Consumer product companies are witnessing the early days of a profound transformation in interacting with consumers. A number of concurrent technology and social trends are changing the way consumer product companies connect with consumers, and more importantly how consumers interact with each other in influencing buying decisions.

Deloitte conducted a study in August 2009 to look at the issue of brand advocacy and how consumers engage with their favorite brands with the emergence of social networking. The study examined the behavior of surveyed consumers related to the purchase of their favorite brands, and their interaction with those brands. We surveyed more than 1,700 consumers in the United States across three categories to better understand and define brand advocates – those valuable consumers that have a favorite brand, spend an above-average amount on that brand, and are actively involved with the brand, through engagement and advocacy.1

Our analysis covered the consumer product categories of salty snacks, all purpose household cleaning solutions, and beer. We examined the characteristics and behaviors of participants identified as brand advocates to understand what influences them and the influence that they in turn hold.

While the term “brand advocate” is not new, the criteria we defined for a consumer to fit our profile of a brand advocate are unique.2  First, brand advocates not only spend more than the average consumer on their favorite brand and category, but also influence others. Brand advocates are much more likely to recommend products, share coupons or products, or suggest improvements or new products, compared to the average consumer. Second, brand advocates, while more tech savvy than the average consumer, may engage in either online recommendations (for example, via the Internet) or offline recommendations (for example, in person to friends and family). This criterion recognizes that there are advocates whose recommendations could be amplified were they to adopt social media tools. Third, brand advocates are not necessarily blindly loyal to their favorite brand. That is, they have high functional and emotional expectations from products, compared to the average consumer. Simply put – they expect more from brands and products. Finally, brand advocates are open to trying competing products based on recommendations and reviews.

Our survey analysis across these consumer product categories resulted in these key observations:

  • Brand advocates are a small, but very involved segment
  • Brand advocates are important as influencers, yet are open to influence
  • Brand advocates are hard to win over, but worth the effort
  • Once a brand advocate, not always a brand advocate

Additionally, we identified four critical activities that companies should consider in maintaining and growing brand advocates:

  • Embrace experimentation in social media, as it is a dynamic and evolving medium
  • Stay tuned to evolving conversations about your brand on both company and non-company supported social media
  • Bolster offline advocacy with online social media by paving the way for the next wave of social media users
  • Develop a dual-pronged approach to maintain and grow your base of brand advocates, an approach that recognizes that brand advocates do not tend to be blindly loyal

So the question is: how will you influence the influencers?

1 Methodology: A total of 2,621 nationally representative interviews were conducted online from 8/10/09 – 8/18/09. Respondents were exposed to three random categories from five categories including: salty snacks (n=1,726), all purpose household cleaning solutions (n=1,654), beer (n=774). The interview was approximately 20 minutes in length. All respondents were age 18+ (21+ to view beer category) and not employed in a sensitive industry.

2 Engaging Advocates Through Search and Social Media, Yahoo! Inc., December 2006, Sebastian Fernandez, Anne Frisbie, Michele Madansky, Erika Perzi Hermanns, Edwin H. Wong

About the Author

Pat Conroy is Vice Chairman, U.S. Consumer Products Leader with Deloitte LLP and Anupam Narula is Senior Research Manager, Deloitte Research with Deloitte Services LP.

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