In the olden days (you know – like ten years ago) advertising was neatly divided into two areas: above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL). The former consisted of television, cinema, radio and print. The latter revolved around direct mail, emails, banner, point-of-sale, leaflets, samples, competitions, telemarketing, etc. If you decided to advertise across the spectrum, you would be going through the divide from top to bottom, so to speak, which we call (with some imaginative verve) through-the-line advertising (TTL).
ATL encompasses a large, undefined audience while BTL is more targeted, more personal, offering in some instances, a one-on-one opportunity for companies to link with customers through initiatives such as in-store promotions, competitions, sampling and free gifts. There were many ways in which one strategy could be combined with the other, creating effective TTL advertising with both broad impact and individual connection. Today, in the new customer-connect world of the Internet, the most cost and contact effective strategy in TTL is concentrated in social media.
Whatever method chosen, the ultimate intent is to establish brand awareness, brand image and brand advocates. And the greatest of these is brand advocates – because brand advocates with love, loyalty and word-of-mouth, will make sales figures soar on minimum expense. The ultimate win-win for marketers.
The beauty of brand advocacy is that it allows fans to become an independent marketing channel for a company. Once good connections are developed with both customers and prospective customers, the power of Word-of-Mouth (WoM) gets to work. If a brand has already established a good image by creating both satisfaction and expectation in customers – and then builds upon this with further captivating marketing that entertains, informs and delights consumers – then the final step to encouraging people to warmly recommend your brand, is firmly established. And if they add social media to their communications, then you are creating marketing magic.
How through-the-line advertising builds brand advocates
If you are going to use the whole nine yards in your campaign, bringing in television, radio and print and taking the story through to in-store promotions, competitions and gifts, etc, you could possibly use storytelling to drive the campaign effectively across all media. Begin by reaching out to a broad, undefined audience using ATL advertising – something that tells the story of your product and its benefits in a one-way communication. Remember your brand advocates will be in this audience but perhaps not yet on your side.
Then utilizing any one or more of BTL promotions including posters, direct mail, demos, video, rewards, social media and gamification, you gradually bring the message closer and closer to evermore refined personal connection. This is where the customer is no longer a silent recipient but is beginning to engage personally. They take a pamphlet, try out the sample, enter the competition. Your story is beginning to become their story. They are entertained, bowled over, and rewarded for their response. With the advent of social media, this engagement becomes even more relevant and emotional. Companies can learn from their fans personal experience of the brand and use this information to drive future marketing strategy.
Changes in social media as a through-the-line strategy
The increase of brand advocates through social media is almost priceless. Social media allows a brand to build broad-based meaningful connections with loyal customers at a rapid rate. This in turn, powers word-of-mouth, creating valuable organic networks. The built-in credibility that comes with brand advocates is marketing gold. Some will even turn brands into lovemarks, promoting the brand that goes beyond mere loyalty – in a way that persuades new consumers to try your brand based purely on the infectious enthusiasm of a passionate super-fan. Super-fans spread word-of-mouth with no thought of being rewarded in any way, but just because they are so satisfied with their brand experience they want everyone to share their feelings.
Social media is no longer about numbers but the value of good connections. Gone are the days of ‘vanity metrics’ because:
- Social media cuts through-the-line with efficiency from initial ‘broadcast’ type advertising and posts on Facebook and Twitter through to targeted messaging, videos, niche followings, one-to-one relationships, feedback, and instant lively conversations.
- Going TTL with your campaign you will use ATL to kickstart your story. Then using BTL you will amplify your story and hone in on customers specifically, constantly messaging across multiple media.
- The TTL high note tells the story of direct customer response through social media, allowing you to track effectiveness: who creates and who shares; who is the most influential; what is shared the most; what is being said; what medium is used the most; and what is the overall impact on sales.
How to sustain relationships with brand advocates
- Ever-fresh content is king. Always try to surprise your customer, keep them entertained and keep communications interesting.
- Allow the members of your network to engage freely with you, as well as with each other.
- Give them a variety of tools to create their own unique pieces of content that reflect who they are.
- Acknowledge their contribution, respond and share content.
- Greater personal engagement with customers is no quick-fix. It’s an ongoing operation that requires vision, planning and creativity to ensure brand advocates don’t lose interest.
- It means you have to go an extra mile to ensure relationships are strongly built. Show customers that you truly care about their dreams, desires and opinions. Never take them for granted.
Latest surveys confirm that 75% of consumers are more likely to try new things based on suggestions from others – whether they be friends, family or acquaintances, including mentions by brand advocates on social media. Word-of-Mouth is the by far the most influential driver of purchasing decisions for nearly all categories of products and services. And it’s not only about the biggest company or the most influential or the longest established – it’s about constant renewal of content, connection and caring. Brand advocates are only yours as long as they feel you are truly theirs.