Brand evangelists are special people. They are passionate about your brand, and literally go out of their way to sing its praises to fellow customers.

Just as sports teams have fans, brands have evangelists. And just as each fan feels a sense of ownership in the team, a brand evangelist has that same sense of ownership in the brand. That sense of ownership gives brand evangelists a powerful incentive to see the brand succeed.

In many ways, brand evangelists are a company's marketing partner. But brand evangelists are also members of communities, and as such their ability to reach fellow customers is often greater than a company's.

Whereas many companies use traditional marketing tactics to send a one-way promotional message to customers, brand evangelists can communicate with customers in their space. This is a very powerful difference: It shifts the communication from being one-way to creating an actual dialogue; and whereas many people simply do not trust advertising, a recommendation from a fellow customer is credible.

But how can companies encourage their customers to become brand evangelists?

These eight steps can help your company create an environment that makes it easier for customers to become empowered brand "owners."

1. Create employee evangelists

Enthusiasm attracts enthusiasm. One of the best-known companies for creating evangelists is Southwest Airlines. But Southwest is also known for its employees. They are encouraged to dress casually, express a sense of humor, and have fun. Southwest views its employees as its first customers, and realizes that happy employees give better customer service, which leads to happy customers.

Key action point: Make brand evangelism a part of your company from the top down. If your employees are excited about your brand, and want to evangelize it to others, your customers will follow suit. Make sure that your workers are sending the same message that you want your customers to hear.

2. Get to know your customers

Discover who your customers are, and determine why they buy from you. More than likely you already have brand evangelists; you just have to find them. Once you have, talk to them so that you can figure out what you are doing right that's prompting them to evangelize your brand, and also what areas you can improve. In their landmark book Creating Customer Evangelists (, authors Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba explain that evangelists are the ultimate salespeople because "they know your target audience better than you do because they are the target audience."

Key action point: Figure out who your evangelists are and also what common traits they possess. Understand what it is about your brand that motivates them to evangelize it to other people. Better yet, learn who your existing evangelists are and why they are promoting you to others. Since they are evangelists for your brand, they will be more than happy to help!

3. Let evangelists shape your brand

This one might sting a bit. Listening to your customers and determining what leads them to becoming evangelists is one thing, but letting go and applying the feedback you collect to help shape your products and services... is quite another. But, again, remember the quote above: Evangelists know your target audience better than you do because they are the target audience. Your evangelists know exactly who your customers are and why they are buying from you. Tapping into their feedback, which they are more than willing to give, will allow your company to make all of its marketing processes far more efficient.

Key action point: Shift your marketing mindset regarding your evangelists to that of a marketing partner. Your evangelists are your direct link to your target market, and they will happily teach you exactly how to reach them. Find ways to incorporate their feedback into your marketing processes, and give them a greater say into the direction of your brand.

4. Be human

This is one of the great strengths of a company blog; it helps to humanize the company. One of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason brand evangelism works is that people want to buy from people they know and trust. In other words, they want to buy from people just like them. When you see a commercial for a product, you might tune it out; but if your best friend stops to tell you about that same product and how you need to buy it, that has a much better chance of making an impression on you.

Key action point: Look for ways to put your brand on the same level with your customers. With a blog, companies are able to help pull back the curtain, so to speak, and let their customers learn more about them. A blog allows a company to "talk" to its customers in a human voice, and it lets its customers talk back via comments. This form of conversation helps to put the company on the same level as its customers. Which creates very fertile ground for evangelism.

5. Be accessible

Make sure your customers have as many avenues as possible to give you feedback, and do everything you can to encourage that feedback—online and offline. Simply taking the time to listen to customers, showing them that you respect them and value their input, is often enough to create customer evangelists. Customers appreciate and value brands that appreciate and value them.

