Also referred to as customer relationship marketing, customer marketing is when you use your current customers to reach new people. It’s a focused effort to increase awareness of your brands, products, or services through word-of-mouth.

Customer marketing is often closely associated with content marketing and brand loyalty or brand advocacy, but it’s broader than either of those concepts—and companies should focus on both in order to grow.

In this guide, we’ll talk about how customer marketing works, and more importantly, how you can do it yourself.

More of a visual learner? Skip ahead to our infocomic.

What is customer marketing?

Customer marketing is about strategically leveraging your relationships. You build loyalty, establish trust, and create situations where your customers are more likely to talk about you with their friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances.

You want to be the first brand your customers bring up when someone around them is facing a problem you solve or sharing an aspiration or goal you can help them reach. You want your expertise to be so prolific and authoritative that when people talk about your industry, they refer to you, your content, and their experiences with your brand.

That’s word-of-mouth marketing, which is the result of a successful customer marketing strategy. And while every company dreams that their products will spread via word-of-mouth, it doesn’t “just happen.”

Word-of-mouth marketing often feels like a mirage. Motivated by stories of ideas and products that simply “caught on,” many brands adopt an “if we build it, they will come” mentality, and neglect the strategies they can use to get the right words to come from the right mouths. Worse, they neglect the relationships they have right now.

Every single one of your customers has a relationship with you. The more connected they are to your brand the stronger that relationship becomes. Once someone becomes a customer, you still have a lot more to gain from that relationship, but you have to be willing to work at it.

You need to look beyond your marketing funnel and think about what happens when someone reaches the bottom and becomes a customer. Do you let them fall into an abyss where they never hear from you again? Or do you continue finding new ways to serve them through content, support them with expertise, and listen to their experiences?

Every interaction your customers have with you is an opportunity to earn or lose their loyalty. Win them over, and they may introduce you to someone else who could benefit from a relationship with you.

Sometimes all it takes is a single positive interaction for a customer to completely trust your brand, your expertise, and your products. Maybe they felt like you heard and understood them, or they were so wowed by your service that they’ll remember it every time they encounter your brand or talk about your industry. Other times it takes years to build that trust and prove you’re dependable.

But if you want the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing, you need to put in the effort and adopt a holistic approach to customer marketing.

Now let’s look at what  you can do to make customer marketing happen.

infographic explaining how to do customer marketing

How do you do customer marketing?

Customer marketing isn’t any one thing. To do it well, you have to think about all the ways your customers interact with your brand and make those interactions as positive and meaningful as possible. You also have to actively work to create more opportunities for your customers to talk about you and refer to you.

And while customer marketing isn’t limited to your product or service, that’s certainly where it all begins.

Create products and services people love

If your product or service is terrible, then customer marketing is always going to be an uphill battle. It’s certainly not impossible, but your customer service, technical support, and content teams are going to have to pull a lot more weight to overcome your customers’ lack of enthusiasm for your product.

When your customers talk about you, you don’t want them to lead with, “Their software sucks, but their customer service is amazing,” or “Their blog posts are super helpful, but don’t use them for [thing you do for money].”

Thankfully, the flipside is true, too. If your product or service is amazing, it’s a whole lot easier to turn your customers into advocates. One of the secrets of customer marketing is that you’re actually setting up your customers to look good in front of other people. You want to create a situation where they can strengthen relationships and seem like an expert—simply by their association with you.

When the right opportunity arises, people want to share about the tools and services that can help their peers solve problems and reach goals. So customer marketing starts with creating things that are worth recommending—but it definitely doesn’t end there, either. And while marketers have very little control over what their product or service is like, they play a major role in everything else that makes customer marketing possible.

Establish thought leadership

In every industry, there are individuals and brands people turn to when they have questions or want to learn more about a topic. The experts. The veterans. The trusted leaders in their space.

If you want your customers to bring you into more relevant conversations, then you need to become an influential voice in those conversations. Many brands publish a steady stream of content to keep their audience engaged, but unfortunately, this often puts them on a content treadmill, where publishing something by an arbitrary deadline becomes more important than producing quality content.

Brands that want to establish thought leadership need to focus on creating content that influences the way people think about the problems, objectives, and concepts within their industry. That’s not to say that every blog post you write has to be a pillar page or that every video you create should be cinema worthy.

You can give your brand’s thought leadership a boost by recruiting influential voices within your space, but that’s not the only way to position your brand as industry experts.

If you have a better grasp of search engine optimization (SEO) than the content creators in your space, you can ensure that your website is the one your customers find when they research topics in your niche. And by consistently creating helpful, comprehensive content, you and your content team will become the thought leaders in your space.

