In the startup realm, certain principles stand out as essential to lasting growth in a company. Customer retention, for instance, trumps customer acquisition in terms of overall value, and brand loyalty is one of the most important elements that lead to higher customer-retention rates.
Brand loyalty is worth prioritizing in any business, of course, but there’s one level of brand commitment that goes above and beyond just loyalty: brand evangelism.
Whereas "brand familiarity" describes a customer's awareness of a brand (and, hopefully, his/her comfort with it), and "brand loyalty" describes a customer's commitment to one brand over competitor brands, "brand evangelism" describes customers who are more than loyal -- they’re outspoken and active advocates of your brand.
So, not only are brand evangelists more committed than the average brand loyalist, they’ll work on your behalf to attract more people to your brand. Clearly, brand evangelism is a nice setup; now, how can you encourage it?
Here are seven ways:
1. Differentiate your brand, sharply.
Some of the biggest fan bases in sports have arisen out of a response to a fierce rivalry. By similarly giving customers a diametrically opposed “enemy,” you'll steer them into being more likely to vocally and deeply align themselves with your brand.
Take advantage of this tendency, by sharply differentiating your brand from those of your competitors’ -- not necessarily making enemies of them, but still making the average customer experience dramatically different.
2. Focus on loyalty first.
Brand evangelism is the last threshold in a series of increasingly intense brand relationships; first comes familiarity, and loyalty must come after that, if you hope to cultivate more evangelists.
There are several stages to this, as loyalty warrants its own article, but the basics should be under your control; give users a great experience, keep them coming back for more and be consistent and visible in your branding efforts.
3. Dole out individual attention.
If you want stand-out customers, you have to give them stand-out experiences. That means doling out individual forms of attention to make memorable, unique brand impressions on certain members of your community.
For example, go above and beyond the call of duty during especially tough or unique customer service cases, or call out specific social media followers and promote their material to show your appreciation. Those people will remember you.
4. Create a community.
Brand evangelists’ loyalties deepen the more they feel that they’re truly a part of something. As users on your app or website, they have a certain degree of personal investment.
But as members of a thriving community, they'll offer a level of loyalty that's even stronger. For example, you could create a user-driven help forum, or have some other on-site feature where users contribute their own content and talk to one other.
5. Encourage active participation.
Participation does a few things for you. First, every act of participation makes your target evangelist more loyal to your brand -- think of it as a kind of ritual action that becomes a habit.
Second, every act of participation increases the overall visibility of consumer brand affection, and brand affection is contagious, to say the least. Get your customers posting frequently about your brand by making new announcements, asking engaging questions, and generally contributing to the community.
6. Incorporate feedback.
This is the mark of a champion brand, and it’s going to help your company on all three levels of brand relationship. Collect and really listen to feedback about your brand, products and services, and when you encounter pieces of information that make sense, implement them.
That kind of response shows that you listen to your customers and care about what they say, which in turn inspires more loyalty. You can even give shout-outs to the individuals who submitted those pieces of feedback, to make them feel like an even more ingrained part of your brand community.
7. Make it easy to be an evangelist.
No matter how excitable they are, most people are still lazy. They're not going to go completely out of their way to evangelize your brand -- you have to make it easy for them. Offer ample opportunities for your users to post about you on social media (with contests, discussion opportunities, etc.), and make signup and participation in your community constructs both simple and rewarding.
These strategies aren’t foolproof, and you’ll need to allow some wiggle room for adjustment and development, but with these seven tactics in place, you’ll equip your startup with almost everything you need to cultivate a community of brand evangelists.
Related: 25 Tips for Earning Customer Loyalty
Don’t expect every customer to become an evangelist, of course, and don’t try to force it to happen unnaturally. Just know that a few nudges in the right direction can make a huge difference for your customer enthusiasm -- and your bottom line.