The early Christian church rose to become the dominant religion in the Roman Empire largely on the passion of evangelists eager to spread the word of their new beliefs from city to city. This may well have been the first word-of-mouth marketing campaign. The words of these evangelists served the church well.
That kind of evangelist marketing may be capable of delivering similar but more down-to-earth miracles for your business, says Alex Goldfayn, CEO of The Evangelist Marketing Institute and author of its new bible, "Evangelist Marketing" (BenBella Books, 2012).
"Evangelist marketing is designed to create a critical mass of really passionate, loyal customers," Goldfayn told BusinessNewsDaily. "These are the most desirable customers. If you think about companies in the world who have evangelists, Apple has the most of any company in any business."
Though Goldfayn wrote his book for the electronics industry, he says that the concepts are relevant to the marketing needs of small businesses, entrepreneurs and startups.
Evangelist marketing is not a cosmetic fix; it's an organic process that starts with the inherent qualities of the product or service itself. Simply put, Goldfayn said, it has to be an excellent product that delivers.
"You have to begin with an excellent product or service," he said. "If you don't have that you cannot have evangelists."
That product or service must also do more than just keep its promise. It has to adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of its promise and fall within consumer price expectations.
"It has to go beyond what it's supposed to do," Goldfayn said. "An excellent product or service needs to exceed customer expectations — it needs to possess what I call the feel-good factor. It literally means to feel good using your product or service."
Deep customer insight
The lynchpin for evangelist marketing is the development of deep customer insight. This doesn't mean focus groups or Internet surveys, Goldfayn said. It means actual qualitative conversations that last from 20 to 30 minutes and engage actual customers in a dialogue. But it doesn't have to be face to face, he said; it can be on the phone.
"Unless you know exactly how your customers use your products or services and think and talk about them, you're just guessing from a conference room," Goldfayn said. "You do it qualitatively to hear where they get excited. You want to know where to dig. You talk to your customer base by talking to your customer base. It doesn’t stop with your own customers. It's equally insightful to speak with customers of the competition."
The next step toward implementing an evangelist marketing campaign is developing the right language to communicate your product or service — language that answers the consumer's question of "what's in it for me." And that points you right back to the deep consumer insights you've gleaned, Goldfayn said.
"You need to use powerful language," he said. "This is the language that comes from your customer insight work. The best language is about lifestyle; it's not about technical specifications. It's not filled with business-speak words. The simpler it is the better."
That simplicity extends to the way you spread your good news, Goldfayn said. You need to streamline your public relations and other communications.
"Don't blast the media," he said. "Don't send terrible press releases. Consider eliminating press releases altogether."
It's more important to build relationships with the media one-on-one, he said.
You also need to pick the appropriate platform for your communications. Though social media are in vogue, they're not always the best solution, Goldfayn said. Consider them an adjunct, not the main event.
Social media caveat
"For very small companies, I believe that social media is very helpful if used the right way," he said. "However, it should not be your main outlet. Social media should not be the place where you spend the majority of your marketing and PR budget. It should be a complement."
That platform, Goldfayn suggests, also includes often overlooked intangibles such as the way you package your product. It's all part of your message, he said. You have to look no further than Apple to see how an evangelically savvy company lavishes attention on the way it wraps and presents its products. Envangelism is in the details as well.
"Simple things like the product packaging and instruction manuals are a big missed marketing opportunity," he said.
If you do all of these things, you're going to start developing word-of-mouth, which is the heart and soul of evangelical marketing, Goldfayn said. The steps go in order, he added, and each step has to build on the preceding step.
"You develop word-of- mouth among your customers by having a best-in-class product and by having an industry-leading user experience," he said.
Once you have recruited your core evangelists, treasure them, Goldfayn said.
"Evangelists are passionate and they communicate," he said. "They're also forgiving of mistakes, which is a very big thing. They think you have their best interests at heart and if you screw up once or twice, they will give you the benefit of the doubt. But if you're like Netflix and make a mistake and are very arrogant about it and don't fix your mistake, you'll lose your evangelists. Most marketing mistakes are unforced errors, self-inflicted."
Evangelists, passionate fans though they may be, are not forever in your liege.
"Once you have them, you have to maintain them," Goldfayn said. "To maintain your evangelists you have to never stop communicating. Always keep talking to the market. Never stop listening to your market. Keep gathering insights and improving your product. Innovate your product, but just as aggressively, innovate your marketing. If you don’t do it, the competition will and there's always greener grass."
Gravity pushes backwards
As a cautionary tale, Goldfayn points to Research in Motion, a company whose BlackBerrys defined the smartphone market for years.
"They once had evangelists coming out of their ears," he said. "Then they stopped making excellent products and they stopped communicating."
Today, the company's ability to survive is debated.
"Gravity pushes backwards when it comes to marketing," Goldfayn said. "Evangelist marketing is a virtuous circle."