Article | 17 min read

What is brand advocacy? (+ 8 strategies to boost referrals)

Turn the people who know your business best into brand advocates with head-turning reward programs and impressive customer service.

Last updated August 16, 2023

Sometimes, the best way to market your company is through the very people who use your products or services.

Brand advocacy can be a very effective tool for businesses looking to get the word out and expand market reach. There are several different types of brand advocates, all of which can positively impact your business. For example, customer advocates can encourage other individuals to buy from your business by sharing their unbiased experiences. And employee advocates, who know the ins and outs of your offerings, can share their brand expertise to garner trust with prospective customers, making them uniquely positioned to make sales.

But perhaps the most impressive benefits of brand advocacy are that it can be completely free and often yields better results than a paid campaign.In this article, we’ll explain how customer loyalty can turn buyers into brand advocates and how to create successful advocacy initiatives and partnerships.

What is brand advocacy?

Brand advocacy is when an individual positively promotes your business, usually by word of mouth and on social channels. Brand advocacy boosts your brand awareness and helps your business reach a larger audience than it normally would.

How is brand advocacy different from customer advocacy?

These two terms are very similar, and customer advocacy is a popular type of brand advocacy.

  • Brand advocacy: This type of advocacy occurs when someone recommends your business to others; and the advocate can be anyone, not just a customer.
  • Customer advocacy: This form of brand advocacy occurs when loyal customers share their experiences with your business and recommend it to others.

Benefits of brand advocacy

The importance of brand advocacy goes beyond free publicity and loyal customers. It can also help build your brand and positively affect marketing efforts.

“Brand advocacy programs are an important way to build relationships with your existing fanbase and help to expand it,” says Nicole Saunders, director of community at Zendesk. “They’re efficient and effective ways to scale marketing, build trust, and expand your brand reach.”

Some standard benefits that help businesses succeed include:

  • Impacting sales positively
  • Breaking into new markets
  • Helping you save money on marketing
  • Boosting brand awareness
  • Increasing customer engagement
  • Gaining access to fresh markets
  • Fostering customer loyalty
  • Building trust with new audiences

What is a brand advocate?

Brand advocates, sometimes called brand ambassadors, engage with companies and promote them to a larger audience with positive word-of-mouth marketing and reviews.

Who can be a brand advocate?

Anyone can be a brand advocate and includes, but is not limited to, customers, employees, influencers, and stakeholders. Employees tend to be particularly strong advocates because they understand the business and its product or service; though, every type of advocate excels in different situations (more on this later).

Types of brand advocacy

Brand advocacy can take many forms, but businesses usually focus on three advocacy types. These kinds of brand advocacy typically help companies stand out in even the most saturated of markets. Types include:

  • Customer advocacy
  • Employee advocacy
  • Influencer advocacy
    • Customer brand advocacy

      Customer advocates promote businesses through word-of-mouth reviews based on their experiences buying from a company. Customer advocates can promote businesses by:

      • Sharing the brand’s social media and blog posts
      • Linking to your business’s website on different channels
      • Providing word-of-mouth referrals
      • Showing off purchases on personal social media accounts
      • Writing reviews

      Customer advocates generally recommend a business to friends, family, and professionals in their network if they have a positive experience. Customer advocacy can be a wildly successful strategy if you spend a lot of time on lead nurturing and craft exceptional customer experiences at each stage of the sales funnel.

      “When customers share their positive experiences with others, it goes further to build trust than when the brand simply speaks for itself—this translates into higher conversion rates,” Saunders explains. “When potential customers hear about a brand from someone they trust, they are more likely to become customers themselves.”

      Another benefit of customer advocacy is that you can share user-generated content and testimonials on your business’s social channels, showing potential buyers that your brand has a strong community of individuals who can attest to the quality of your products or services.

      Employee brand advocacy

      Employee advocates promote businesses based on their knowledge and experience working for the company. Some ways employees can promote your business include:

      • Sharing their work and business outcomes on social media
      • Telling others about their employer’s services and successes
      • Sharing company news, services, and job openings on social media
      • Representing their company at professional events
      • Bringing in leads from their personal and professional network

      Another key demographic that can help boost brand awareness and sales are employees.

      These essential advocates know your business better than anyone and are in a unique position to promote it well. Better still, employees already know the types of customers a business is looking for and can create more meaningful connections.