Key action point: Create and maintain as many channels of communication as possible between your and your customers. Add areas on your Web site and blog where customers can leave feedback, including suggestions. Make sure your product packaging includes information on how to contact customer service, and how to leave suggestions and feedback. Never make your customer have to look for this information; make all your company's contact information as easily available as possible.

6. Monitor customer feedback

Understand that brand evangelists may be passionate about your brand but that doesn't mean they won't criticize you as well. Evangelists feel a sense of ownership in a brand, and if they think that a company is doing something that dilutes the brand they will not hesitate to let the company know their feelings. But remember that such a complaint or criticism is rooted in passion, and where there is passion there's a potential evangelist.

Key action point: Make it easy for customers to leave you feedback. Add contact forms or email links to your Web site and blog, and include contact information on your product's packaging and any emails you send. And acknowledge receipt of the feedback. Doing so not only helps your company better market itself but also gives you a chance to convert a complainer into an evangelist.

7. Let your evangelists be evangelists

Do everything you can to empower your existing evangelists. This point ties into earlier ones: Make sure that your evangelists have easy access to any information about your brand, as well as many feedback channels as possible. Consider launching a blogger-outreach program for your brand evangelists who are also bloggers. This would make it easier for your brand evangelists to promote your brand in the blogosphere.

Key action point: View your evangelists as volunteer salespeople for your brand, because that's exactly what they are. Give them all the information and tools they need to promote your brand to other customers. Consider giving free samples to your evangelists, or creating an outreach program around them. Make it as easy as possible for your evangelists to promote your brand to everyone they come in contact with.

8. Create a community for your evangelists

After you have collected information about who and where your brand evangelists are, create a community for them. A good place to start is by working with your online evangelists to create an online meeting place. Ideally, you can identify brand evangelists who are already participating in online forums and blogs, because these customers are already familiar with online communities. Once you have created an online meeting place for your brand evangelists, it will become easier for them to share information and recruit new evangelists for your brand. This is another example of letting evangelists be evangelists.

But not all your community-building efforts should be online. Once you have begun to identify and collect information about your brand evangelists, why not create offline meetings for them? For example, if you create an online community for your evangelists, and discover that 100 of them live in San Francisco, you could work with these evangelists to set up an offline meeting in the San Francisco area. This would also be an ideal opportunity for representatives of your company to spend quality face-to-face time with your evangelists, which is a wonderful way to collect valuable feedback.

Key action point: Make every effort to create a sense of community among your evangelists. Your goal should be to make it as easy as possible for your evangelists to come together and share information, and their love of your brand. Your company should also make every effort to itself be a member of these communities, whether they are online, or off. Doing so will not only help your company accumulate invaluable feedback from your evangelists but also make them more likely to evangelize your brand—and increase the chance that you'll convert customers who visit these communities into fellow evangelists.

Lessons learned

In many cases, an environment that fosters the creation of brand evangelists may require an entire shift in your company's existing culture. The companies that do the best job of creating evangelists start from the top down.

First create employee evangelists, which means creating a workplace where employees are excited about the brand and want to share that enthusiasm with others. It is all but impossible to create and nurture an environment that leads to brand evangelists if your employees aren't themselves excited about the brand.

Once you have created a passionate workplace, apply lessons learned to the creation of your brand evangelists. Make yourself accessible to your customers and stay in constant contact with them so that you know exactly who your customers are and what motivates them to buy from you.

Then, after you have identified your evangelists, empower them. Do everything you can give your evangelists every tool they need to spread their passion for your brand to everyone they come in contact with. Consider your evangelists your volunteer sales force. Your evangelists can not merely sell your brand more effectively than you can, they also will gladly do it for free.

Finally, create a community for your evangelists. It can be an online forum or blog, or it can be a monthly meeting at your home office with your evangelists—or, better yet, all of the above.

Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm, and the best way to spread evangelism is to have potential customers in contact with people who love your brand as much as you do. Creating a passionate community that loves your brand should be your ultimate brand-evangelism goal.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier