Is advocate marketing just a new name for an old concept or a signal that your clients are fundamentally changing the way they are finding and hiring you?
A vendor phoned me up the other day to sell me “a new platform for my advocate marketing.” Well, I don’t even have an old platform for my advocate marketing. And, by the way, what’s advocate marketing?
I dutifully performed an online search for the term and found it hasn’t hit the dictionaries yet, but one self-professed “advocate marketing expert” defines it as the process of engaging and potentially incenting advocates of your products and services to digitally “share” their experiences. And based on that feedback, changes in business strategy can be made.
Hmm. Sounds like good marketing and research basics to me — but what do I know? I must have missed something. I was taught that a testimonial is a marketer’s most persuasive tool. And lawyers have been obtaining business forever through word of mouth. What’s the difference?
A referral by any other name . . .
Another global consultancy defines advocate marketing as encouraging “customers, employees, or partners to do something on behalf of your company with or without the expectation of mutual benefit.” Hmm, again. Sounds like a testimonial.
The part-time academic in me searched online sources for synonyms and origins of advocating and found: vouching for (origin around 1275); advocating (approx.1300); providing a testimonial (approx.1375); a recommendation (approx.1375); an endorsement (approx.1540, word of mouth (approx.1545); a reference (approx.1580); and a referral (approx.1930).
I was feeling validated that this was simply a new name for an old concept, until I asked myself whether this was really a signal for something bigger.
It’s something bigger
While other sources have similar definitions, they predict that advocacy marketing is the future of marketing investment. Getting deeper and deeper into articles, blogs, research, and comments on advocate marketing, I see what they are really trying to say is that, fundamentally, the way that people are selecting lawyers and law firms has changed. Therefore, people need to shift their spending patterns and increase the percentage of their business development and marketing expenditures to an online advocacy program.
Seismic shift in how people search, validate, and select lawyers/firms
If your objective is to find, mine, and engage prospects to close and retain their business, you have to understand what process they go through to engage you.
Multiple research studies still identify that people turn to people to find a lawyer or law firm. But, critical to note is that online searches and online resources (directories, social media, web sites, etc.) are now the top sources of finding, validating, and selecting you. Technology and social media have changed the meeting places for your advocates and referrers. Word of mouth has been digitized and amplified.
A seismic shift in how you are found, talked about, and hired has occurred. Has your business development and marketing approach changed to meet your future clients?
Back to basics
While business development and marketing tactics change with the times and technology — your solid, client-focused, sustainable, profit-maximizing strategy remains true. Research, plan, implement, measure, and continuously evolve. You need to spend time and money on research to understand how you get business and then on deploying initiatives that help you get that business effectively and efficiently.
Is advocate marketing the answer?
It’s probably part of the answer, but great business developers/marketers know that the answer really is “it depends.” It depends on your clients’ process to find and hire you. Some legal practices are still analog while others are 100-per-cent digital. You need to know where they are getting their information from – online or otherwise.
Advocate marketing: digital, gamified, word of mouth
I’m going to define advocate marketing as the digitized gamification of word-of-mouth. In essence, it is all about finding, and being found by, growing, and managing but not controlling positive, online supporters and communities.
It might include incenting your supporters and creating game-like activities to attract them to continually advocate on your behalf. It might include sponsoring content on legal opinion sites or client industry groups. It’s about cleaning up, consistently branding, and synergizing the online presence of your firm, lawyers, practice, and services. It also includes gathering, measuring, and using analytics to learn and improve.
Your efforts need to feel authentic and grow organically, not feel contrived; otherwise, it will backfire and you will damage your reputation.
In my most elementary definition, I interpret it as optimizing your online presence to achieve your business objectives. Same client-focused strategy updated for changes in how we interact and share information to make purchase decisions.