Why You Must Rethink Your Marketing

How would your marketing change if your goal was to create advocates and not sales?

My brain cells began to ignite when I heard Steve Knox ask that question in the Brains on Fire FIRE Sessions last week.

Really stop and ask yourself that question: How would your marketing change if your goal was to create advocates and not sales? 

It’s not blasphemy – it’s brilliance. As Steve went on to explain, “advocates beget advocates,” (they capture the hearts and minds of others and the truth within your brand), and advocacy decreases acquisition costs and increases loyalty. Increased sales and profitability would be the natural result.

According to Steve, advocacy marketing is the new dimension of marketing that will transform how companies do business. No longer will brands advocate on their own behalf, as they have for the past 100 years.  People will be increasingly enabled to advocate on a brand’s behalf, and those people who we know and trust will become the most powerful advocates of all. 

What will be required for companies to be successful? Real relationships with people…people who will, in turn, become trusted advocates.  But it will all start with relationships with people.

We don’t talk about people much in marketing.  Instead, we talk about consumers and customers and shoppers and clients.  As Steve shared, we are on the verge of these words transforming to “people.”  Because if we want to create advocates we must first create relationships with people, which means we must treat them as people and talk about them as people and yes, alas, we must converse with them as people.

Kathy Sierra wrote a blog post five years ago detailing the results of a study in the Journal of Educational Psychology that showed when the brain thinks it’s in a conversation it will pay more attention and “hold up its end.”  She went on to explain that when you are reading something that is written in a conversational format your brain will register that it’s not in a face-to-face conversation but, because of the conversational tone, it will pay much more attention.  I suspect it will also – dare I imply it – be more likely to become engaged.

She ended her post with a truly brilliant line, “If your brain had a bumper sticker, it would say: I heart conversation.”

How many marketers are putting 2 and 2 together and recognizing that the most obvious and direct route to sales and profitability starts with conversations with individuals – who, at their core, love to converse – that lead to relationships that lead to advocacy?  And how many feel truly fortunate to be working in marketing today when it’s never been easier to start those conversations?

What’s even more exciting? Going a step beyond, as Brains on Fire is doing, and enabling advocates to amplify their passion and ignite movements. 

In an era of price pressures, private label products, global competition and rapid technological improvements to product features, a movement stands apart and cannot be replicated.  It is the competitive advantage that can’t be usurped…

I can think of a number of things I’d encourage my clients to do differently if they courageously asked themselves how they could refocus their energies on creating advocates rather than driving sales.

How about you?  Will you rethink your marketing?

Please share with me in the comments…

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Photo is Heart by Seyed Mostafa Zamani


  1. Lisa, brilliant. Brilliant post. And as for Kathy’s remark: “Psychology that showed when the brain thinks it’s in a conversation it will pay more attention and “hold up its end.” Spot on. THAT is why no one reads legal contracts.

    I am so glad we have found each other!
    Robbin Phillips´s last blog post ..FIRE Sessions photo roundup

    • Thank you, Robbin. I hope that it’s clear to everyone how much I learned from – and was inspired by – the Brains on Fire FIRE sessions. :)

      Yes, I loved Kathy’s comments about the study and thought they fit so well into what we talked about last week.

      I’m so glad that we’ve connected as well, and so honored that I was invited to attend last week! It meant a lot to me to be there and I relished every moment of it!

      I hope to see you and the rest of the BoF team again soon, all the very best – Lisa

  2. Lisa,
    There is a temptation to show people how much we know. This is easier than creating advocates. If we want to develop advocates we have to do the hard work of community building and del in the “messy” world of emotion. In my nonprofit world it is nice to have “donors” but advocates are the ones who bring energy and action. Like so many things, our ability to tell and share stories is beaten out of us by the time we enter our teen years.
    Hans Hageman´s last blog post ..Founders Club – Better A Member Than An Employee

    • Oops, I meant “deal” and that sharing our stories is the easiest way to engage in deep conversation.
      Hans Hageman´s last blog post ..Founders Club – Better A Member Than An Employee

