To Convert Customers Into Evangelists
December 15, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
never been evangelical. I’m not what you call a marketing
missionary. I’m more in the do-your-own-thing-live-and-let-live-peace-and-love
category when it comes to marketing theology. If it sells your
product successfully and keeps management happy, it’s OK
by me. Whatever turns customers on is cool. Don’t break
the laws of good taste.
a marketer I was raised to believe it was my job to create awareness,
knowledge and likeability and to encourage consideration and trial
of my product. I was taught my purpose was to assure product selection
and retention. The zenith of my efforts, the ultimate holy grail
of marketing, was to achieve customer loyalty.
was no higher calling in my marketing handbook--the sixth edition
of Prof. Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management: Analysis,
Planning, Implementation and Control--than creating loyal
never dawned on me that I was practicing a form of marketing paganism.
Then I met Ben McConnell, co-author of Creating Customer Evangelists.
to McConnell was a marketing epiphany. The fog in my brain cleared
and I realized I’d been practicing the marketing rituals
is not a do-it-to-the-customer, one-way process. The highest aim
of marketing is to create products and stories about them that
empower customers to sell for you. Don’t simply create loyal
customers. Create customers who are enraptured with your product
and sell for you. Turn customers on so they will turn others into
of eBay conclaves where loyal users tell eBay CEO Meg Whitman
how to run the company and what acquisitions to make. Hark back
to 1984 and the launch of Apple’s Macintosh computer. Think
of all those Mac users who tried to convert you to their form
conversion to marketing evangelism occurred recently. I was moderating
a panel for alumni of Northwestern University’s Medill School
of Journalism based in Evanston, Ill. We were at Riva’s
restaurant on the banks of the Chicago River. The discussion was
supposed to be about the future of newspapers, the importance
of blogs and RSS feeds. But there on the panel looming like an
apostle of marketing evangelism stood McConnell. In the audience
sat his co-author, Jackie Huba.
fell into a conversation about the essential truths of marketing.
I talked about the catechism I’d been raised on of mass
advertising, promotional coupons and direct mail distributions.
McConnell and Huba listened patiently to my entreaties, my pleas
to protect the old ways. They simply smiled and nodded.
I read McConnell’s and Huba’s book, which describes
how Macintosh, Krispy Kreme, the Dallas Mavericks, Build-A-Bear
Workshops, Southwest Airlines, Linux and other brands were created
and advanced by customer evangelists.
showed up one night at McConnell’s and Huba’s “Church
of the Customer” blog site www.churchofthecustomer.com.
I studied their six tips to creating customer evangelists:
plus-delta: Continuously gather customer feedback.
knowledge: Make it a point to share knowledge freely.
the buzz: Expertly build word-of-mouth networks.
community: Encourage communities of customers to meet
bite-size chunks: Devise specialized, smaller offerings
to get customers to bite.
a cause: Focus on making the world, or your industry,
was hooked. I didn’t realize that marketing evangelism was
catching on. Now I’ve become a zealot. Marketing evangelism
is where it’s at. I want to spread the word about what McConnell
and Huba are doing. It simply makes a lot of sense.
evangelism isn’t about religion. It’s all about creating
customers who adore your product or service. They become disciples
of your brand. They tell others to buy your services. They sell
your product for you.
the new seventh heaven of marketing we all should strive for--not
just loyal customers, customer evangelists.
Who are these
evangelists and how do you create them? Look around. They’re
in our midst. Starbucks’ customers are evangelists. Google
users are evangelists. BlackBerry buyers are evangelists. McConnell
tells a story in his book about a woman who sent a check to Southwest
Airlines after 9/11 because the airline needed the money more
than her--she’s an evangelist.
How do you
transform your routine, everyday customers into evangelists? That’s
no easy task. It’s not a question of faith. You’ve
got to start by analytically asking yourself if your customers
are atheists, agnostics or believers. Don’t be surprised
if you have lots of atheists. People who simply don’t believe
in your products but use them out of habit.
be some who are agnostics. They’d believe if you could give
them a reason to believe. You’re likely to have lots of
if you study carefully, you’ll find a core group of righteous
product users who deeply believe. Their numbers may be small,
but find them and study them. Deconstruct them and see what they
are all about. Once you understand why they evangelize your brand,
turn them loose. Empower and enable them. Create additional products
and programs that recruit and attract more just like them.
understand how to grow customer evangelists, my advice is to read
McConnell’s and Huba’s book. It’s a good one.
Visit their blog. Look around for examples of companies who have
transformed their customers into their sales force. Richard Branson,
CEO of U.K.-based Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., is a master at
creating customer evangelists.
programs that include tactics to convert customers to evangelism
isn’t beyond belief, but it’s not obvious. It’s
not formulaic. It requires creative design. It takes a spirit
of adventure. Anyone can mix together millions of dollars in an
advertising, PR and direct marketing budget and build awareness
and trial, but evangelism is harder to come by.
The task isn’t
easy, but if you can crack the code, it’s the most efficient
and effective marketing effort you’ll ever implement.
Krauss is a partner with Marion Consulting Partners based in Highland
Park, Ill., and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Marionpartners.com