they’ll want to talk to someone before they buy, saying, “I want to talk to a customer who looks like me.” Providing that social proof upfront is best, but having a pool of references helps check the box.

Once they become a customer, leverage your advocate marketing program to onboard them. Make sure they have access to best practices and resources through all the steps you’ve set out for them. Even our customer success managers engage our customers through our advocate marketing program to help get to know their clients as people.

For example, when one of our customer success managers (we call them Advocacy Coaches) went away to get married, his out office notification said, “Go to the hub and give me your best tips for newlyweds.” Nothing to do with helping our company, but very personal. And he got an amazing response. Our customers gave all of these funny and touching marriage tips. You have to remember that there are people behind all of your customer logos, and people want to engage with other people.

And to finish up – what’s your favourite ‘90s dance song?
This is a really cheesy answer, but everybody loves this song even if they pretend to hate it, it’s We Like To Party by the Vengaboys.

I like that song!
Everybody says they hate it because it’s so cheesy. But they love it.

It feels like the ‘90s.