    • Hans,

      Isn’t it so true what you’re saying about sharing our stories…it’s the way we learn to trust each other and peel off the layers. And we know someone trusts us when they start to share those stories with us…

      I love the words “energy” and “action” when it comes to advocates and you’re right about donors (and “supporters”) – they are much more static roles. We need both in our non-profit worlds, but if “advocates beget advocates” as Steve says, then perhaps focusing on advocates might help us move some of those donors to advocate roles and bring in more donors/advocates behind them… I’m thinking of it like Jim Collins’s fly wheel that once it gets put into motion starts to pick up speed…!

      Thank you, as always Hans, for sharing your insights and frustrations!

  3. Lisa – I love this post! I work mainly in B2B, where advocates are absolutely critical to build interest and credibility in my clients’ solutions. Most of the companies have active customer reference programs, which is one way of trying to build advocacy, but those programs are usually sitting off in a side corner of the marketing organization rather than front and center. And there are many other ways.

    Most important, of course, is having great products, services, and solutions in the first place. Without that, the best marketing in the world doesn’t matter much. But marketers need to do a lot more to help ensure those great offerings with more research, collaboration, co-creation with customers, etc. They can’t just sit back and wait for other groups to throw their offers over the wall at them.

    We also need to focus more comprehensively on the entire customer experience, seeing how we can minimize friction, simplify doing business with us, and looking for opportunities to surprise and delight our customers. And then we just need to listen a whole lot more!
    Rob Leavitt´s last blog post ..Strengthening thought leadership marketing- Five steps to excellence

    • Thank you, Rob – I am so glad you came by and shared your experiences!

      You know what I love most about your comment? You’re recognizing how critical advocates are rather than saying, “This doesn’t apply in B2B” and you’re challenging the B2B world to really step up and take ownership of creating relationships with your customers. I just love it! You have no idea how often I hear, “This just doesn’t apply to me…I’m in B2B…”

      And I love your comment about listening – it’s one of the key mantras of the Brains on Fire movement. I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of their book (entitled “Brains on Fire”) that comes out at the end of the month. We received an advance copy at the FIRE sessions and I know it will give you some great ideas that you can take back and implement.

      Thanks again for stopping by, Rob – so honored to have you here!

  4. Lisa this is a great post. This is why I *love* social media, because as we use social media, we have to teach ourselves to realign our priorities as marketers. We have to go from ‘I want to use social media to get more sales’ to understanding that ‘If I use social media to create something of value for my customers, THEN I will get more sales’.

    Same logic is at play here. A company can start out with the DIRECT goal of creating more sales via marketing. But if they instead thought about creating more advocates/evangelists, then the entire thought process is reshaped.

    PLUS, the beauty of this approach is, they’ll STILL get those extra sales they wanted to begin with.

    One very important and additional consideration when creating brand advocates is this. A brand advocate speaks in a voice that we can better understand and relate to, because it is our own. Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell had a great point in their book Creating Customer Evangelists: “Your evangelists understand your target market better than you do because they ARE the target market!”

    And then as you begin to develop your brand evangelists, if you can begin to engage directly with THEM, then you can use their feedback to improve your marketing efforts. Slowly, THEIR voice begins to become YOUR voice when you communicate with your customers. And your customers will sense this change, and begin to LISTEN to what you say to them, and perhaps over time even begin to TRUST you.

    All of which makes the cycle for creating brand advocates even easier.

