Customers: they make the business world go round. They’re the reason we do what we do, and without them, we’d all be out of a job. But for all our professed understanding of customer value, we marketers often forget one key benefit they bring to the table: customers can be game-changing for the impact of your marketing team’s content.

And I’m not just talking about case studies here, people.

Should Marketers and Customers Be More Than Casual Acquaintances?

For many of us, customers are more concept than reality. We bring them in with exciting content, pass them to sales, and rarely think about them again. Sure, we might hear a gong when sales closes a deal or help produce a polished case study to use as sales collateral, but many of us probably couldn’t recite a comprehensive list of our buyers beyond the giants whose logos accessorize our homepages.

That needs to change.

Instead of cheering them on from a distance, it’s time we marketers began inviting our customers to be part of our marketing content—as blog contributors, webinar presenters, and more. By elevating their voices, we elevate our own.

View our on-demand webinar, Leveraging Customer Advocates, to get advice from the experts.

Your Audience Trusts Their Peers

Today more than ever, marketers are asked to do more than sell the particular features of their product or service. Confronting a buying market filled with consumers who complete the majority of their buying journeys without speaking directly to sales means that marketers have become educators, thought leaders, and influencers, too.

With access to more educational material than they can possibly read, watch, or listen to, our prospects can afford to be picky. And your marketing organization isn’t the only one working to saturate your niche: Your competitors are, too, which means that producing more than the other guys isn’t enough. Instead, your content must be fundamentally more valuable to earn the attention of your target audience.

How do you stand out among the noise? By being a voice people trust.

But building your identity as a trusted source isn’t easy, because modern audiences are savvy. They can shut out the noise and sidestep promotional content without a second glance.

To earn the right kind of reputation for your content, you’ve got to tap into people with industry cred. Traditionally, this means enlisting influencers or experts, but it also means going straight to the source to bring your audience insights from the voices they trust most: their peers.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, peer recommendations have the most influence on purchasing decisions of any form of content, earning a nod from 80% of survey-takers

Source: How Content Influences the Purchasing Process, Content Marketing Institute

The obvious conclusion is so clear that it almost doesn’t merit discussion: If you aren’t using your customers for case studies and customer reference calls, you need to get on that right away.

But these data clue us into something bigger than the importance of individual recommendations: the influence of peers at a more general level. Any opinions coming from a respected member of their own industry will be taken seriously—and are certainly more influential than something produced by a marketer. (No offense.)

So if we can get customers to use our channels as a platform for their thoughts, we’ve suddenly gained access to incredibly influential content that can bring our message along for the ride.

Customer Content is a Win-Win

It’s easy to see the invitation to a customer to contribute to top-of-the-funnel content as a one-sided request. Your customers are busy! They won’t want to take the time to write a blog or prepare a presentation for a webinar! And invariably, this will be true some of the time. (Let me be clear: this exercise will involve rejection.) But you might be surprised at the responses you get.

Why?

Because people love to be experts. We love to be recognized for what we do and celebrated for doing it well. Positioning ourselves as industry leaders is a priority for professionals everywhere; it’s not just us marketers who are interested in self-promotion.

Offering your top advocates a chance to showcase their success (loosely tied, of course, to their purchase of your product/service) and to elevate their personal brands isn’t an opportunity to be turned down lightly.

So invite them to be a featured contributor to your blog, (don’t worry if they aren’t natural writers—many execs are more than happy for your team to ghost-write content based on their ideas), interview them on your podcast or during a webinar, or include their quotes alongside other industry influencers in content and on social media.

The result? You get great content that speaks authentically to your audience, and your contributors get career-boosting publicity. Why aren’t we doing this all the time?

Where to Find Your Advocates

To start, reach out to people who are already champions. Reward those who have done case studies, reference calls, and online reviews with something more personally valuable than a contract discount: industry credibility.

These folks are already cheerleaders for your brand, and in most cases, they’re more than happy have you promote them in return.

But don’t just wait for advocates to come to you. There’s a lot you can do to cultivate customers to become advocates. Encourage them to start thinking about partnership opportunities from the moment they become customers, and share success stories with them when you partner with their peers. Once you get the ball rolling with easier advocacy targets, expand your reach. Ask customer success managers to point you to customers who are particularly successful in areas you care about. Now when you reach out, you’ll have plenty of evidence to support the value of working together.

The Takeaway

Customers are the most precious asset of your company. They bring in revenue, elevate the status of your brand, and wield influence to shape the conversations already happening among the members your target industry.

It’s time we marketers take a hard look at the importance of customer advocacy and build strategies that incorporate our customers into the ways we educate leads and evangelize our philosophy. Ultimately, it’s a win for everyone.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. I’ve invited Kapost’s own Customer Advocacy Manager, Amanda Grupp, and Gainsight’s Customer Marketing Manager, Amanda Meinert, to discuss why and how marketers can leverage customer advocates during the latest Kapost webinar. Watch it now.

Zoë Randolph

About Zoë Randolph

Zoë serves as a Marketing Manager at Kapost, where she writes long- and short-form content, conducts research, and runs webinars. When she's not contemplating the future of B2B marketing, you'll find her immersed in a book, talking politics, or agonizing over the mediocrity of Cal Bears athletics.