      Many businesses prefer to invest in the employee experience to organically boost word-of-mouth referrals since employees are typically credible sources and their advocacy is more cost-effective than traditional advertising. For even more employee participation, consider creating an employee advocacy program or added incentives to help keep employees engaged and ensure a positive employee experience (EX).

      Influencer brand advocacy

      Influencers get paid to promote businesses by posting about them on social networks where they have a large following. Influencer advocates can promote businesses by:

      • Sharing a brand’s content with their followers
      • Creating sponsored content using a brand’s products
      • Sharing affiliate links and discount codes with their audience
      • Promoting contests, giveaways, and promotions

      Also called brand ambassadors, these brand advocates are paid a fee to promote a business using social media marketing. For businesses that prefer organic referrals, these brand advocates may not be the best fit, but depending on the industry, influencer advocates can bring in great results.

      Ambassadors share your business’s content to help amplify your brand and influence their followers’ purchasing decisions.

      Create better customer experiences with our 2023 trend report

      Discover the secret to offering customer service that impresses customers and encourages business growth. Read the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023.

      Elements of a successful brand advocacy program

      A good brand advocacy program can bring your business sales and loyal customers, but you must start with a well-planned strategy to maximize efficacy. You can create a successful brand advocacy campaign by starting with these baseline elements:

      • Clear program objectives
      • Research-backed advocacy strategy
      • Engagement incentives
      • A simple customer onboarding process

      Clear program objectives

      Typically, the goal of a brand advocacy program is to generate more leads, but objectives may vary based on your company’s unique objectives. For example, your primary objective may be to:

      • Break into new markets
      • Receive more online reviews
      • Educate more people in your current market about offerings and promotions
      • Grow social media followers or engagement
      • Increase job applications

      Whatever your goal is, settle on one and start developing a strategy that will help you achieve it.

      Research-backed advocacy strategy

      If you have customer data or information about past advocacy efforts, then you’re already ahead of the game. Use this information to:

      • Establish incentives that will encourage advocate participation
      • Understand which social media platforms your ideal customers are active on
      • Plan out discounts and service offerings that wow your target audience
      • Determine your preferred criteria for an advocate

      Even if you don’t have access to previous customer data, you can still create a strategic advocacy plan using data you find during the research process from case studies, research papers, press releases, and more.

      Or, for more targeted insights, survey your target market.

      Engagement incentives

      Incentives are the most reliable way of increasing advocate engagement and ensuring they are focused on your brand’s goals. Some common incentives include:

      • Commission fees for referrals
      • Free or discounted merchandise
      • Branded swag
      • Advocate-specific gifts

      Whatever type you choose, be sure that the incentive is appropriate for your customers. For example, if you make popular clothing that always sells out fast, you can offer advocates early access or free swag if they bring you 500 new TikTok or Instagram followers.

      A simple advocate onboarding process

      Once your strategy and incentives are in place, you’re almost ready to launch. The last thing to consider is how to onboard advocates and set expectations to maximize results. During the onboarding process:

      • Explain the product and features
      • Highlight the dos and don’ts of promoting the product
      • Answer advocate questions about the rewards system
      • Offer training if needed
      • Mention any legal parameters

      Keep in mind the length and difficulty of the onboarding process. If the setup takes too long or is too complicated, there’s a greater chance that advocates won’t complete the process or won’t fully understand brand expectations and/or the benefits of participating.

      How to build brand advocacy in 8 steps

      How to build brand advocacy in 8 steps

      Building brand advocacy is key to winning over potential customers in a competitive market. Overall, this is a simple yet effective marketing strategy. Still, you’ll need to analyze data, conduct research, provide service that builds customer loyalty, and test your strategy to ensure that it performs well.

      You can do all of this in eight simple steps.

      1. Create outstanding customer experiences

      When building brand advocacy, the first step—creating outstanding customer experiences—is really more of a prerequisite.

      If your organization doesn’t create positive customer experiences for customers, along with providing products or services that fulfill their needs, it’s unlikely they’ll recommend you to others.

      Luckily, there’s always time to reorient your business to focus on ensuring a positive customer experience. When customers feel like they’ve received outstanding service, many go out of their way to tell others about it.

      According to a study by BrightLocal, 74 percent of consumers say they are likely to leave a business a positive review—especially if the business is small, local, or family-owned.

      2. Conduct customer research

      Understanding your current customers and the customers you hope to acquire in the future will be crucial as you develop your advocacy program. You can gather important data and insights for this by conducting customer research.

