This article comes from Deanna Carrillo’s talk, ‘Phase two: Branding customer programs to drive adoption & scale’, at our 2023 Customer Marketing Summit, check out her full presentation here.

Ever pour your heart into a customer program only for it to flop? Believe me, I’ve been there! 

After months of getting stakeholder buy-in, configuring technology, and celebrating what you just know will be a total game-changer for customer loyalty at your company, it all amounts to … Crickets. Tumbleweeds.

With over five years under my belt in content and customer marketing at companies like Dropbox, Sage, and NetApp, I’ve picked up my fair share of battle-tested tips for effectively leveraging customer programs. 

As a self-proclaimed ‘storyteller’ and ‘librarian’, I’m a true believer that while customer-centric tools are key, crafting cohesive program identities multiplies participation, results, and budget longevity tenfold.  

In this article, we’ll walk through the key tenets I lean on to drive program adoption by simplifying processes, educating stakeholders, allowing flexibility, and cementing consistent messaging. While these strategies require upfront effort, they deliver huge dividends long-term.

So, let’s dive in!

Making customer programs simple 

Between managing customer research, insights, referrals, content, events, and more, it's easy for our intricate web of customer programs to become complex and siloed. 

We can't expect colleagues without ‘customer marketing’ in their titles to navigate this landscape flawlessly or even understand all the nuances between terms. 

That’s why the first thing my team does is untangle the mess by breaking down programs into digestible pieces across three areas: 

1 . Defining key terms  

Synonyms definitely plague advocacy! 

Terms like ‘advocate’ vs ‘champion’ may seem interchangeable, but I’ve found picking single names for activities and sticking to them like glue is hugely helpful. 

Once these distinctions are made, it becomes easier to funnel customers into certain activities or engagements. 

Narrowing definitions may seem counterintuitive, but these clearly defined terms empower us to say no less often by creating more opportunities to leverage customers and activities with lower levels of commitment. 

Consider brainstorming with your team to see what utility you can gain from defining customer marketing terms at your company. 

Importantly, you don't need your stakeholders to memorize the nuances between these terms but understand that you're the team that can deliver what makes sense for the customer and your company. This is ultimately a tool your team can leverage to fulfill customer marketing requests more efficiently. 

2 . Clarifying program scope  

In defining terms, we also understand that teams within your company inevitably overlap - like insights, product, or sales enablement. But we all engage customers differently. 

Define where your scope starts and stops as the customer marketing experts so you can coordinate seamlessly!

For example, at Dropbox, we state upfront that our scope includes warm customer advocates rather than customers meeting set qualifications due to the breadth of our base. 

Stating this means we steer partners toward solutions in their corner instead of stepping on toes, this way we become a friendly hand-off, not a dead end.

3 . Crafting clear calls to action

This is where that hard work pays off. With crisp terms, boundaries, customer tiers, and activities, we can channel stakeholders into program engagement modes that make sense. 

I suggest creating:

- Customer story nomination forms to collect testimonials

- Intake processes for general customer marketing requests  

Having established expertise as the connective tissue for all things customer, these CTAs clearly convey how colleagues can participate without memorizing the nuances of our work.

The three building blocks every advocacy program needs
What are the main drivers for why advocacy is on the rise? Why you’re likely seeing more community customer marketing and advocacy roles in your LinkedIn feed? Erica Anderson has the answers.

Educating stakeholders on your value  

You've built it...but will they come? With robust yet simplified programs now in place, how do we rally internal teams to collaborate? 

My #1 lesson - listen WAY more than you talk at first!   

Identify other teams' quarterly goals, tools, metrics, communicative forums and cadences, pain points, and learned customer insights. 

Then spotlight how your customer access and expertise uniquely equips you to help them hit targets using narratives they already prioritize. 

Through surveys, interviews, roundtables, and more, we have treasure troves of customer data, so use it!

Leverage storytelling to humanize target personas, incorporate advocates into enablement materials, and make your programs indispensable to objectives across the company.

In your outreach, meet stakeholders where they are instead of pushing more work. At Dropbox, offering sales quick reviews of their target vertical and profiles of advocates already primed to talk, helped concretely boost deals without taxing resources.

When partners realize you take needs seriously and ease burdens by aligning advocacy with priorities, engagement becomes much more possible. 

Lowering barriers to entry

Even with simplified and promoted programs, customers and stakeholders engage differently—so remember, meet them where they are! 

To drive scale you must build programs that allow for flexibility.

🚀 Let customers and stakeholders pick their adventure 

  • While centralized programs create consistency, forcing a linear advocacy journey shuts folks out. 
  • Provide varied options like referencing, press interviews, product councils, and content creation so participants can start with their comfort zone activity.
  • Building confidence will step up engagement. 

👥 Meet enthusiasts where they are

  • Some want in-person workshops; others prefer social sharing. Enable both. 
  • Facilitate referral processes for outbound teams already interfacing with customers while the product relies on Slack integration. 

🎨 Clearly brand internal documentation  

  • Centralized, visually intuitive documentation detailing every program in your wheelhouse makes confident participation infinitely more achievable. 
  • Dropbox has core brand colors, fonts, icons, and values I incorporate as visual cues that stakeholders now associate with delightful, seamless customer experiences.

With relief from forcing "one path fits all," your program breadth will organically expand as customers and internal teams buy into modes resonating most with them.

In turn, you drive greater reach, pipeline health, and marketing impact overall.

Meaningful metrics: Transform your customer programs
transforming your customer program through metrics is a journey. It’s a journey that’s going to take time, effort, consistency, deep collaboration with internal teams, and resources to help you get over the finish line.

Gathering executive buy-in 

While securing leadership support is mission-critical, customer teams often struggle to translate program value effectively enough to sustain backing. 

From my experience, a three-pronged approach works wonders:  

First, identify metrics already important to each executive based on OKRs and advocacy ability to move needles accordingly. Package measurable business impact tailored to what success looks like to them. 

Second, nurture personal connections with 2-3 executive sponsors able to turn customer team contributions into top-level strategy and relay the relevance to their peers. Regularly equip them to advocate for resources or budget!

Finally, report ongoing influence through mechanisms leadership already monitors like Quarterly Business Reviews. Consistent visibility builds familiarity and trust in customer marketing as key accelerators vs nice-to-have efforts.  


There you have my blueprint for strategically branding customer programs to maximize their impact! 

Though building first-rate customer marketing technology and content lays vital groundwork, putting equal energy into branding programs for internal and external audiences takes traction to the next level. 

Does this process take strategic work upfront? Absolutely. But once in place, adopting teams will intuitively spread the word for you through greater wins, loyalty, and scale. 

Now, are you ready to realize the full promise of your customer marketing investments through strategic branding?