Customer Evangelists

Customer Evangelists

Buzz. It¬s the holy grail of marketers¬” mythical, coveted, and searched for by all ambitious advertisers.

Buzz happens when roving bands of raving fans spread word about the wonders of a product. Buzz is generated when consumers of a product become its crusaders. Buzz occurs when a connection is forged so deeply with customers that they are mobilized into a zealous army of customer evangelists.

As part of the advertising team of Rick Warren¬s bestselling book, The Purpose-Driven Life, marketing guru Greg Stielstra has firsthand experience creating buzz. To date, The Purpose-Driven Life has sold in the ballpark of 26 million copies. Stielstra weighs in with his approach to igniting buzz in an interview featured in the March volume of Wharton Leadership Digest.

Stielstra¬s buzz-building strategy is simple: ¬Put your product in the hands of those who will appreciate it the most.¬ Whereas most marketers focus on the purchasing potential of consumers¬” how much they will buy¬” Stielstra advises looking to the promotional potential of consumers¬” how much they will ¬sell¬ by telling others about the product.

For Stielstra, generating buzz involves winning over, ¬customer evangelists,¬ the consumers with the highest promotional potential. Customer evangelists are the people who would benefit the most from a product and thus be most likely to spread the word about it. In Stielstra¬s theory of marketing, the key may not be the initial number of people made aware of a product, but the depth at which the product connects with its most enthusiastic customers.

Purchase decisions have become more complex as the number of brands and product variations have increased. As Stielstra writes, ¬We have limited mental capacity, while the amount of information we¬re being asked to process is increasing every day. To cope, we stop wasting our brain power on products that only generally interest us and concentrate instead on those that match our passions and interests.¬ With so much variety, only a small number of specialist-consumers distinguish between brands when making a purchase. These individuals are customer evangelists, and they fuel the buzz factor. The remaining consumers bypass the selection process and simply mimic the choice of a customer evangelist. The challenge for marketers is to win over the customer evangelists and to make their decisions visible so that imitators will follow their lead.

Testing his own theory, Stielstra has made his latest book, Pyromarketing, available for free audio download online. He is banking on striking a chord with a core group of fans who will champion the book to others. Stielstra expects the buzz generated by his book¬s appeal to generate future sales which will offset the revenue foregone by giving the audio book away for free.

Stielstra chose to build buzz with a giveaway, but marketing through customer evangelists doesn¬t have to involve freebies or exclusive events. Stielstra points to advertisers at Apple to illustrate. Before the iPod hit the market, black was the standard color for earphones. By simply making their earphones white, Apple made iPod users easy to identify and to imitate.

In summary, less can be more and quality often trumps quantity. In marketing as in leadership, influencing the influencers reaps tremendous rewards. Be willing to go the extra mile to captivate customer evangelists rather than bombarding client lists with mass mailings. You¬ll find the resulting buzz factor to be well worth the effort.

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