Spreading the Word
Corporate evangelists recruit customers who love to create buzz about a product
Scooter stories. But some companies have embraced bloggers as customer evangelists. Motor-scooter company Vespa recently brought in two fans as unpaid bloggers on its website. "Vespa has incredible fans, and we thought the best approach was to let the customers tell their stories online," says "micropersuasion" strategist Steve Rubel, whose firm, CooperKatz, was hired by Vespa to do online marketing. Real people giving testimony is a cornerstone of evangelism. Instead of salaries, the bloggers get an opportunity to test out new models, plus pick up the occasional seat cover or rain jacket. More important to them, they get a big forum to write about their passion. "My agenda is to get more people scootering and get more people to buy Vespa," says Neil Barton, 32, whose full-time gig is running a computer network for a publisher.
Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine you're a CEO and want to use evangelism to grow your business. What steps should you take? U.S. News asked consultant McConnell what he would do if he was named chief evangelist at Wal-Mart--assuming he was a gonzo fan of the company. While McConnell cautioned that "a customer evangelism approach is a marathon strategy," here are a few of his ideas:
Find customer evangelists through online searches and store surveys. (In fact, there are pro-Wal-Mart blogs out there.)
Fly groups of them to Bentonville, Ark., every month to meet with senior executives so the evangelists can tell the chieftains what they're doing well and how they're screwing up.
Start blogs and podcasts to humanize the people behind the company's too-opaque walls. One caveat: PR spinmeisters should be forbidden from being involved.
Talk openly and frankly about controversial issues like employee health benefits, the company's impact on state Medicare programs, outsourcing, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.
Of course, Wal-Mart already has one critical asset that any corporate evangelist would love to start with: loyal customers. The key is to build on that base of support and use it to launch an evangelism program so your loyal customers will recruit even more loyal customers. But if a company makes a product that doesn't work or provides a service that falls short, any attempt at evangelism is likely to disappoint. After all, says Kawasaki, "you can't evangelize crap."