In this guest blog post, Bonny Dellow the Editorial Manager of our client, Simply Business, offers his insights and tips when it comes to using customers in advertising campaigns.

Time and time again, we’ve found that our best (and most authentic) advertising campaigns turn the spotlight on the people who make us, us – our customers.

Advertising incumbents would say ‘hire a celebrity to endorse your product’ – building on consumer aspirations to be like their idols and heroes.

But for us, the real heroes have always been the people we’re talking to (and about) – our customers, who happen to be small business owners. We’re proud to support the self-employed, from the plumber who fixes an urgent leak, to the hairdresser who inspires confidence or the personal trainer keeping a community fit.

Championing your customers

So, why use your customers? Well, we’ve found that the reason is twofold: it’s great for our customers, and it’s great for us. And yes, it really is that simple.

Let’s look at why it’s great for our customers.

Firstly, it boosts their business. Whether it’s appearing on billboards throughout their city, an extra £100 in their pocket each month, or even getting their brand on national television, it’s important to us that our customers always stand to gain when they appear in our campaigns.

Karl Malone of DK Carpentry UK featured on some of our Birmingham billboards, and explains the impact it has had on his business: “It was a great opportunity for us, and has given our business that extra bit of exposure, which has really helped.”

Being self-employed is tough, and the costs can be enormous. Splashing out on outdoor advertising, for example, might not be possible for a local painter and decorator. But when we worked with decorator and Simply Business customer Steve – his business appeared on countless billboards throughout Manchester city centre.

Meanwhile, some of our customers even turned the billboards into marketing campaigns of their own, including the Twitter hashtag #FindGerry!

Simply Business advertising example with DK Carpentry UK

But what’s more, these campaigns provide a great opportunity for us to work directly with the people we insure. We get to plan, execute, and enjoy the results together.

“Our main goal from day one has been to do produce great work and offer a good service and it’s good to be recognised for it,” says Karl. “Simply Business have been a great company to deal with each time we renew our insurance, so it was a pleasure to be chosen for the campaign and work alongside them.”

Creating authentic campaigns

What’s it in for us, we hear you say? Aside from customer satisfaction, an awful lot.

“Our customer campaigns are authentic and the people are engaging, so it works well,” says Simply Business Chief Marketing Officer, Fiona McSwein. “It’s one of our core values as a business, and using our customers as genuine brand advocates is an excellent way to show that we live and breathe our values inside the company and externally, whilst helping the small business community at the same time.”

And this authenticity pays. Genuine referrals are one of the strongest (and oldest) forms of marketing, and it doesn’t come any stronger than receiving a glowing endorsement from a customer.

Another benefit that comes with featuring customers is the amplification factor through their networks. Business owners, naturally, know other business owners, and our customers can act as micro-influencers in their field.

Finding the right customers

Fortunately, we’re able to call upon a talent pool of over 425,000 people (okay, not ALL of our customers are keen to jump in front of the camera lens!) to appear in our campaigns.

But regardless of the size of your customer-base, finding the right customer to fit your campaign can still be tricky.

Chances are you’ll need your customer to ‘do’ something – be it acting, modelling, or a bit of both – and doing this under the bright lights isn’t always easy.

Similarly, your campaign may require a certain look or personality that not all of your customers will suit. It’s a tricky process, and it’s important to establish your selection criteria beforehand, while making it as little effort as possible on your customer’s part to volunteer.

But before finding the ‘right’ customer, you have to find a willing customer full-stop. Taking a day or more away from their work is a big commitment, and you’ll need to financially make it worth their while, even if it could be lucrative for their business.

Our customer campaigns

We’ve used customers in countless campaigns, of varying sizes – from Facebook video series to national TV ads.

Our most recent multi-channel brand campaign, in 2016, included outdoor advertising with marketing Startup Car Quids. They wrap cars with a brand’s creative, and pay the driver an amount each month based on how far and often they drive their car.

Simply Business customer advertising example with Car Quids

We were the first company to make use of Car Quids to wrap our own customers’ cars – giving them the opportunity to earn some extra income for showcasing the Simply Business brand.

The year before, we launched our Building Britain campaign, turning the spotlight on the micro-businesses who are the backbone of the British economy. We chose six self-employed customers – from a hairdresser to a plumber – and featured them on billboards throughout their home town.

Do customer campaigns actually work?

By targeting our Building Britain campaign into geographical locations, we were able to measure the direct impact of our ads – and we saw results right across the board.

Along with significant spikes in direct homepage visitors from the regions featuring our customer campaigns – with an average of 20% incremental growth in those areas – we also saw our brand awareness metrics boosted.

Our prompted brand awareness increased 5% in the Midlands and the North following our campaigns in Birmingham and Manchester, while prospects’ ‘intent to buy’ from those regions grew 14%.

What’s more, we had an incredibly happy set of customers, who saw boosts to their own businesses. So how’s that for a successful authentic campaign?

Simply Business are the UK’s biggest small business insurance broker, insuring over 425,000 businesses and landlords. Specialising in public liability insurance, professional indemnity, and more, Simply Business use their award-winning tech and data capabilities to offer the best possible customer experience.