Sunday, 25 September 2011

Advocacy: Authentic? Propaganda? Or Lies, Damn Lies?

The role of advocacy has always played a key part in helping people make more informed decisions. Its influence is usually much stronger than brand generated marketing messages, especially when you are a recipient of positive word of mouth from a trusted source, such as a friend, colleague or family member. Google recently published their "Zero Moment of Truth" (ZMOT) document, which describes post stimulus behaviour, of people searching online within forums and social sites for "warts 'n' all" feedback on products and services. The initial "stimulus", which is typically traditional marketing, triggers the ZMOT behaviour for people who want to hear honest feedback from others who have had direct product experience.
This is very natural and logical behaviour, especially by people who like to weigh up their options before committing, but it's not new. The web, with all its social commentary and accessibility via mobile devices, just makes this whole research process much easier and faster.
Brands and businesses recognise the power of advocacy, which is why some are beginning to participate in less than ethical behaviour.
There are now sites out there such as Fiverr and Amazon's MTurk where people are offering to undertake certain low effort tasks for small sums of money. Some are quite humourous, some a bit bizarre, some genuine, but others are less ethical. Some businesses are paying them it "consumer review prostitution". Unfortunately, there are also members of the blogger community, thankfully a minority, who participate in such behaviour too.
Then, there are those reviews out there which have been written by the brands, or brand agencies matter how well these may have been written, there is usually something about them which sticks out like a sore thumb. The comments are sometimes out of context; or from a new member to a forum, or one who only pops up to talk about a specific brand/product. These are usually outed very quickly and the Money Saving Expert community are the masters at this. What may have seemed to be a good idea to post a positive brand comment in a forum, can quickly turn into a nightmare brand reputation issue.
Tripadvisor have always suffered from such activity and are now under the microscope again. A recent article in The Daily Mail quoted Chris Emmins of Kwickchex, claiming that up to 5 million reviews could be considered fake.
People aren't stupid. Genuine advocacy is easily recognised and it stems from people having a great experience with the brand, whether this is from actual product usage, a recipient of great service or from simple glowing admiration of what a brand stands for. Likewise, "fake advocacy" can be spotted and brands/businesses should beware, "dabbling" in positive word of mouth, without foundation, will damage consumer brand trust and produce the opposite effect. Negativity tends to spread faster.
As this consumer behaviour, to research forums and social platforms for genuine opinion, is now becoming a much more influential part of the customer journey, brands and businesses should think twice before considering participating in such behaviour. Concentrate on providing consumers with a great experience at every touchpoint of their journey, and advocacy will naturally follow.
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