    GREAT post Lisa, you are sparking some incredible conversations this week, the #firesessions definitely agree with you ;)
    mack collier´s last blog post ..Making the business case for social media &amp getting buy-in from the boss

    • Mack,

      I love how you talked about the entire thought process being “reshaped” – I actually think it’s a better word than “rethink” because (1) it implies action and not just thinking about doing something differently and (2) it’s not a word that is likely to put others on the defensive. Meaning, if I say to someone, “I think we need to reshape the process a bit” they are less likely to be defensive than if I say, “We need to change our marketing.” Is it too late for me to change my post title???!!! ;)

      Thank you for sharing what you learned from Jackie and Ben as well – I have not read their book but will put it on my reading list (after I finish “Brains on Fire” and “Brand New World”)! It’s a pretty cool thing to think that your evangelists’ voices will become your brand voice – but I suspect this concept might be a bit intimidating as well to the C-Suite. I can just imagine the conversation…”But what if we don’t like our evangelist’s voice…?” I suspect that there will be a learning curve whereby leaders realize that by going through the listening process with their customers, and by empowering their true advocates, that inherently there will be a level of trust created along the path to morphed voices. What do you think, Mack?

      But then, following your reasoning – yes, I can see how once you get to the point where your voice has actually become the voice of your evangelists, then Steve’s assertion that “advocates beget advocates” would start to really gain momentum because the voice of the advocates sounds a lot like the voice of the “advocate-to-be…”

      Am I making any sense here or do I need more coffee??!! ;)

      Thanks for your amazingly kind words, Mack – and yes, the #firesessions definitely were a highlight of my year! ;)

      • Lisa, I think for the company, connecting with the evangelists, and understanding them enough to speak with ‘their’ voice would be a VERY gradual process. So I think by the time they DO reach that point, they would be comfortable enough with connecting and embracing their evangelists, that the fears would be removed by that point.

        At least that’s how we draw it up on paper ;) And you always make sense, it’s one of your strengths ;)
        mack collier´s last blog post ..Making the business case for social media &amp getting buy-in from the boss

  5. Lisa,

    Couldn’t agree more. I’ve always asked clients to consider how they’d treat their customers if they were ambassadors versus transactions. What metrics would you measure that you don’t measure now? How would your customer service training change? What would the experience be like vs what it is like today.

    It’s a shame more companies don’t take this approach. But until they do, the rest of us (and our clients) are going to get the jump on them.

    tom martin´s last blog post ..Todays Thirsty Thursday of Knowledge – QR vs 2D Codes

    • Tom,

      Then you are way ahead of the game and I have such incredible respect for that. There are so many truly smart marketers that I am just now meeting (through Twitter, no less) who I wish I’d met and started learning from years ago…

      Yes, you do treat an ambassador a bit more like royalty than you do someone with whom you have a transactional relationship, don’t you? And I love your comment about measurements – not only would you probably add a few new ones but you might even rearrange some of them by priority. And you’d probably be unsatisfied with anything but a very high retention rate…

      No wonder you’re so incredibly successful and have clients who love you…! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, Tom. :)

  6. Marketers are doing two things right now. First, they’re scrambling to get into the conversation. Some are doing a lousy job of it and are using Web 1.0 megaphone approaches but others are beginning to engage customers by being advocates as you describe. The second thing that is going on is tons of measurement. The tools are now out there to measure return of investment and this is still a major decision criteria for allocating resources to a social media presence.

    • Jesse,

      I think you’re right about both – the megaphone and the measurements. My concern is that since many are – as you say – doing a lousy job and using the megaphone approach, that they will abandon their efforts because the measurements are likely to show a very small ROI. If this happens before these companies start to actually develop relationships with their customers then it would be a real shame…

      I’m so glad you came by today – thank you for taking the time to comment! See you on #blogchat? :)

  7. Dan Durant says:

    People hate to be sold, but love to buy. My best clients, the ones I get the most referrals from, are ones that I walked with long before they bought…

    • Dan,

      Beautifully said. And when we buy, we buy with our gut and justify with our head. If you’ve walked with those customers for a long time then they’re at the point that they don’t even need to justify with their head – when they’re ready to buy they’ll just know it’s right.

