In the realm of startups, there are a few principles that stand out as essential to establishing lasting growth in a company. Customer retention trumps customer acquisition in terms of overall value, and brand loyalty is one of the best elements that lead to higher customer retention rates.
Brand loyalty is worth prioritizing in any business, but there’s one level of brand commitment that goes above and beyond just loyalty: brand evangelism.
Whereas brand familiarity describes a customer being aware of a brand (and possibly being comfortable with it), and brand loyalty describes a customer being committed to one brand over any competitor brands, brand evangelism describes a customer who’s more than loyal — they’re an outspoken and active advocate of your brand.
So, not only are brand evangelists more committed than the average brand loyalist, they’ll do work on your behalf to attract more people to your brand. Clearly, it’s a nice setup, so how can you encourage brand evangelism?
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 giving people a diametrically opposed “enemy,” they’ll be more likely to vocally and deeply align themselves with you. Take advantage of this by sharply differentiating your brand from those of your competitors’, not necessarily making enemies of them, but by making your 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 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 standout customers, you have to give them standout 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 a specific social media follower and promote their material to show your appreciation for them. They’ll remember you.
4. Create a community. Brand evangelists’ loyalties deepen the more they feel like they’re truly a part of something. As a user on your app or website, they have a certain degree of personal investment. But as a member of a thriving community, they’ll feel it even stronger. For example, you could create a user-driven help forum, or have some other on-site feature where users can contribute their own content and talk to each other.
5. Encourage active participation. Participation does a few things for you. First, every act of participation will make 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 that make sense, implement them. It shows that you listen to your customers and care what they have to say, which 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. Nobody’s 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. Don’t expect every customer to become an evangelist, and don’t try to force it to happen unnaturally, but know that a few nudges in the right direction can make a huge difference for your customer enthusiasm — and your bottom line.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!