People Power - Don't Take My Word For It

22/10/2013 12:47 BST | Updated 21/12/2013 10:12 GMT

The trend for brands to use real life customers in advertising campaigns continues to grow. Some, notably Dove, have been doing this successfully for a while now. Earlier this year the brands' Real Beauty Sketches campaign, featuring real life women, became the most watched ad ever after going viral. More recently Barclays Thank You campaign, promoting their Premiership League sponsorship and supported by a social push using the hashtag #YouAreFootball, has been generating positive responses from consumers and industry pundits alike.

So what's behind the success of campaigns such as these? The secret lies in creating strong brand 'heroes'. A customer or customer set who not only use and buy your product or service regularly, but love it. It's essential to their day-to-day lives. They are the kind of advocates any brand seeks to secure. After all, they are far better placed than anyone or anything to champion and communicate the strengths and merits of a brands' offering. It's not about big budgets; it's about great story telling.

Your customers understand the product. They know what they like. They know how they liked to be addressed. They know when they want to be contacted and in what way. This is why so many brands are increasingly using them, the sector has woken up to the power of really listening to customers to learn how they behave and interact. Marketing data obviously has a vital role to play, but it can't replace the insight that comes direct from the consumer. And nothing is more direct than featuring them in a campaign.

In practice the success of this all comes down to personality. A brand must establish and convey its own personality. For that you need to adopt a human approach. Every customer has a story to tell. It's a key part of what makes them unique and defines their very existence. It's these stories which can truly bring a brand to life. They grab people's attention and establish genuine brand engagement above and beyond the levels normally generated by more conventional advertising approaches.

Customers are the lifeline of any brand or product. As consumers we relate to people who are similar to us. We trust their judgement. We live in a world where User Generated Content is thriving; it influences the world around us in countless ways. It therefore only seems natural for marketers to have followed suit.

The only potential danger here relates to tone. Honesty is of course always important, but never more so than in relation to using real life brand advocates. Their passion must be genuine, and the stories they are telling must truly be their own.

You can't fake any of this, any brand that tried to would be caught out straight away. This is exactly why campaigns such as these are proving to be so effective. Advertising has woken up to people power, I'm sure we'll see much more of it going forward.