The Postmodern Marketing Imperative: The rise of the advocate and the role of the servant marketer.

Hot under the collar about the overly automated last decade, common-law marketing personas Joe Buyer and Jane Consumer are getting hitched and seeking a legal name change. Meet The Advocates.

Curbing the corporate-imagined script of the past several years, The Advocates no longer adhere to your best guess at buying behaviors, common characteristics and typical trends. Instead, they have quietly taken back the power of their pocketbooks by becoming more engaged in their own marketplace — and less bothered with yours. Joe is chatting with Jane over dinner about a scathing review he read on G2 Crowd that panned the exact SaaS his company was on the cusp of implementing. He’ll have some tough questions for the sales rep tomorrow; Jane is telling Joe about her colleague who is positively gushing about her recent stay at an adults-only resort in Mexico. After all, their honeymoon is right around the corner. Work it, Jane!

The postmodern marketing age has pulled into the station, and The Advocates are in the driver’s seat. So, now, you have a choice: Get on their bus, or die trying. What sets this new era in marketing apart from the “modern” is an earth-rumbling shift away from mass-reach metrics and click-this-to-do/get-that strategies.

This approach isn’t about setting an automated campaign in motion and stepping aside while The Machine does its thing. Postmodern marketing requires patience, dedication — both from a resource and a passion perspective — and a full 180 on the authenticity front. It’s about taking a step back, so your customers can step forward. It’s that age old human to human thing that we innately desire, but have been somewhat deprived of over recent years.

The postmodern marketing age has pulled into the station, and The Advocates are in the driver’s seat. So, now, you have a choice: Get on their bus, or die trying.

This new chapter in the marketing book is all about people connecting with people. That is, your customers connecting with each other and prospects, and your employees connecting with these groups, too. It’s a peer driven approach that requires a laser focus on identifying the needs and wants of the happiest folks who are likely festering in a swamp of dirty data deep down in the bayou of your CRM. It’s about surfacing their stories, giving them opportunities to tell those stories, and supporting the opportunity outcomes as collegially and quickly as possible. It’s high touch of the genuine relationship variety, not the merge field kind to which we’ve lazily become accustomed. Fellow consultant Rachel Bakker does a great job of outlining just how important building authentic relationships is in the post-modern marketing world in her recent post, Are You Real? Cue the rise of the Servant Marketer!

At Their Service

I was first introduced to the concept of the Servant Leader by community engagement maven Phoebe Venkat, (then at Salesforce, now at Facebook), during a talk she did at a conference in 2015. While the phrase “servant leader” was new to me at that time, it has been around since Robert K. Greenleaf coined it way back in 1970. Yes, I was slightly behind the times on that one, but it was no surprise that no matter how late to the party I was, the idea resonated with me deeply. As Greenleaf so expertly defined more than 40 years ago:

The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons?

There. Right there. In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable conference, I fully understood what I had been working so hard to achieve the past 10 years. Yes, I was focused on the advocate and customer portfolio, and still am now as an advocacy consultant. But at my core, I am a Servant Marketer. I experience growth when I help others to grow. And, like with most things in life — relationships, ailments, organic food — having a proper label with a meaningful description has made all the difference.

Who is the Servant Marketer?

At a time when we are tasked with turning down the volume on our own telling of the brand story and turning up the dial on the customer’s story about their experience with our brand, the servant marketer flourishes. I’m not suggesting here that the commitment to raising others up is totally selfless on the part of the marketer. We know who signs our check. But, rather, it’s the intention that is different. Hitting key goals, executing on well-designed marketing plans, contributing to the pipeline. These are the milestones of any marketer. What sets the servant marketer apart is achieving KPIs comes as an effect of building incredible, abiding, authentic relationships with customer advocates, and raising those customers up in their own careers as a result.

Take the 80/20 rule here, for example. Instead of spending 80% of the time building, deploying and gating content, and 20% of the time thinking about who is interacting with that content, the servant marketer does the opposite. Think of the postmodern marketer as a sort of air traffic controller within your organization. They serve as the intermediary between the goals of your business and the goals of your customers. They work tirelessly to connect all departments, all projects, all organizational goals to your customers, translating from corporate speak to everyday conversations about interesting opportunities.

Think of the postmodern marketer as a sort of air traffic controller within your organization. They serve as the intermediary between the goals of your business and the goals of your customers.

They are relatable, reliable, relationship-building experts. They don’t just know what products your customers use and why; they know when a baby is due, when a promotion happens, when a birthday is celebrated. They don’t greet your customers with a stodgy handshake; they embrace. Because that’s the goal. Over time, the interactions are real. They are meaningful. They matter — to your advocates and to your bottom line. The servant marketer humanizes your business.

Alright, let’s get back to The Advocates.

They are tanned and relaxed from a week away at that adults-only resort in Mexico that came highly recommended by a work colleague. Before the wedding, Joe pulled the plug on that expensive SaaS implementation because the sales rep couldn’t quell Joe’s objections based on that review he read. Perhaps the sales rep should have asked his advocate marketer to arrange a customer-to-prospect reference call with Joe instead. Or, rallied some happy customers to leave their own reviews that addressed the shortcomings highlighted by the previous reviewer. Maybe by taking themselves out of the equation the sale could have been saved. After all, he had Joe on the hook.

The truth is, Joe and Jane are much more likely to rely on a peer recommendation than on our own belief that our product or service is the best fit for their needs. And, they don’t just listen to recommendations. They give them, too. The Advocates are there, buried deep in the CRMs of countless businesses, just waiting to be tapped. When they checked out of that resort, Jane left a glowing online review; When he bought golf clubs for the honeymoon (poor Jane…), Joe filled in an automated survey from the pro shop that asked how likely he was to recommend them to others. The depth of customer data we have collected over the last 10 years is immense. And, that’s the beautiful thing about being here, now, in the afterglow of all-or-nothing automation. The postmodern marketing era calls on us to connect with all that data in meaningful ways. If we want to succeed, we should first find the Joes and Janes in our bottomless systems and let them know just how much they matter.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn in May 2016.