Referral Marketing 101: How To Turn Customers Into Brand Advocates For Your Company

Referral Marketing 101: How To Turn Customers Into Brand Advocates For Your Company

Well-researched marketing techniques can pay dividends for your sales effectiveness. However, there is nothing quite so effective as personal referrals for drawing in customers. Research by Nielsen indicates that around 9 in 10 people trust referrals from their own social or business circle, leading to improved receptiveness to marketing, significantly higher conversion rates, and faster sales closures. The reasons for this are obvious: people perceive such advocacy as based on personal trust rather than sales incentives. How, then, do you turn existing customers into brand advocates

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What Do We Mean by Brand Advocate?

A brand advocate is simply someone who is not formally part of your company, but who is willing to recommend it to others. Advocates may be paid for their promotional services – such as influencers on Instagram, or they may to it for free, either formally or informally. Unpaid advocates may or may not consciously call themselves a brand advocate’ – usually not – but its the act of passionately and genuinely promoting your services to people in their network that counts. An advocate will promote your company informally for as long as they are happy with the service you provide them. This being said, some companies do find it useful to run brand advocacy or referral programmes, often linked to incentives or exclusive deals, as part of their customer retention strategy. Whether in B2C or B2B situations, the quality of your product or service is the vital starting point for brand advocacy. Recommending a service to a connection that then turns out to be sub-par is embarrassing for all concerned.

Allied with good communication both pre and post-sale, quality service is the cornerstone of customer satisfaction – and any successful referral marketing programme.

Quality Service

The primary factor that will encourage advocacy for your brand is quality products and services. This may not be as obvious as it seems, and expectations change, so try to gauge what customers are expecting from the market in which you operate and then exceed those expectations. This is not just about the core offering, but everything in the sales process, including post-sales follow-ups. Making the customer feel satisfied and valued is the best way to build a positive image of your brand that they are likely to share with others.


Make your business responsive to customers. After sales, gather feedback and respond to it genuinely. Make sure the customer feels that their feedback is valued and acted upon. A customer who feels listened to will be more likely to spread your message.

Make it Compelling

To enable the best distribution, make your brand easily shareable on as many social media platforms as are relevant to your target market. This is normally LinkedIn plus either Facebook and/or Twitter, and sometimes Instagram or YouTube. Ensure that there is interesting and novel content on your website and blog, and vary it up so that subscribers to more than one platform don’t get spammed with exactly the same content. Case studies showing your industry expertise and offering free promotion to your customers are valuable. Interested prospects and customers will share these readily on social media, as it is an effortless way to support the brand of businesses they respect. Reciprocate the favour by sharing material by suppliers, customers, prospects, and influencers, as this will win you good will in your sector.

For more formal or targeted advocacy, consider providing templates or a Q&A format for testimonials. This will save effort and provide content you can use on your blog. Also think about the best time to ask for advocacy. This may be at a successful early project key stage or after the product has bedded in successfully.


Give your customers the motivation to advocate your brand with some form of reward. Loyalty and referral programmes are commonplace in many businesses. For larger clients, you may consider discounts on service charges or a free service or product in return for advocacy.


There are also benefits for brand advocates themselves in making referrals. Provided referrals are of good quality, such advocates may become respected business connectors. If someone recommends you and it turns out really well, it reflects well on them and it raises their market authority – potentially garnering customer referrals for themselves. For B2B transactions this can be a very powerful mutual reinforcer of trust. You might also consider forming formal or semi-formal referral partnerships with businesses offering complementary services, where appropriate, for instance with your main suppliers and contractors.

Contractual Arrangements

For higher-end B2B sales, it may be appropriate to specify the terms of an advocacy relationship contractually. If this is the case, consider carefully the roles and responsibilities of each side, but be careful that the contract does not become a substitute for the good will that initiated the relationship to start with.

Not all of the considerations here apply to every business. They depend on the industry sector and the scale of brand advocacy. However, the core factors of quality service and communication remain. Remember that good brand advocacy thrives on business relations that are personal, rather than simply transactional. To find out more about referral marketing and how it can strengthen and complement a tailored inbound marketing strategy, please get in touch with JDR today.

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