Tracy Foster is the founder of ONA (pronounced ō’na), an emerging company that designs and sells fine camera bags and accessories for photographers. She was inspired to start her own company while on vacation in South Africa when she recognized a need for SLR camera bags that offered both function and style. She launched ONA in June 2010 focused on a simple vision: offering style-conscious photographers and photography enthusiasts camera bags that complement their lifestyles.
Foster makes a point that for startups and small businesses when it comes to allocating marketing dollars, value is the most important word. Business owners seek to gain maximum value and exposure with limited budgets. “Cultivating brand advocates who are excited to share their experience with you can be a low-cost, high-return marketing strategy, says Foster. In fact, building relationships with influential brand advocates can be less costly and more impactful than direct marketing, she adds.
Essentially, a brand advocate is someone who enjoys your product or service so much that they’re eager to tell others about it — whether that’s via social media or in real life, on their blog or in a publication. Brand advocates can be online influencers with millions of social media followers, or people who are active or well-respected in their industry.
“Brand advocates can create some of the best value for a small business or emerging brand. The word-of-mouth marketing that result from their kind words can exponentially increase your company’s profile and positive associations,” Foster says. “Keep them engaged as you grow and you’ll likely catch more brand advocates’ and influencers’ attention along the way.”
Here Foster offers seven ways entrepreneurs can turn a regular customer or industry influencer into an active, engaged advocate for their brand:
Befriend industry influencers. Thanks to the conversational nature of social media and the explosion of blogs in every niche and industry, marketing is now a two-way street that can benefit both sides. Reach out to people who would benefit from your product or service: introduce yourself, see about treating them to a coffee (if you live in the same city) and try to build a mutually beneficial relationship.
Trade product instead of advertising. Advertising is expensive, especially when it comes to print publications or high-traffic blogs. See if the writer or blogger would be interested in reviewing your product or potentially giving one away: the cost of the product (or even two!) is often much cheaper than direct advertising and it encourages a much higher level of engagement. Popular blogs are often open to creating a hybrid of traditional sidebar advertising and reviewing a product; try to couple product reviews with advertisements on the same site for maximum exposure.
Send snail mail. No matter how much of our lives are lived online, people still love to receive mail other than bills. If you have access to a key influencer’s address, buy some pretty stamps and a nice set of stationery and send them a note about how much you appreciate what they’ve done for your brand. The thrill of receiving a tweet from a brand wears off quickly, but a thoughtfully handwritten note is likely to be remembered.