A lot is being written about evangelists these days, and I'm not speaking about the ones of the religious persuasion. [Fun Fact: I was actively dissuaded from using the term 'evangelist' in a talk I recently did at the CDC. PC you know, nudge nudge.] Rather, it is the brand evangelist that has captured the rhetoric, and few have done it better than the folks at Church of the Customer Blog.
I was reading yet another article/post about brand evangelists, this time a very good one by Mack Collier at MarketingProfs (subscription required). His action steps provide a framework for how social marketers can think about our own types of evangelists: what I term behavioral evangelists (now you see where that can go at CDC). The idea behind behavioral evangelists is quite simple: take people who already practice the behaviors you are encouraging, or who quickly adopt them (aka early adopters) - or use the product or service you are marketing - and provide them with the tools and encouragement to 'take the message' to others. This evangelism might be straight word-of-mouth, passing out literature and other materials, sending digital messages to friends through email or SMS, and even volunteering to act as peer counselors or other program disseminators and extenders. Here are the action steps Mack suggests in his article with my own commentary in applying it to a social marketing program.
- Make brand evangelism a part of your company from the top down. Whatever your organization's mission is, discover how your colleagues and co-workers get excited and passionate about their work and fuel it. I can always tell, and so can you, when an organization is successful by the energy you get from the employees; so do your clients and customers. When you feel it, they feel it, and vice versa. It doesn't always have to come through as unbridled enthusiasm either; determination, commitment, compassion are other infectious agents for evangelism - just as brooding, passivity and negativity suck the oxygen right out of the room. When you are excited about the behaviors and changes you are encouraging, it's difficult for others to not catch the spirit as well. Do the attitude check before you go out the door every morning (or as a friend says: bring your A game).
- Figure out who your evangelists are and also what common traits they possess. Understand what it is about the behaviors, products and services you encourage that motivates and is reinforcing to your audience to try them and evangelize them to other people. An even better idea: find your positive deviants and learn who are your existing evangelists and why they are already doing the desired behaviors and promoting them to others.
- Shift your marketing mindset regarding your evangelists to that of a marketing partner. Your evangelists are your direct link to your target market, and they will happily teach you exactly how to reach them. Find ways to incorporate their feedback into your marketing processes, and give them a greater say into the direction of your program.
- Look for ways to put your brand on the same level with your customers. Make your behavior change programs, your products and your services transparent to your clients. You aren't trying to trick them or deceive them into doing something they really don't want to do (are you?). So open up, let them be part of your process - from beginning to end. Talk with them, often and where they gather, whether it is a social network site or blog, a beauty parlor or a pool hall. Conversations allow you to establish deeper and more meaningful relationships with your priority audiences; the kinds that lead to the world changing insights for your programs and nurture their evangelism.
- Create and maintain as many channels of communication as possible between your and your customers. How many ways can you provide opportunities to talk with your audience, and for them to talk with you? Do more! Mack suggests adding areas on your Web site and blog where customers can leave feedback, including suggestions. Make sure your product packaging includes information on how to contact customer service, and how to leave suggestions and feedback. Put suggestion boxes in the waiting area.
- Make it as easy as possible for them to give you feedback. Add contact forms or email links to your Web site and blog, and include contact information on your product's packaging and any emails you send. And acknowledge receipt of the feedback. Then do something about it and let them know you listened.
- View your evangelists as volunteer salespeople for your brand, because that's exactly what they are. Give them all the information and tools they need to promote your program, behaviors, products and services to their relatives, friends and co-workers. Create an outreach program just for them. Treat them like staff. Make it as easy as possible for your evangelists to promote your program offerings to everyone they come in contact with.
- Make every effort to create a sense of community among your evangelists. We need to make it as easy as possible for our evangelists to come together and share information, their love of our program and what it does to improve their lives. Our organizations also need to make every effort to be a member of these communities, wherever they occur - and let them run themselves.
Whether you want to call them ambassadors, diffusion agents, volunteer, advocates or evangelists, the logic (and evidence base) for the strategy is clear:
- Reaching through people is the best way to reach people.
- People trust and are most receptive to messages that come from others like them.
- Interpersonal communication is the most effective method for behavior change.
- Social support enhances maintenance of change.
- Advocacy for behavior change also supports one's long term practice of the behavior as well.
Photo from Lynette Webb.