      Also called market research, this organized effort determines the success of your plan through necessary education on exactly who your brand’s audience is. You can conduct customer research in a few different ways, including:

      • Face-to-face interviews: Build customer profiles by interviewing current customers about their demographic, buying power, needs, interests, and more. This can also help with customer segmentation so your brand can properly incentivize different buyers.
      • Focus groups: Survey a group of people to gather feedback. Then, use the feedback to tweak your current brand advocacy strategy.
      • Competitive research: Assess your competitors and their marketing campaigns to understand which advocacy campaign components resonated most with your target audience.

      3. Choose a type of advocacy program

      We’ve discussed the main three types of advocacy programs—customer, employee, and influencer—but there’s more to the conversation.

      Not all brand advocate programs make sense for every business. Assess your business and its goals to select the type that’s the right fit.

      • Employee advocacy: In fields where the employees play an important role in whether or not a client chooses to do business with your company, employee advocacy can be very successful. This type of advocacy is an especially strong performer in technical fields but can yield positive results in nearly any industry.
      • Customer advocacy: For industries where people want to know if a business has a good track record—like construction, home services, education, and healthcare—customer advocates hold a lot of power.
      • Influencer advocacy: Influencers can make a big impact in very little time with viral products in industries like beauty, fashion, or entertainment—where trends are swift and powerful.

      4. Set participant criteria

      Increase the likelihood of a return on investment (ROI) by setting participant criteria. By defining the type of advocate with research-backed criteria, you increase the chances that your audience will make a purchase, as well as have the experience needed to effectively promote your product.

      Some brand ambassador criteria you may want to consider are:

      • Minimum education requirements
      • Required number of followers
      • Specific engagement metrics
      • Restrictions compliance

      These requirements can be broad, but if you have to invest in training or provide merchandise, make sure you set clear expectations for potential ambassadors to reduce losses.

      5. Select rewards your customers want

      So we’ve already established that incentives boost the efficacy of brand advocacy campaigns. The trick is knowing which rewards your customers want. Here are some tips you can follow to figure it out:

      • Think exclusive: Offer rewards that most people can’t access, like early releases or invites to exclusive events to motivate your advocates.
      • Think personable: Offer meaningful rewards based on customer segment or personality.
      • Think variety: If you can, offer a range of rewards so advocates can choose for themselves.

      If you’re still lacking ideas for rewards, consider surveying your customers to ask them directly what kinds of incentives they would like to see.

      6. Develop an easy-to-use referral program

      Complicated customer referral programs can deter advocates from participating. To keep things simple, try to:

      • Provide easy-to-follow instructions
      • Minimize the number of steps it takes to sign up
      • Ensure participants understand how to refer others
      • Establish clear guidelines for paid advocates representing you online
      • Make link sharing easy and/or automated whenever possible
      • Create a mobile-friendly version

      7. Promote your advocacy program

      A lot of brand advocacy happens on social media, so it makes sense to prioritize promoting your program there as well. But don’t limit yourself. You can also promote your brand advocacy campaign by:

      • Automating satisfaction surveys
      • Distributing program details after ticket resolutions
      • Hosting a launch party or virtual event
      • Reaching out to influencers for promotional help
      • Sending an email blast to your contacts
      • Creating shareable explainers about it

      8. Collect feedback, measure performance, and enact changes as needed

      Finally, you should regularly evaluate the performance of your brand advocacy campaign and make adjustments as needed.

      This data may tell you that you’re doing everything right, or it can provide valuable insights that allow you to create a better experience for your advocates, and the people they refer, to help boost your bottom line.

      How to measure brand advocacy

      As we just mentioned, brand advocacy program data can tell you a lot, and you should check in on the success of your initiatives regularly. Some metrics you can use to measure the success of your brand advocacy campaign include:

      • Program participants: Use the reporting feature of whichever program you select to monitor program sign-ups and active users.
      • Sales leads from referrals: The tool you use to run the brand advocacy program should also allow you to review sales leads that come from advocate referrals.
      • Social shares and engagement: Find engagement data on your social media accounts or via your social media management software.
      • Share of voice: Typically, you can see your business’s share of voice, or how your brand’s visibility measures up to other competitors in the market, using tools like Google Ads, social media software, or SEO tools.
      • Customer satisfaction: Keep tabs on customer reviews, survey feedback, referrals, sales, and service metrics. These can all indicate the overall satisfaction of existing customers, influencing the number of referrals you receive from advocacy initiatives.
      • Customer retention rate: Calculate customer retention rates by comparing the number of existing customers at the start of a specific period against the number of customers at the end of that period. This will tell you how many customers you gained or lost.
      • Net Promoter Score (NPS): NPS assesses the likelihood of customers recommending your business to someone they know. You can find the answer by surveying customers using a scale of one to 10. People who mark six or below are detractors, those who mark seven or eight are passive, and the remaining people are promoters. To find your answer, subtract the percentage of detractors from promoters.

