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How to Turn a Brand's Best Customer into a Viral Advocate

Extole Focuses on Turning a Brand's Best Customers into Viral Advocates

Confronted with the need to try and market their products and reach new customers in this radically new media landscape, it's easy for businesses to feel overwhelmed. Extole is one San Francisco startup that focuses on this problem. 

The company specializes in social marketing to help companies convert their best customers into a voluntary, viral, virtual sales force.

“Our mission,” says Extole’s Angela Bandlow, “is to help brands harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing over social networks.”

They do this for brands like Folica, JHilburn and Roku by helping them craft strategies, with messages including incentives like discounts or special offers for customers who introduce their friends to those products.

What fascinates me about this is that Facebook was not really built for marketing or ecommerce at all; it was built for friends to connect and share with each other.

But today, with people sharing some four billion things a day there, and with Mark Zuckerberg’s prediction that the figure will continue to double each year, companies and brands have no real choice but to compete there.

“The reach of social networks is phenomenal,” Bandlow allows. “What we offer is a way to capture these conversations about a brand that are already happening out there, in an effort to help turn your most engaged customers into brand advocates.”

This “c2c” model or marketing isn't new; any brand not touting its “virality” these days probably isn’t focused on getting consumers at all. “What turns out to be a highly valuable marketing channel for these companies is their best customers’ friends,” Bandlow explains.

The key is establishing a referral program, which incentives help promote. But it’s not always a discount that works best; the company also helps its partners offer charitable donations, exclusive gifts, or related items as incentives to share, depending on the brand and its customer base.

Extole tracks metrics like the percentage of one’s friends who open a message, the number who then share it themselves with others, as well as the number who actually make purchases and/or use coupons.

“What we end up with is powerful insight into who has social influence,” says Bandlow.

The company, which was founded in 2009, says its email campaigns average a 93 percent open rate, which is that high due to the email coming from a friend, as well as a 75 percent click-through rate. It currently is working with some 200 brands from its office near South Park.