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Can You Buy Customer Evangelism?

My favorite NY Times reporter Louise Story just put out a nice piece talking about how companies like Heinz are attempting to tap into the YouTube phenomenon to do their marketing for them.

I wrote about this contest last week. I still think it’s a good idea, but maybe a wrong strategy, and I’ll tell you why after you read this from Louise’s story.


Consumer brand companies have been busy introducing campaigns like Heinz’s that rely on user-generated content, an approach that combines the populist appeal of reality television with the old-fashioned gimmick of a sweepstakes to select a new advertising jingle.

But these companies have found that inviting consumers to create their advertising is often more stressful, costly and time-consuming than just rolling up their sleeves and doing the work themselves. Many entries are mediocre, if not downright bad, and sifting through them requires full-time attention. And even the most well-known brands often spend millions of dollars upfront to get the word out to consumers.

Her piece goes on to pour some slight criticism on the concept of user generated content by pointing out that the vast majority of these contests are “not very good”. I would agree. She also makes the case that these campaigns end up costing as much or more than a regular marketing initiative.

So, why would a company like Heinz bother then? Good question.

It seems to me that they are trying to buy customer evangelism, and I don’t think that’s possible.

Customer evangelism, as defined by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba co-authors of ‘Creating Customer Evangelists’ is…

When customers are truly thrilled about their experience with your product or service, they can become outspoken “evangelists” for your company. This group of satisfied believers can be converted into a potent marketing force to grow your universe of customers.

Authors Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba explain how to convert already loyal customers into influential and enthusiastic evangelists. The year-long research project that led to “Creating Customer Evangelists” outlines the framework for developing evangelism marketing strategies and programs. The ultimate goal is to create communities of influencers who drive sales or membership for your company or organization.

The reason you cannot buy customer evangelism in a case like Heinz is that they started in the wrong place… YouTube.

Instead, maybe they should have started with their customers? Sure, lots of people use ketchup, and YouTube reaches millions, but what about the people who REALLY love ketchup? Those are the people I would have started with.

As Ben and Jackie talk about, it may have been more effective for Heinz to attempt to enable their loyal customers they already knew about first rather then to case a wide net on this YouTube promotion.

You really have to love it. You can’t fake it.

More at Techmeme.

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