How to Help Brand Evangelists Grow
Since Guy Kawasaki coined the phrase “evangelism marketing” based on four years as “Chief Evangelist” at Apple, companies of all types have been trying to fulfill the elegant premise of letting ardent customers do their brand building for them. Social media makes that easier than ever. But true brand advocacy usually happens organically; the most passionate fans are responding to an authentically positive feeling about the company or brand. How can a marketer help accelerate the process?
After all, if employees aren’t brand advocates, how can they help customers get there? The best advocacy programs work from the inside out. One inspiring model is the program run by Starbucks for its “partners” or employees. Recognizing that each store manager essentially runs a small business for its brand, Starbucks recently invested heavily in a “Leadership Lab,” an intensive training experience that was the highlight of the company’s recent conference for about 9,600 Starbucks managers.
The most successful employers give their staff the license to make on-the-spot customer decisions, like waiving an airline penalty or approving a retail markdown. These decisions can engender the kind of instant, but highly shareable, gratitude which is the first step towards evangelism. Empowerment should extend to social media, too. David Deal, CMO for iCrossing, established social media guidelines designed to create a “connected brand” for iCrossing, urging employees to use social media every day and offering training on content creation. Within one year, the company tripled its volume of blog posts, boosted website visits by 74 percent, and was recognized as a social media role model. The guidelines are a win-win for the company and employees as they help brand development for both.
For example, stop targeting and start engaging. Marketers are conditioned to look at customers and prospects as destinations, but it’s more productive to think in terms of a long-term conversation when planning social media outreach. The upfront time investment is more than worth it in the long run.
Drop the Marketing-speak
Similarly, customers aren’t engaged by jargon or marketing strategy. People buy from other people. Usually, it’s people they like and want to spend time with. The art of community management is to make the human side of the brand—and the manager—come through.
But don’t assume cash is the best motivator because it’s usually not. More powerful lures for evangelists-in-the-making include exclusive or early trial of new products, insider access to information or announcements, trips to corporate headquarters, or other tangible but highly branded experiential rewards.
Create a Community
If they’re not already doing so, encourage your advocates to meet one another and share reviews, opinions, tips, and the like and give them the content and tools to do so.
Nothing is more disarming for cynics or more attractive to would-be advocates. Mashable recently reported on a situation where brand Crest was criticized on Twitter by comedian John Freiler. Rather than ignoring the barb, its community manager responded, with tongue in cheek, offering Freiler a three-year supply of “toothgoop” and negotiating a mock truce to the feud. Today, Freiler is a Crest advocate, if not an outright evangelist. Nicely played.
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