Guy Kawasaki was the OG brand evangelist.
Starting out as hype man for Apple in the 1980s where his job was “to protect and preserve the Macintosh cult by doing whatever I had to do” (frightening), he is now Chief Evangelist of Canva – a real, salary-paying position coming to tech giants near you.
In the topsy-turvy world of 2022 there is not one but two types of brand evangelist.
The first category refers to the superfans of your startup – the loyal followers who have been there since the Big Bang and will tell anyone who’ll listen about your brand.
The second category consists of staff members who are paid to be superfans. Like Kawasaki, these evangelists deliver ROI by growing the ranks of the first category.
A niche part of the second category is the Founder Evangelist. Like Richard Branson, Adam Neumann, and Steve Jobs, you can be your brand’s own ambassador-advocate, making public declarations of brand love and orchestrating unifying experiences.
If you don’t fit this role and can’t yet afford to hire someone who does, you’ll have to address the first category. That means turning customers into converts.
But brand evangelism is about a lot more than getting happy customers to say nice things.
Eager early adopters sit in a powerful position. At minimum they give you regular business. On a larger scale, they spread the good word and drive early-stage marketing.
Think of it this way: Apple stores or Gamestops with long queues outside them on release days will make a good bit of cash from those shoppers. Much more powerful is the buzz those shoppers create when pictures of them circulate online.
It’s kind of like clubbing, and people are kind of like lemmings. We might not know what’s inside, but if other people are willing to queue for it, we want to see what the fuss is about.
Brand evangelists (or evangelicals) will actively fight your corner. They will educate others using their deep knowledge of your values or product. They will deliver an infectious enthusiasm and spark curiosity in your competitors’ customers.
They’re not influencers, and you’re not paying them. They’re people who have come to you organically and love your product authentically.
Kissmetrics founder Neil Patel gives good examples of brand evangelism. It’s “the ground-shaking rumble of hundreds of Harleys at the local HOGs gathering…. It’s Bill at the office, explaining how his Dollar Shave Club membership works. It’s thousands of Bills at workplaces everywhere explaining how it works.”
In this sense, brand evangelists come free. In others, they don’t.
Keeping the faith
Simply buying your product isn’t enough for brand evangelicals.
They want to be along for the ride, to feel like part of your journey. Perhaps in some small way, they want to feel like they have contributed to your success.
As Account-Based Marketing For Dummies author Sangram Vajre writes, evangelism “should be about clarifying the problem, building a community around the philosophy of the solution, and making it possible for people to be part of the solution. “
To convert a customer to your mission, they must feel represented, heard, and seen.
In the most literal sense, this means asking for feedback and acting on the response (within reason). It means real conversations between founders and followers (easiest in the early stages).
As you scale, you can switch from manning the DMs to writing weekly or monthly updates signed off with a thank you.
Show your face at events for as long as you can, and as it gets more difficult, soft launch senior staff and/or brand ambassadors into your “front of house” team to take over.
When you hand over communications to a customer service team, have a brand book and tone of voice guidelines for how you want those interactions to go.
When your superfans tag you on social media, tag them back. When they write (flattering) blog posts, share them.
And don’t forget to reward your converted customers in the tangible sense. Discounts, loyalty rewards, friends and family programs, earlybird access, exclusive content, beta invitations, shout outs, and so on.
Brand culture comes from the top down. It exists within your corporate values. It’s represented by your employees. It filters down through your company culture and out into your external communications. Once it’s out there you’ve done all you can. That means you need to get it locked in at the near end of that chain.
Brand evangelists can’t focus on multiple value points. They won’t stay with you as you leapfrog trends. They can also take pivots particularly hard.
But they’re not fickle. Treat them well and not only will your marketing efforts get an extremely cheap helping hand. You’ll be sparking genuine joy in peoples’ lives.