How to build a following of brand evangelists
By Kathleen Aoki
Imagine having a brand following so strong that your best customers do your marketing for you. That's the idea behind brand evangelists - customers so enthusiastic that they sing the praises of your products and services to friends and family, or even people they meet on the street.
But building a following of brand evangelists doesn't just happen by accident. Here's a look at some ways your small business can build its own following of avid aficionados, too.
Exemplary customer service
Take Zappos, the US online shoe retailer whose customer service is legendary in the business. They provide free shipping both ways and offer a "surprise upgrade" to overnight shipping on most orders at no cost. On one occasion, a customer service rep physically went to a rival shoe store to obtain a pair of shoes for a customer when Zappos ran out of stock. Another rep sent flowers to a customer after learning of her medical struggles.
In fact, the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, encourages employees to make decisions without consulting managers and to send customers personal thank you notes. With over-the-top service like this, it's easy to see why Zappos customers rave about the brand, making them one of the leading online shoe retailers.
Convert your employees
Ideally, your employees should be your first line of brand evangelists. Employees that are enthusiastic, outgoing, and knowledgeable about the brand are more likely to get customers on board and excited too.
As Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wrote in his book, Onward, "[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers."
By involving and empowering your employees in day-to-day decisions and company goals, you align them with your mission and foster their ability to convert customers into brand evangelists too.
Social media is another powerful way to build a strong brand following through regular two-way engagement and valuable social initiatives.
As The Co-operative Group's CMO Gill Barr says, brands need real friends, not Likes: "The friendship I'm talking about sustains real long term relationships of the kind we would all like within our businesses." Companies can actively cultivate these connections with consumers, she says, by getting to know them, being there for them and listening to and involving them in the business.
It's all about relationships
If the relationship theme is starting to sound a bit familiar, that's good. Building a following of brand evangelists is really about building long-term relationships with everyone who touches your business, from your suppliers to your fans on Twitter.
Happy customers are statistically much more likely to do business with you again, and tell others about their experience. By striving to create the best possible experience for everyone you come in contact with, you can't help but create an enthusiastic following for your brand.