Even if you don’t want to battle for the search engine results pages (SERPs), it’s wise to create a content library your customers can turn to when they have questions or want to know more about topics and problems in your industry. Coupled with remarketing, your resource library trains your customers to see you as a thought leader, and it creates more opportunities for them to bring you up.

Communicate with your customers regularly

While content calendars can create the risk of emphasizing quantity over quality, they do serve an important purpose: they consistently put your brand in front of your customers.

It’s easy for your customers to think about your brand when they’re in the middle of using your product or service. And it’s easy to forget about you when they’re not. Regularly communicating with your customers keeps your brand top-of-mind, so they’re more likely to bring you up in relevant situations.

You don’t have to be active on every social media platform or put energy into every conceivable marketing channel, but it is important that you find a way to “talk to” your customers on a regular basis, whether that’s via an email list, a blog, YouTube, Linkedin, or another channel.

Give your customers something worth sharing

When you find a tool that saves you time or energy, you share it with people you know who can benefit from it. When you stumble upon statistics that impact your company, you post it in your company Slack channel or email it to your colleagues.

That’s why lead magnets like ebooks, checklists, and infographics aren’t just valuable for advertising—they’re an important part of effective customer marketing, too. Giving your customers free tools and resources strengthens your relationship with them and gives them something useful to share with others. You could even include messaging that specifically encourages your customers to share your lead magnets with particular types of people.

It’s great when your customers sell your product or service for you. But customer marketing can impact every section of your marketing funnel. If you give your customers lead magnets to fill the top of your funnel and reach a broad audience, they can help those lead magnets reach more of the right people.

Respond to comments

Nobody likes to be ignored. And if you ignore your customers—or your audience—it can make them feel like you don’t care what they have to say. That’s not a good way to create advocates for your brand.

Sometimes people comment on your content because they just want to say thanks. But frequently, people have questions, or they want to add a point of their own. Brands that want to encourage customer marketing need to be vigilant about responding to comments. Every comment represents an opportunity to build a relationship and help someone feel more connected to your brand. Comments can also be opportunities to make your content more valuable, by answering questions the original content didn’t account for, linking to related content, or explaining things in new ways.

Keep in mind: when you don’t respond to comments, it isn’t just a potential slight to the commenter. It looks bad, too. When other people see several unanswered questions in your comment section, it subtly communicates that your company doesn’t pay attention to your customers.

Collect (and use) customer feedback

While responding to comments is a more passive way to show you’re listening to your audience, you can (and should) take a more proactive approach as well. Actively seeking out feedback from your customers can be a great way to show them—on a larger scale—that you care what they think.

Obviously, using survey tools, you can directly ask your customers about your products/services, your content, or any of their experiences with you. Be sure that if you do this, you act on your findings or reference the survey in some way, so your customers know that their voice matters.

But you could also use customer surveys to gather unique information about your industry, too, which in turn, you can use to create more content. (Your customers may also be more incentivized to share this content, too, since they had a hand in creating it.)

Handle crises with class

When there are problems with your product or service, your customers are watching to see how you’ll respond. In fact, your worst crises may be some of the times when your customers are most likely to seek you out and hang on your every word. It’s extra important that you show your customers they can trust you to handle problems professionally—and make up for your mistakes.

If your server goes down or a shipment is late and it disrupts your customers’ business operations, you can’t just restore service or return the product and pretend like nothing happened. Remember, you still want these people to advocate for you—even though you just let them down.

Everyone knows that mistakes happen. But that’s not an excuse to brush them under the rug. If something goes wrong, being transparent is an extremely valuable way to build trust in spite of a mistake, and handling crises with class (and finding appropriate ways to make it up to your customers) can actually turn that negative attention into positive attention.

Delight your customers

Don’t take your customers for granted. Sure, they purchased your product. They requested your services. You got ‘em. But you have an ongoing relationship with them. And you want them to tell their friends about you. And that means you need to keep delighting them, even after they’ve purchased.

You can delight your customers with great content, personal messages, bonus gifts, or something else that’s out of the ordinary, unexpected, and pleasantly surprising. The point is just that you think of your customers, you value them, and you show it.

When your customers feel valued and appreciated just for being your customers, they’re far more likely to tell people about you.

Turn your customers into advocates

Sometimes customer marketing is simply a byproduct of having an excellent product. Or world-class customer service. Or great content. But if customer marketing is going to be part of your marketing strategy, it should affect every interaction your customers have with your brand. You need a plan to turn your customers into advocates.

We do this for organizations in a wide range of industries every day, by producing resources their customers can share with potential customers.

Want us to help turn your customers into advocates? Contact us.