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Business & marketing advice, news and features, design inspiration, and the art of gifting.

How to do Better Business: Making Brand Evangelists


The brand evangelist is the holy grail of any marketing team. He/she promotes your brand to the most relevant audiences, and the best part is evangelists are free, unlike employees. But how exactly do you make a brand evangelist? 


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by Fausto Mendez / photo by Marcleh

    Brand evangelists are difficult to make, and some brands can never figure it out. Some companies never even give the concept a shot, assuming brand evangelists are impossible for their respective companies or industries. While it’s true that brands like the NBA have a much easier time developing evangelists than brands like Delta Airlines, it’s not true that it’s impossible to make evangelists for your specific business. Think about it…

Success Story: Virgin Airlines

    Prior to Virgin Airlines, it’s hard to believe that an airline could ever be a hip brand like Coca Cola, especially in social media, which is where many evangelists do some of their best evangelizing. But if you take a look at the company’s online presence, it’s clear there is an army of evangelists out there working on behalf of Virgin, and it could not have been as successful as it is today without those evangelists.

    What is Virgin’s secret? More importantly, what is the brand doing that other airline companies are not doing? The answer is actually pretty simple: Virgin has Richard Branson, the company’s CEO and ultimate brand evangelist.

    Branson is one of the most famous businessmen on the planet right now. His fame and work rival that of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. More importantly, the global impact of his companies are literally changing the world as I type out this article, not just in terms of technology but in terms of philanthropy as well. Don’t believe me? Check back in ten years when Virgin Galactic is shuttling tourists in space as one of the first space “airlines” for consumers. Oh wait, it’s already happening, and you can reserve your seat right now.

    You could argue that space flight is actually the answer to making brand evangelists for Virgin. After all, that is another major difference between Virgin and the rest of the airline industry, but you’d be wrong. There are a handful of other companies that have achieved similar feats as Virgin Galactic, but most people have no idea those companies even exist. Branson, it turns out, is the key to making brand evangelists out of Virgin customers.

Steve Jobs Illustrates the Importance of Public Leaders

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photo by / LJR.Mike

    Steve Jobs, Apple and its customers have a similar relationship with each other, but don’t misunderstand this. It’s true that you need to have a great product/service and a stellar marketing team to make brand evangelists. However, the company’s “fearless leader” is ultimately the foundation that ensures the existence of brand evangelists. Without the fearless leader, there’d be little to no die-hard fans, or evangelists.

    The Brand Mentalist describes the relationship between Apple and its fans in an excellent piece titled “Evangelism”. 

"Apple users are evangelists because they truly believe in the values of the company. They feel that the company’s motto (“Think Different”) is a reflection of who they are as individuals. Apple evangelists feel inspired and connected when they see Apple commercials, as these advertisements show people who share Apple’s beliefs, messages that challenge the status quo, and people who actually “Think Different.” Most importantly, all of Apple’s products are a reflection of this belief. The company has always innovated products that actually do “Think Different” from what the mainstream version of that product is.

It’s not a coincidence that the leader of Apple held the same beliefs as the company. Steve Jobs was a misfit. Everything he did in life followed the mantra “Think Different.” In fact, you can even argue that one of the reasons he died is because of this belief.”

    Apple represents Jobs, not the other way around. It’s important to keep that in mind when making evangelists. If your company doesn’t represent its fearless leader, you’ll never make evangelists.

"If you, as a leader, live a life that embodies your company’s meaning, and you make sure that all company decisions are a reflection of this mantra, your users will slowly begin to join you. Your users will start to advocate for you, and truly believe that your company is a representation of who they are. They will start to feel that your company always has their best interests, without even questioning you." 

    As long as your customers feel that your brand’s fearless leader shares their beliefs and values, they will trust the company and its decisions. They will even promote it to their friends and family for free. After all, who doesn’t love to share good news?

"This kind of loyalty has nothing to do with design or features; this is about the innate need of social creatures to join groups that represents their values."

    You can always break down any marketing strategy to basic psychological elements that accurately predict the customer’s behavior, and in this case, people naturally feel a primitive desire to join groups with members that share the same values. Exploit this psychological tick with your company’s fearless leader, and you have yourself a competent brand-evangelist-making strategy.


