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The Advocacy Economy: Who Needs 'Experts'?

People are turning to the crowd for advice about the things they want to buy. Brands and politicians take note.

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People are turning to the crowd for advice about the things they want to buy. Brands and politicians take note.

Opinions

The Advocacy Economy: Who Needs 'Experts'?

People are turning to the crowd for advice about the things they want to buy. Brands and politicians take note.

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When Michael Gove said that “people in this country have had enough of experts”, most of us were pretty bewildered.

But while he might have been debating the merits of ‘experts’ weighing in on political debates, people are starting to reject experts of a different kind when it comes to their shopping habits.

The idea of a ‘brand as the expert’ is becoming outdated. Buying power, and the knowledge share that feeds it, has been democratised. We’re seeing that manifest in a gradual rejection of traditional marketing messages for something more personal.

Recent Nielsen data suggests that 92 percent of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands.

These are the baby steps of the ‘advocacy economy’.

The voice of the “everyman” (you and me, friends and family, friendly strangers) has trumped the ‘experts’ to be the most trusted form of communication, when it comes to shopping.

From Nielsen’s ‘Trust in advertising’ report:

"The most credible advertising comes straight from the people we know and trust. More than eight-in-10 global respondents (83%) say they completely or somewhat trust the recommendations of friends and family.

"But trust isn’t confined only to those in our inner circle. In fact, two-thirds (66%) say they trust consumer opinions posted online—the third-most-trusted format."

The idea of advocacy isn’t new.

It’s been around since the Roman Empire (and probably even before that), when word-of-mouth recommendations would have played a large part in customer choice - fuelling what was bought and sold, where to visit, where to stay or eat and drink.

Searching for the opinions of others is just human nature.

Fast forward to the present day - and word-of-mouth has been monetised, commoditised and integrated to the very heart of our economy. We rate our drivers, our hosts and our meals. We don’t buy anything before reading the reviews of others. We are in the middle of an ‘advocacy economy’.

This digitised word-of-mouth is driven by two main factors:

·         The growth of web and mobile, combined with the ubiquity of social networks, review sites and comparison engines;

·         And a lingering desire to connect and be heard on a human level.

There is hardly a brand or retailer’s website that doesn’t display customer opinion of one form or the other.  Mobile means that that digitised word of mouth is with us wherever we are, 24/7 - not just when you are with your friends chatting down the pub. In fact, today 92% of consumers check out online reviews, compared to 88% in 2014.

This advocacy economy will continue to thrive because it’s based on trust.

Faced with a Groundhog-Day-style series of untruths from basically everyone from politicians to big businesses, consumers realise that it’s the voice of their fellow consumers that they can rely on when coming to make choices about how they spend their hard earned income.

Digitised word of mouth content and data, if harnessed properly, can allow manufacturers to literally build their products and services around people’s opinions. Customers get exactly what they want, which means happier shoppers and less waste.

Retailers can merchandise a better range of products that meet our needs and desires. They can know what we like before we enter the shop – or what ‘someone like me’ might want to purchase.

Meanwhile, every business can mine their customer feedback to make the customer experience better.

Coincidentally, in each case, taking these actions will lead to increased revenue, whilst delighting the customer – a sure way to higher loyalty. That’s what makes the future of the advocacy economy so exciting.

We’re almost there – some smart brands are doing it already.

But the real value of the advocacy economy is its democracy. Everybody wins. Except maybe the experts.

Richard Anson is founder and former CEO of Reevoo.

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The Advocacy Economy: Who Needs 'Experts'?

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