Last class we discussed marketing and advertising in the social media environment. To me, the most interesting concept we talked about was evangelist customers. The term describes people who fall so in love with a product or company that they help advertise and market it for free, through word-of-mouth. That is, they voluntarily promote the product or company they believe in with the pure intention of allowing others to enjoy it as well, rather than to get money or rewards in return for their advocation. Since evangelist customers are independent from a company and speak by choice, their opinions are viewed as being highly credible and they are thus influential figures in marketing. In an age of Web 2.0, evangelist customers can be particularly powerful by sharing their love for a product or service on blogs or on a variety of social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Companies such as Starbucks, Nike, and Apple have notably loyal and excited followers.
For an example of how evangelist customers effectively promote products or services, I get swayed by evangelist customers every time I research restaurants to go to. When I am unsure of where to eat my next meal, my first stop is usually looking up restaurants on Yelp or Trip Advisor, where I review the strong-opinioned comments by various people who’ve been there. If a restaurant has many evangelist customers who rate it with 5/5 stars and “swear by its paella” or think “it’s the best deal in town,” for instance, I trust that the place must be great and I will be more likely to go myself.
In fact, I act as an evangelist customer for the restaurants I recommend on my Restau-wants blog. Not only do I love the restaurants, but I also share this passion for them with other potential customers – my blog readers. I also like some of these restaurants’ pages on Facebook or follow them on Twitter to stay up-to-date with them or learn about specials.
For another example, I am also an evangelist customer for Apple, as many other people in the world are. When my dad told me he had to get a new phone, I zealously tried to convince him to get the iPhone. I explained to him my obsession with my iPhone, raved about the newest model that had just come out, and showed him how he could use and benefit from the phone. Without incurring any cost (Apple didn’t pay me to publicize the product or my passion for it), my marketing efforts helped the company sell one more iPhone that day. Further, through more word-of-mouth marketing, my father spread awareness about the product to his friends and even convinced my mother to buy the iPhone as well. This domino effect demonstrates the power of evangelist customers in making a brand or product successful.
Like many other prosperous companies, Apple’s success with recruiting evangelist customers is partly due to its active efforts in creating spaces for evangelist customers to thrive. For example, by hosting group training sessions, Apple provides customers the opportunity to express their concerns, solutions, and ideas about products to each other; thus creating a community that encourages the development of evangelist customers.
In a podcast interview, Alex Goldfayn, author of Evangelist Marketing: What Apple, Amazon, and Netflix Understand About Their Customers (That Your Company Probably Doesn’t), reveals how companies can transform their customers into evangelist customers. He outlines three critical strategies to develop “hyper-repeat customers” who will “basically do your marketing for you”:
1) Focus on mainstream customers.
2) Leverage your strengths to understand your customers.
3) Do extensive qualitative research.
First, Goldfayn suggests focusing marketing efforts on “regular moms and dads,” rather than the early adopters, to reach their 97% share of the market. Second, he suggests analyzing customer reviews and data to understand what your customers think and want. An example of this is Amazon’s Kindle, which has become one of the most popular e-book readers after using customer feedback to improve the product in multiple revisions. Third, he suggests doing in-depth qualitative research by conducting 20-30 minute phone or in-person interviews to gather information on what your customers truly care about. He explains that, “What they will reveal to you in your conversations will literally be almost word-for-word the best possible marketing message you can have…You know it’s going to resonate with your market because it’s coming from your market. The companies that don’t do this are just guessing from a conference room.” By using these tips to create a solid foundation of evangelist customers, Goldfayn goes so far as to assert that if these companies stopped their marketing, they could continue thriving in terms of sales purely due to their evangelist customers.