8 ways to create brand evangelists

Turn customers into your biggest fans and advocates by following these steps.

Guy Kawasaki coined the phrase “evangelism marketing” after his stint as the first chief evangelist at Apple. Since then, all types of companies have tried to let loyal customers do their brand building for them. Social media makes that more accessible and easier than ever.

But true brand advocacy usually happens organically. The most ardent fans are responding to an authentically positive brand experience. Can a marketer accelerate the process? Here are a few principles that work for many companies.

1. Start inside

The best programs work from the inside out. After all, if employees aren’t brand advocates, how can they help customers get there? Starbucks has an inspiring model. It recognizes that each store manager essentially runs a small business, so it has invested heavily in a “Leadership Lab,” an intensive training experience featured at a recent conference for about 9,600 Starbucks managers. Think pep rally on steroids.

2. Empower staff

The most successful employers give their staff the license to make on-the-spot decisions, like waiving an airline penalty or approving a retail markdown. These moves can engender the kind of instant, and highly shareable, gratitude that is usually the first step towards evangelism. Don’t we always want to tell our friends when we scored a freebie or an upgrade?

3. Make it social

Empowerment can extend to social media, too. Wanted to establish a “connected brand,” iCrossing created not only social media guidelines for its employees, but also training on content creation. According to CMO David Deal, 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 each with its own brand development.

4. Remove roadblocks

Stop targeting. Think in terms of engagement and conversation—and start engaging. Marketers are conditioned to look at customers and prospects as targets, but it’s more productive to plan for a long-term relationship, or at least a dialogue. The upfront time investment is more than worth it in the long run.

5. Drop the marketing-speak

Jargon and marketing strategy don’t engage customers. 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.

6. Use incentives

But don’t assume cash is the best motivator, because, chances are, it’s 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.

7. Create a community

If they’re not already doing so, encourage your advocates to meet one another and share reviews, opinions, tips, and so on, and give them the content and tools to do so. Like attracts like.

8. Use humor

Nothing is more disarming for cynics or more attractive to would-be advocates than humor. Recently, comedian John Freiler criticized Proctor and Gamble brand Crest on Twitter. Rather than giving him the brush-off or responding in kind, its community manager engaged Freiler by offering him a three-year supply of “toothgoop” and negotiating a tongue-in-cheek truce to the feud. Today, Freiler is a Crest advocate, if not an outright evangelist. Nice.

Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story appeared on the Crenshaw Communications blog.

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