      Thank you, Dan – honored to have such smart people stopping by today. :)

  8. Lisa;
    Thank you for the kind words. Advocacy marketing has the potential to reshape the marketing world in new and exciting ways. We first have to make the choice (wish I could add an underline there) to have a relationship with people. We know how to do this….we do it everyday in our personal lives…..but somehow these skills leave us when we put our marketing hat on. Be willing to give of yourself (with no expectation in return); we willing to listen and respond; we willing to be surprising.
    To some this is scary. I think it is an unbelievable exciting new way to be a marketer!!

    • Steve,

      So honored to have you stop by and it was such a pleasure meeting you in Greenville last week!

      Isn’t it striking that we have to make a choice to have a relationship with people? I really loved how you pointed out in your presentation that we’ll be talking about consumers as “people” – in the future. That we’re not actually there yet… That concept really hit home.

      I wonder if the reason that we have a harder time doing these seemingly natural things with our marketing hats on is that we know we need to measure our marketing initiatives. Is it easier to measure when we hold ourselves at a distance, I wonder? Because we certainly don’t have that measurement mindset when creating relationships in the real world…

      Thank you for the added pieces of wisdom in your comment – it means a lot to me that you would share them with my readers. And I agree – it’s an exciting new way to be a marketer, and I think an exciting time to be a marketer!

      All the very best, Steve~

      • Lisa, I didn’t get to meet you at the FIRE Sessions but I certainly left with the same level of inspiration as you have!

        I think you’re close to the right answer as to why it’s not natural to think about consumers as people. Our daily marketing lives are a struggle to find out how to “get something” out of every interaction, whether it’s an agency contract negotiation, a media buy, an internal client or constituent, even our lateral colleagues and our direct reports. It’s only natural that this translates to our behavior with customers, where we’re looking to “get” sales, or a click, or an eyeball. As marketers we’re built to find the angle or the benefit while giving away as little as possible. It’s done with good intentions (most of the time), but it’s not seen that way by outsiders.

        Personally I think this is the root of why marketing is often seen as evil or clueless or disconnected by the rest of the organization and by our customers.

        It will be interesting to start to experiment with a more empathic and altruistic approach to marketing (inside, and outside the company).

        • Sean,

          Next time we’ll have to be sure to connect – I love your insights! It’s so funny that you mention marketing being seen as evil, clueless and disconnected… I actually started my career in accounting (that’s my shameful secret…don’t tell anyone) and it was the marketers who were doing all the cool things and making big things happen. I got my MBA, moved into marketing and never looked back, and the only time I felt like I was being treated as “evil” was when I was dealing with the sales guys who wanted me to lower prices…but that’s another post for another day! :)

          I agree with you – it will be interesting to see how things unfold over the next few years! We’re lucky to be marketers at such a dynamic time. :)

          I’m so grateful that you took the time to comment, Sean! I really do hope to see you next year in Greenville, if not before – perhaps at a conference. All the best!

  9. Reach + Frequency = move targets toward brand-desired action. That’s the old way of thinking – and I must confess, I still find it hard to root out all the tentacles of it.

    Personal involvement + adding value = moving people to love the (person/brand) and bring along others.

    Old thinking means adding customers. New/old thinking means creating advocates who will bring new customers.

    Thanks for bringing this to the forefront. It’s already been re-shaping how I view my closest clients…
    Steve Woodruff´s last blog post ..That Personal Brand Thing – it’s Baaack!!!!

    • Steve,

      I’m thrilled to know that it’s making you think differently. As I tried to make clear in the post – it really got me thinking differently as well, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

      Knowing you I suspect you must already be doing this in some form…because you absolutely excel at creating relationships and cultivating those relationships. Please let me know how you use Steve’s insights in the future – I’ll be curious to know how you end up reshaping things!

  10. Speaking as one who loves a good conversation, your post resonated with me like you wouldn’t believe…

    What SOOOO many CEOs, Managers, Directors, etc don’t realize is that sales are a natural byproduct of advocacy…

    You use the word “courageously” re: your clients and where I would use a different word that starts with “b” and ends in “alls”… the same principle.

