The trends and phases within our specialist part of the marketing world create focus and, bit-by-bit, move reference marketing forwards.

In the last couple of years we’ve discovered that:

  1. We are all ‘storytellers’
  2. Automation is not yet delivering on its promise
  3. Thinking ‘mobile first’ is a smart strategy
  4. and most importantly, we’ve moved from ‘customer’ reference to ‘customer advocacy’

So what exactly is the difference between a customer reference and a customer advocacy program? Ask ten people and you will get ten different answers.

Public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy‘ is the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of advocacy.

If we revise this slightly to ‘open support for, or recommendation of a particular cause, experience or policy‘, it becomes clear that advocacy can happen one-to-one on a phone call, at the coffee machine, or while out for a run; it doesn’t have to be any more public than that.

If advocacy is when someone, when asked, or of their own volition, says that they support or recommend something, well, customer reference programs have always given advocates opportunities to do just this. it’s nothing new.

In simple terms we see three levels of program:

  1. Case study program – creates assets. That’s it.
  2. Customer reference program –  a case study program plus it gives customers the opportunity to participate in other live reference activities
  3. Customer advocacy program – a customer reference program, but with a better long-term mutual value proposition (access and status)

If your reference program is more than a case study program then you are already, to a degree, running a customer advocacy program.

Maybe at the geek level advocacy might mean ‘points make prizes’ programs  and web badges (Studio D was a great example of this) but for sustainable advocacy programs, as in life in general, personal relationships based on two-way value exchange will win every time.

So congratulations! you’re more fashionable that you thought (ask for a raise).