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Let Your Customer Be Your Evangelist

A couple years ago, I wrote an article about satellite radio. The public relations person for XM Satellite Radio asked me if I’d ever tried the product, and I told him no. The next day, a FedEx man arrived and I had a XM Satellite Radio boombox and receiver. XM’s competitor at the time, Sirius, was also featured in my piece. But they didn’t send me product to check out and I never tried their service. I was quickly converted and, not long after, became a happily paying customer. I listened to it all day while I was working, I took it to the beach, on picnics, to parties and even to a local bar to show friends. I told almost everyone I knew about it and I can trace at least a dozen new XM customers back to me (my parents have bought two receivers alone).

Was it that important that either company send me product? For the purposes of my article, no. The article was written and it wasn’t a product comparison, just a business story. But the XM PR guy, by sending me the product to try out, turned me from a journalist into an evangelist. Had Sirius sent me their product to try out, who knows, I may have been singing their praises instead.

NetFlix is another company who could use me as a spokesperson, especially when friends bemoan the selection of documentary and independent films at their local video stores. I’ve also given three people NetFlix subscriptions as gifts. On the music front, I’m a big fan of RealNetwork’s Rhapsody music service. I would have never tried the service, but someone at the company gave me a complimentary trial subscription (I now pay like everyone else) and now even my friends who spent hours each day illegally downloading songs have subscribed to the service.

The one thing that strikes me funny about all of these companies is that none of them incentivized me to sing their praises. When I signed up for MindSpring Internet service years ago the company had a “suggest a friend” program where customers received a free month of service for every friend they recommended. I ended up getting more than a year of free service as a result. I would have never suggested MindSpring had they not offered a superior product and service however.

I’ve talked a number of times about how every employee is a PR person. But your employees alone can’t help you. Your customers are your best “street team” and what they say carries more weight than any PR person or product reviewer spins. Simply put, this is PR that you can’t buy.  If you treat the customer right, they’ll do your job for you, but that will only happen if you put your customers first.

Tips for evangelizing:

1. Offer an incentive program to existing customers that gives them free product or service in exchange for signing-up new customers or “spreading the word” in some measurable way.

2. Let people in the press try your product and get feedback from them – even if they’re not writing about it. A few years ago, I beta tested a new online service and wrote a scathing review for the PR people. When the product launched, some of my suggestions were put into practice and I received a note of thanks from the CEO (I wasn’t a member of the media at the time).

3. Reach out to your best customers. If you offer a service or product to businesses and you have key customers who express happiness with your product/service, keep in contact with these people and see how the product/service can be improved. Offer them perks in exchange for testimonials (or simply ask). When I worked for a dot-com I saved our company more than $10,000 by simply referring customers to one of our vendors. The salesman for the vendor was more than happy to give my company a discount after I helped him generate a few hundred thousand dollars in sales.

4. Create an outreach program in conjunction with your marketing department. T-shirts, hats, stickers, coupons, etc. sent to your company’s biggest fans is a great way to garner some cheap attention.

5. Internally, foster a feeling of good will in the company and evangelize your own workforce. The public relations department needs to act as internal barometer and help keep spirits high and the company improving. If you’re outside the company, much sure your firm believes in your client. If your workers have concerns about a client, address those concerns. There’s nothing worse than talking to a PR person who obviously doesn’t like their client.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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