    Have the guts to do this.. have the guts to consider, even for a second the fact that forging a relationship with someone will increase your chance of a sale exponentially than just going in cold…

    Is it me or is that just plain old common sense?

    Maybe it’s me…
    steve olenski´s last blog post ..Are You Disruptive

    • Steve,

      LOL, we goddesses don’t use that “b” word, it just isn’t goddess-like. Not that I disagree with you…. :)

      It’s sense but not necessarily common. And it’s long-term v. short-term thinking, right? And which is likely to lead to monthly or quarterly sales – the quick moves, not the ones that require an investment of my time and my team’s time…right? I think that’s what we pot-stirrers are up against.

      I really hope we’ll get to meet sometime soon – I think we’d have a truly enjoyable conversation! Perhaps we’ll have to rope Drew in and find a way… :)

  11. Lisa
    I enjoyed this post and reading through the comments. One of the challenges that we face as marketers and community builders is the temptation to measure everything. Particularly in our current economy measurement has taken over.

    I was asked last week by a client “how do you measure relationship?” And I’m sure they would ask you “how do you measure and advocate?”. While I wish the discussions of measuring everything – even a handshake – would go away, I think they are here to stay for a while. Any tips that you might have on this would be welcome.

    And thanks again for provoking the conversation.


    • Jane,

      Such great questions… I agree with you – sometimes I’d love to see the question of measuring everything go away because I can’t imagine any joy in a career devoid of relationships and collaborations. So much so that measuring them seems irrelevant.

      Yet, at the same time, I understand the need to show that there is a return on initiatives that take the focus of executives and teams and resources.

      I think the measurements would vary by company. One of my clients is a membership organization. If they were to create an advocacy initiative and empower certain members to talk about the organization and to educate others, then we could directly measure the number of new members that join the organization because of these people, and we might be able to measure the number of members who were considering leaving but changed their mind and are re-engaging with the organization. We could also look at the number of members who, on their own, reach out to the advocates and ask how they can get involved in the program as well…

      So, depending on the company and what kind of movement the advocates are actually igniting, you’d want the measurement to reflect the impact of certain actions.

      But these are just my own, sketchy thoughts – I’d love to hear what others have done or how they’ve been successful at measuring advocacy! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Jane – I really appreciate it! Have a fantastic weekend!

      • Sales is and always will be a measure of all for profit businesses. But the interesting thing is this: Marketing is not in a silo anymore. Never has been really. I used to get so frustrated as a marketer with how many things are out of our control. Customer service, delivery times, etc.

        Creating advocates and a closeness to customers affects hiring, morale, productivity and most of all product and service innovations.

        I wrote a blog on “closeness to customers” and it’s effect (I hope I am spelling that right) on a company’s growth.


        The short answer: Engaged advocates have an impact on the way a company thinks. I have seen that first hand. It was so reward to see that a company as large as P&G is starting to validate this. (Thanks again Steve.)
        Robbin Phillips´s last blog post ..People who inspire me to learn more

  12. Lisa, Great thoughts and terrific responses in the comments.

    The same issues you raise with companies applies to individuals as well. As a career coach, I counsel clients on career marketing – creating advocates through relationships. Folks who create solid relationships with others who will advocate on their behalf, get business – i.e., jobs. As Hans noted, stories are the great way to build those relationships.

    ~ Scott
    Scott Woodard´s last blog post ..From Passion to Purpose

    • Scott,

      Thank you so much for adding that great insight.

      Since I work with two networking organizations I see your point in action every single day. People who truly do take the time to develop relationships with others have no trouble getting recommendations for business or when they’re looking for a new job. Those who only reach out when *they* need something – well, that’s a whole different story.

      And as for stories – I think you bring up a great point. We really begin to trust each others as people when we share our stories and our truth with each other.

      Thank you so much, Scott!

  13. Lisa,
    A wonderful piece. As I work myself up to a phone call, an email or even the best a face-to-face, I always try to put that person squarely in my mind. It was almost miraculous that the other day as I was emailing an old girlfriend from 30 years ago that I remembered her birtthday (which of course was the day that I was communicating)

    So much is lost when we don’t ask about the family or the vacation and so much is gained when we can share the experiences that may have coincided with our business partner’s.