      Examples of strong brand advocacy programs

      Let’s look at some brand advocacy examples and analyze how well-known companies use brand advocacy to strengthen their existing fan bases and reel in new customers.


      Adidas does a great job of connecting with customers, creating unique experiences, and enticing customers with rewards to create brand advocates.


      Image source: adiClub Rewards

      adiClub is a membership program that benefits customers by:

      • Creating a community based on shared interests
      • Offering customers points for reviewing products
      • Incentivizing customers with immediate access to exclusive rewards
      • Constructing levels that customers can reach by earning points
      • Gifting members-only rewards like trips and tickets
      • Providing vouchers for merchandise

      The adiClub advocacy program is successful thanks to a perfect blend of quality products, customer service, and benefits that keep customers satisfied, increasing the likelihood that they’ll recommend Adidas to others.


      Tesla doesn’t advertise because they don’t need to. Founder Elon Musk tweeted his explanation, writing: “Tesla does not advertise or pay for endorsements. Instead, we use that money to make the product great.”


      Image source: Elon Musk via Twitter

      Still, the automotive company grossed over $81 million in 2022, making record-breaking profits. Why? Because the brand has perfected its customer referral strategy.

      Tesla has gone through many iterations of its advocacy program, but the latest offers:

      • Referral credits: When you refer a friend using the Tesla app, both will earn credits toward a qualifying product.
      • Loyalty credits: When existing customers purchase a Tesla product, they automatically earn loyalty points.

      Buyers can use the credits to make purchases in the Loot Box of Tesla’s app, such as an Acceleration Boost and Supercharging miles. This referral program turns buyers into advocates by encouraging them to bring their friends into the fold. When someone places an order through a referral link, the original buyer earns more referral credits.

      Also, Musk himself acts as an influencer and has a lot of die-hard fans behind him. By using platforms like Twitter, he can directly communicate with his demographic, building his personal brand and selling his vehicles.


      Starbucks has seen great success with both employee and customer advocacy. For starters, their limited edition tumblers and holiday cups get people talking every year, and it works wonders for brand visibility and sales.

      The major coffee chain’s main emphasis is creating a customer experience and product that excites people, causing a trickle down effect. When excited buyers show others what they’ve purchased, it brings in more people.


      Image source: Starbucks “To Be Human” campaign

      Starbucks does this through its:

      • Rewards program: Shoppers can earn Stars to redeem freebies like food and coffee. Starbucks also makes purchases fun by offering member-exclusive Bonus Stars, Double Star Days, and member-only games where users can win prizes.
      • To Be Human campaign: The coffee brand leaned into its customer base’s creativity for its YouTube Shorts series “To Be Human.” The campaign works by personalizing the brand while showing support for customers as they traverse the ups and downs of life. By interviewing people who drink Starbucks coffee or visit a shop, the brand creates an opportunity to connect with those customers and the larger global community as well.

      Are brand advocacy programs worth the investment?

      Yes, a brand advocacy program is a worthwhile investment. You just need to plan ahead to ensure it will remain profitable long-term.


      Assess sales projections and the anticipated cost of your advocacy campaign upfront to ensure you have an accurate budget to maximize your brand advocacy ROI. Advocacy program costs typically include:

      • Influencer marketing fees: You don’t necessarily need to pay all advocates for recommending your business, but influencers generally require a base fee and may also take a commission.
      • Commissions: To further incentivize advocates, you can give them a percentage of the amount you earn on a sale.
      • Rewards: If you’re planning to reward advocates with gifts like cash, swag, or merchandise, you should include those expenses in your budget.

      Build a brand worth fighting for

      Your company’s offerings are a worthwhile investment for the right customer. Learn how to help them find you and turn new customers into company advocates by creating winning customer experiences with Zendesk.

Create better customer experiences with our 2023 trend report

Discover the secret to offering customer service that impresses customers and encourages business growth. Read the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023.

Create better customer experiences with our 2023 trend report

Discover the secret to offering customer service that impresses customers and encourages business growth. Read the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023.

Read the free report