NEW YORK: Companies such as Microsoft, American Express and Walt Disney are showing how to effectively leverage "advocacy marketing", the Boston Consulting Group has argued.

The consultancy's new report stated the benefits of moving beyond "push" models are clear, as robust advocacy schemes fuel revenue gains of between 10% and 20% for established products, and boost sales of new products by up to 100%.

"Word of mouth is a gift that keeps on giving, as advocates beget advocates," BCG said in the report.

"In addition to promoting products, digitally integrated advocacy programmes can generate ongoing conversations between companies and customers, contribute creative ideas for new products, and deepen customer relationships."

Based on data from several previous studies and new in-house analysis, the study indicated that 90% of shoppers regard people they know as a trusted source of purchase recommendations.

Online user-generated feedback secured 70%, the same total as official brand websites, beating editorial content's 69% and sponsorship's 64%.

Television ads yielded 62%, ahead of newspapers' 61%, magazines' 59%, out-of-home's and radio's 55%, and cinema's 52%.

Looking to digital channels, opt-in email lodged 54%, organic and paid search registered 41%, video ads posted 37%, banners hit 33%, and mobile text advertising scored 24%.

Turning to the business-to-business segment, 53% of executives afforded colleagues and friends a similar status, standing at 39% for sales reps, and 38% for meetings, events and conferences.

The internet and trade shows were on 37%, although direct mail and email, print ads, TV spots, press editorial and radio advertising all fell below 33%.

As a demonstration of emerging best practice, BCG cited Procter & Gamble's Tremor division, which is dedicated to encouraging positive buzz.

This business unit incorporates the Vocalpoint internet community, which brings together half a million mothers who get early access to new products.

The study outlined three central activities to pursue, one of which is "interacting", embracing tools such as blogs, branded communities, live chats, Facebook and Twitter.

American Express, for example, ran Small Business Saturday on Facebook, donating $1 to charity Girls Inc for the first million "likes" it secured, and awarding 10,000 enterprises $100 of advertising credits.

It attracted 200,000 fans in a week and 1.2m in a month, making it the second most popular Facebook page run by a financial services brand.

Listening is another vital tactic, requiring analytics to monitor web chatter and formal mechanisms for gathering information, a field where Walt Disney World's Moms Panel and MyStarbucksIdea have proved effective.

Responding is a final element, necessitating rapid, personalised replies to consumers, empowering greater numbers of staff to participate than ever before, and acting with honesty and transparency.

Microsoft has revealed how to exploit an integrated approach when introducing the Windows 7 Phone, utilising its online community in setting up 40,000 offline launch parties in 12 countries.

Each host invited at least ten friends to try the device and share their opinions on the internet.

Within eight weeks, 64% of attendees living in America, and 42% who engaged in the web debate, had purchased a Windows 7 Phone.

Areas to target while creating programmes include blogs and forums, networks, professional advisors and other shoppers, all much easier to reach then friends and family, or influential individuals.

Measurement is also key, initially in the form of member enrolment, email open rates, survey responses and referrals.

This can then advance on to lead generation, frequency of conversion, customer retention and return on investment.

"Consistency of messaging and branding is critical. The advocacy program must be integrated into the overall marketing organisation and its strategy," BCG concluded.

Data sourced from Boston Consulting Group; additional content by Warc staff