    The treasure that I have found is that regardless of the sensitive or insensitibe nature of your communications with someone else; always spend a few minutes thinking about them first and bringing to mind what you truly know about them. Not to be cliche, but ‘priceless!’

    • Hi Steve,

      I think that’s a beautiful and wise practice! I really appreciate you sharing it – and I hope she appreciated that you remembered her birthday. I know I would. :)

      Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment – I really appreciate it!

  14. If you are just focused on the sale then that is in essence all you will have. Just a piece of paper with a signature that has value only in its singularity. Advocates are clearly defined here in your post. The struggle most have and even for myself at times is how do you successfully make that transfer from something that has been a solid model for so long. Companies in general have such a hard time breaking from the norm. Even my boss kind of scratched her head when I told her what my approach would be.

    As marketers make that change it is so important that along that long road that they still define how they are going to reach those goals. This is always full of trial and error but if the end result is achieved then sustaining your brand becomes that much easier. Hugs Lisa!
    Jonathan Saar´s last blog post ..Property Management Visions- Do You Really Have a Good Idea

    • Jonathan,

      Agreed – that’s why I think you’re going to love the Brains on Fire book. They give concrete examples of what they did, step by step, to ignite movements. It takes a different mindset but seems to make all the difference in the world. You might even want to buy your boss a copy… :)

      Hugs back!

  15. Hi Lisa,
    I have been reading your blog and tweeting, but have not had time to comment. Tomorrow I am leaving for a few days, so wanted to touch base with you.
    You are so correct about rethinking the marketing and creating relationships with people.

    I am wondering if can we replace the words “advocate” and “evangelist” with “champion”?

    To me, advocate has a legal aspect and evangelist has a religious aspect.

    Any thoughts, or do I really need a few days off?

    Judy Helfand´s last blog post ..84 Things You May Not Know About Me!

    • Judy,

      I hope you’re enjoying your time away!

      I think it’s up to you – if “champion” works better for you that’s fine – as long as there is the expectation of actually “doing” and not just “cheering” (which is the impression that the word champion sometimes leaves me with). :)

      Looking forward to chatting more upon your return!

  16. Hi, Lisa. First-time commenter. Realigning marketing efforts to strive for brand advocacy makes sense for a lot of reasons, most notably because research supports that people trust advocates more than any corporate megaphone message, no matter the medium.

    That said, I’d be interested in your thoughts on how to convince the stereotypical “I care about nothing but the bottom line” executive of the value of spending more time pursuing advocates than impressions. Believe me, I get the strategy. I think many PR/Marketers do. But these same folks struggle to get buy in from leaders that want to see more than just “buzz” from communicators.

    Guess what I’m asking is do you have tips for changing the old school mindset and also working within old school models until that transition begins to take place?

    Hope that makes sense. Enjoyed your post and will be back :).

    • Hi Justin,

      I’m so glad you’re here and I really appreciate your kind words.

      I think every marketer is faced with the challenge of creating short term returns. What I’d do is create a group of strategies designed to meet your objectives – some more long-term in nature. What you would show is that over time these long-term strategies of transforming fans into advocates will multiply the sales and profitability impact. Any executive looking at a 5-year strategic plan should be impressed by that…

      For more specifics I highly recommend you grab a copy of the Brains on Fire book when it comes out at the end of the month! It will help give you some great ideas that are applicable to your specific business. All the best to you!


  1. […] "If I use social media to create something of value for my customers, THEN I will get more sales." Thank you Lisa Petrilli, you nailed it. If your prospect sees the value you've built in your brand because of your working social media […]

  2. […] The person in question is Lisa Petrilli who blogs over at LisaPetrilli.com. The aforementioned quote was in a 2010 post of hers entitled “Why You Must Rethink Your Marketing.” […]

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