The Paradox of Negative vs Positive Advocacy

Last week we looked at the paradox of informed vs distracted consumers Today we are going to introduce the third paradox that being Negative Advocacy vs Positive Advocacy.

Connectivity allows consumers to express opinions that others may listen to.It changes the mindset of consumers to admit that advice from strangers might be more credible than a recommendation from celebrity brand endorsers.Thus, connectivity creates a perfect environment for consumer advocacy of brands.

Advocacy itself is not a new concept in marketing. Also known as “word of mouth,” it has become the new definition of “loyalty” during the past decade.Consumers who are considered loyal to a brand have the willingness to endorse and recommend the brand to their friends and family.

The most famous measurement of brand advocacy is arguably the Net Promoter Score designed by Frederick Reichheld. He argues that there are three broad categories of customers with regard to their attitude toward a brand: promoters, who recommend the brand; passives, who are neutral; and detractors, who are unlikely to recommend the brand. The Net Promoter Score is measured by the percentage of promoters subtracted from the percentage of detractors. The key argument is that the ill effect of negative word of mouth reduces the good effect of positive word of mouth.

While the concept has proven to be useful for tracking loyalty, the simple subtraction might leave behind some important insights. When a brand stays true to its DNA and consistently pursues its target segment, the brand polarizes the market. Some become lovers and others become haters of the brand. But in the context of connectivity, a negative advocacy might not necessarily be a bad thing. In reality, sometimes a brand needs negative advocacy to trigger positive advocacy from others. We argue that in many cases, without negative advocacy, positive advocacy might remain dormant.

Like brand awareness, brand advocacy can be spontaneous or it can prompted. Spontaneous brand advocacy happens when a consumer, without being prompted or asked, actively recommends a particular brand. In truth, this type of advocacy is rare. One needs to be a die-hard fan to be an active advocate. Another form of advocacy is the prompted advocacy—a brand recommendation that results from a trigger by others. This type of advocacy, while very common, is dormant. When a brand has strong prompted advocacy, it needs to be activated by either consumer enquiries or negative advocacy.

It is true that the balance between lovers and haters must be managed. Still, great brands do not necessarily have significantly more lovers than haters. In fact, BrandIndex reveals an interesting fact. McDonald’s, for example, has 33 percent lovers and 29 percent haters, a near balanced polarization. Starbucks has a similar profile: 30 percent lovers and 23 percent haters. From the Net Promoter Score point of view, two of the biggest brands in the food and beverage industry would have very low scores because they have too many haters. But from an alternative viewpoint, the group of haters is a necessary evil that activates the group of lovers to defend McDonald’s and Starbucks against criticisms. Without both positive and negative advocacy, the brand conversations would be dull and less engaging.

Any brand that has strong characters and DNA would likely be unpopular with a certain market segment. VB is an Australian iconic brand that comes to mind. But what these brands should aim to have is the ultimate sales force: an army of lovers who are willing to guard the brand in the digital world. The tattoos that Harley Davidson lovers imprint on their bodies bears testament to this.

The changing landscape creates a set of paradoxes for marketers to deal with, one of which is online versus offline interaction. Both are meant to coexist and be complementary, with a common aim of delivering superior consumer experience. Furthermore, there is a paradox of the informed versus the distracted consumer. Even as connectivity empowers consumers with abundant information, consumers have also become overly dependent on others’ opinions, which often outweigh personal preferences. Finally, with connectivity come enormous opportunities for brands to earn positive advocacies. Still, they are also prone to attracting negative advocacies. That may not necessarily be bad because negative advocacies often activate positive advocacies.

CMO Perspective: Jeff Jones – Target

At Target, we call our shoppers “guests,” and I’m lucky from the perspective that we’ve always been a guest-focused company. We haven’t had to teach our team that the guests matter. We have a purpose that is singularly focused on the guests, so the company’s clear on what we’re here to do. We talk about fulfilling the needs and fuelling the potential of our guests, which is a much bigger purpose than selling them things. In order for us to fulfill needs and fuel potential, we have to be empathetic to what it’s like to make eighty thousand dollars a year and have a family of four and have to feed and nourish and grow that family.

One of the things that exists inside marketing as the centerpiece for how we help the company be empathetic is what we call the Guest Center of Excellence. The organisation is part of my team. Their singular objective is to help the company continue to improve the level of empathy we have for those we serve.

A very specific tool that we employ is what we call Guest Immersions. An immersion is where we take the leaders of the business into a market and spend two days in homes with our guests, really trying to understand from their perspective what problems they are trying to solve, how they are trying to solve them, what roles different brands play in solving them, and what role Target plays in solving them. Nothing creates empathy for who you’re trying to serve more than being with them in their homes, talking about their lives, their families, and their challenges. Those immersions are a very powerful tool.

Obviously, with tens of thousands of team members, we have to be able to scale that capability. We have a centralized portal where we aggregate all of our guest knowledge on topics that people can access and leverage in their business. It ranges from teams in homes gaining true personal empathy to leveraging technology and tools to enable teams that scale to learn from all those lessons. We have to do both of those.

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