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How to Do Better Business: Van Halen Explains How to Filter Out Bad Business Partners


How can you do better business? Van Halen’s David Lee Roth explains how seemingly absurd demands in the band’s contracts filter out bad business partners.


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by Fausto Mendez / photo by Dawn Huczek

    Van Halen’s David Lee Roth was notorious for including absolutely absurd demands in the band’s touring contracts with venues. One famous demand, often called the “No-Brown-M&Ms Clause”, says that a big bowl of M&M’s must be provided backstage for the band, but that part is not so unreasonable. Here’s the kicker. The contracts demanded - under penalty of the show’s cancellation and full compensation to the band - that there be no brown M&Ms in that bowl. Bratty, right?

There’s a Method to David Lee Roth’s Madness

    Upon closer examination, it’s not madness at all. The No-Brown-M&Ms Clause is a strategic business move that protects the band’s personal safety and guarantees each show’s stellar quality. Roth explains how it works in his memoir Crazy from the Heat.

“Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets.

We’d pull up with nine 18-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through. The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function.”

    With massive pieces of equipment and unprecedentedly technical shows, it became utterly critical for the venue staff to carefully follow all instructions. A simple weight miscalculation could easily result in killing the whole band, literally. Overlooking technical requirements could easily result in a poorly produced show that didn’t live up to the band’s standards.

    As a result, Roth had to figure out a way to filter out the irresponsible venues that didn’t pay attention to every detail in the contracts, not just for the band’s safety but also for the band’s success (and ultimately the success of the band’s record label). Roth’s best bet at making sure their venues were responsible enough and professional enough to pay attention to all the details was to make an absurdly stupid but easily verified demand in the contract with each venue. That’s when the No-Brown-M&Ms Clause found its way into the band’s contracts. 

“When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl,” he wrote, “well, we’d line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error… Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.”

    The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande expands on the importance of the clause and how it saved the band’s life in at least one recorded incident.

"These weren’t trifles … The mistakes could be life threatening. In Colorado, the band found the local promoters had failed to read the weight requirements, and the staging would have fallen through the arena."

    When the No-Brown-M&Ms Clause first became public knowledge, it’s easy to see why the average person would disregard Roth as being a coked out maniac. On the contrary, his precise demands ensured the band’s success and health to the present day. 

Other Famous Tricks that Filter Out Bad Business Partners

   Henry Ford (or Thomas Edison?) supposedly had a similar trick for filtering out bad hires at his company. He would treat prospective employees to lunch, and legend says that if they added salt to their food without first tasting it, he would ultimately turn them down. The idea is to filter new hires that assume too much. The businessman behind the story changes every time I hear the story, so it could easily by a myth, not true.

    The famous Zappos.com is known for offering prospective employees a big bonus for quitting before they begin their jobs. The point is to filter out hires that don’t know how to identify the better deal. In this case, a quitting bonus is not the better deal.

    Jamie from the Discovery show Mythbusters asks news hires to drill a hole through an x in a wall. He would only hire people that asked further questions, such as, “how big?” 

    If you’ve ever searched for jobs on Craigslist, you may have noticed that some employers ask candidates to include a specific phrase in their cover letters. The goal is filter out new hires that don’t read the job listing from top to bottom.

What’s my Filter? I Test Writing Skills.

    In my own life, I carefully examine people’s writing ability and general communication skills, so I often ask folks to initially contact me by email. The goal is to filter out people that don’t remember basic skills or never cared to learn the fundamentals.

    If you can’t write a simple sentence with perfect grammar, what else didn’t you care to learn? If you can’t write, do you even care about your education? I don’t care if you can code a whole e-commerce site from scratch if you can’t clearly and easily communicate with me.

    Similar to Roth’s No-Brown-M&Ms clause, the test also filters out folks that don’t pay attention to simple details. It also makes it easy to identify people that aren’t self aware. Too many spelling and grammar errors make you look really bad, and if you can’t see that, you’ll never see my vision.

    It takes critical thinking and organizational skills to put together a well-written piece of text. The writing-skills test has never failed me, and whenever I overlook a candidate’s writing ability, it always comes back to bite me. How do you test potential business partners and prospective hires?

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