Fans or Customers: 5 Tips for Converting Customers into Brand Evangelists

 In Musings

How do I get my message out? When the coding is done and commercialization process begins,every tech start-up must ask themselves this question. For a young, cash strapped tech company the traditional marketing answers for communicating your message can be cost-prohibitive. This is why every organic touch-point must be impactful. Building a powerful brand narrative that people are passionate about sharing with their social network is critical. This creates fans instead of customers, which are, arguably, more important.

I first considered the distinction between fans and customers when Disney announced Star Wars the Force Awakens. In the lead up to the film, I consumed every piece of Star Wars merchandise available. The fervor reminded me that I am an incurable fan of the brand. Our culture is full of fandoms that generate pervasive cross-generational loyalties; Star Wars is one, so is your favorite sports team.

In the tech world, we have seen the fan phenomenon with the “Cult of Apple,” or rabid Nintendo apologists. Unlike customers who often maintain a distant transactional relationship, fans identify completely with your brand. A fan is compelled to share your narrative and your product’s value at every turn, becoming your company’s most passionate and convincing evangelist.

For tech start-ups with limited funds, fans can do the bulk of your organic marketing for you.  With a little cultivation from a BD specialist, a fan-base’s excitement can generate the much needed word of mouth critical to early adopter sales. Here are five tips to converting your customers into fans:

Communities are Crucial

Unless you are developing truly revolutionary product there is likely already a community that exists for fans of it. Meet-up groups are great places to start, as are student organizations at local universities and/or professional and technical societies both of which provide a ready made pool of people who share an interest in your technology or target market. If there is not a community that exists… make one.

Provide Experiences

Joining a community but not participating will not only not create fans, but likely piss members off. The onus is on you to engage community members and to create opportunities for them to experience your product in ways that they will enjoy, remember, and feel compelled to share with their peer-groups.

Offer Tangible Items

It is often difficult for tech start-ups to give customers something that they can touch and feel. Tangible items trigger memories and emotions, allowing the fan to interact with, relate to and increase their association with the company and product. For example, in Red Hat’s early years the open source software company created empty boxes so that Network Administrators would have something tangible to sit beside their Windows NT, and Novell NetWare boxes on the shelf.

Have a Product; Share It

Create a product. No really… actually create the product or no one will take you seriously. You should be able to show your fans the product in action so that they can become excited about the prospect of using it. Then, actually let them us it – share it with a limited number beta-customers or in pilot programs to test it in a live fire scenario. Video game makers have this one down to a science, and their fans love them for it. Game developers have a well curated community of beta-testers that become a ready-made pool of first customers.

Quality is Non-Negotiable

You may tell the most compelling narrative, build an excited community of people who are teeming for your product with baited breath, and then they get it and…well… it’s …meh. Fans maintain an unrelenting expectation of excellence. Create a quality product and they will sing your praises, falter and they will become your harshest critics (we’re looking at you Star Wars the Phantom Menace).

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