Brands that deliver customer delight are more likely to create brand advocates. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Marketers spend a lot of time and money in developing effective brand communication in an effort to persuade customers to try their brand over the competitor’s.

At the same time, research has shown that customers are increasingly relying more and more on third parties to make their buying decisions than the traditional paid-for communications such as advertising. These third parties or advocates can be friends or family, experts such as doctors, social groups or journalists.

This is referred to as ‘brand advocacy’, which is the recommendation of a brand by one of these influencer groups. Since Bain & Associates identified that brands which have the highest levels of brand advocacy outgrow their competitive set by 2.5 times, businesses are increasingly looking at how they can maximise this advocacy.

In his book on brand advocacy, Bob Fuggetta argues that brand advocates are your most loyal, passionate and engaged customers and your best marketers. There is no doubt, particularly in this ever-connected world that we are living in today, that the importance of brand advocacy is even more.

Introduced by Reichheld in his 2003 Harvard Business Review article ‘One Number You Need to Grow’, NPS or Net Promoter Score (a registered trademark of Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company) has gone ahead to become an extremely popular measure of brand advocacy and, in turn, customer loyalty. The primary purpose of the NPS is to evaluate customer loyalty to a brand or a company, and not to evaluate their satisfaction with a particular product or transaction.

Single number indicator

So in essence, it may not be a complete replacement to what legacy customer loyalty research programmes offer but certainly an essential ‘single number indicator’ to marketers.

A just released study covering more than two dozen brands in the UAE reveals that the airline industry is doing a marvellous job when it comes to brand advocacy. As custodians of brands, the brand managers today need to have a focus in building brand advocates.

A few golden rules on how one can turn normal customers into brand advocates:

* Build a culture of performance, not conformance. Most brands try to merely satisfy customers, but those that go beyond satisfaction and deliver customer delight are more likely to create brand advocates. Data from our syndicated NPS I+ study shows that Emirates airline enjoys the highest NPS score among carriers, a function of its exceptional attention towards customer needs.

* Build a cult around your brand. In today’s world, it is not enough just to communicate a brand’s benefits/services. It is also important to create an aura around the brand, which sets its customers apart from those using competitive offers. Apple has been doing this successfully by creating cult following for its products, and this results in an extremely loyal set of customers. This is also substantiated by the NPS I+ study, where Apple’s NPS is way ahead of competition.

Customer experience

* It is customer service and experience of using the brand that has the most profound effect on brand advocacy rather than price. The NPS I+ study reveals that most of the leading brands in each sector did exceptionally well on customer service and building a strong experience. It so happens that these leading brands — Emirates among airlines, Jumeirah among luxury hotels and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) among banks — by virtue of superior customer experience are able to charge a premium for their service.

* Living up to promise. Predictability of service also has a lasting impact on the brand’s advocacy. It could translate to inflight experience, reward points or tariffs or the convenience of use of services depending on the industry.

One of the most interesting observations was to see most of the local brands registering the highest NPS in each industry, except smartphones where there is no local brand yet. Perhaps, local brands here have a better measure of the pulse of their customers than multinationals.

— The writer is associate vice-president for business and stakeholder research practice at AMRB.