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Why every company needs a chief evangelist

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Theo Priestley is VP and chief evangelist at Software AG.

The marketer’s role has become much more complex amid the cacophony from social networks, the proliferations of mobile devices, and changing TV viewer habits.

To manage this, technology evangelism has to evolve beyond its current definition. A technology evangelist is a person who builds up support for a given technology, and then establishes it as a standard in the given industry.

Whether a company appoints a single “Chief Evangelist” or fulfills the role with functional equivalents from across a marketing team, there are five core jobs the role comprises:

1. Create a transparent story

The Chief Evangelist needs to be able to create stories that inspire passion. And to do this, transparency is important.

One notable early Chief Evangelist in the tech industry was Guy Kawasaki, who perhaps coined the term itself when he spent his career at Apple.

Kawasaki described his role at Apple as “to protect and preserve the Macintosh cult by doing whatever I had to do.” He galvanized the company image and its fans at a time when it was seriously flagging. One of his best achievements was the success of EvangeList, a mailing list that was a rally cry to all Apple fans around the World to come together to support and strongly defend its products and brand image. At that time, it was unheard of in marketing and was a complete switch in how organizations handled PR and communication.

Guy took the concepts of transparency and open information and gave it back to the fans who in turn became consumer evangelists themselves. And we all know how hard they defend the company when it’s criticized.

Corporate and product marketing has traditionally been about one-way messaging. But to perform well in new channels, it must become two-way. An honest, transparent conversation about one’s business allows authentic connections with customers. It draws out their own issues and successes, and in turn can turn them into evangelists with the message that comes from the story itself. It’s not a one-off conversation. It’s a lifelong relationship, because the stories change as they unfold over time.

2. Create a real, inspiring story

An evangelist must have the charisma to inspire.

Robert Scoble is another example of an early evangelist. Scoble became well known at Microsoft for his frank conversations about the tech industry. He became respected because he was always honest, even when it came to his own company’s shortcomings.

More recently, Scoble moved to a role at Rackspace (he calls himself their ‘Startup Liason Officer’), where he holds conversations with innovative companies and shares his learnings both publicly and internally with his company. It’s his thought leadership, and the association of that with Rackspace, that accelerates the company to the front of clients’ minds. But this is also seen as an inspiration internally. Again, it’s the open sharing of that information that is the key.

There is too much noise in the marketplace for a story to succeed without inspiring people both internally and externally.

A message has to inspire in order to galvanize both employees and clients into action. Kawasaki championed the masses and listened to what the fans were saying, Scoble inspired and informed from the inside out, so that Rackspace employees are a part of the overall picture.

3. Adapt constantly

A survey report published by Forrester in July found that 97% of CMOs think marketing must do things it hasn’t done ever before to be successful and that two-thirds find it very difficult to keep up with the changes.

No longer do marketers have a limited number of channels or devices to target. They constantly need new skills, to manage the proliferation of smart devices and channels through which people communicate (mobile apps and web, social networking, etc). Delivering the brand message requires all kinds of customization, depending on the medium. And that will keep changing.

Even the marketing must-haves keep changing: Awareness of how the brand is perceived in the market, knowledge of the technology behind the product and how it is differentiated, and relationships with customers.

4. Be opinionated

Opinions matter, even if they’re controversial, because they help a marketer to evangelize. Without an opinion, there’s very little passion. Both clients and employees will see right through this.

And having a thesis forces early confrontation with the reality of a changing marketplace. The evangelist is someone who can stay ahead of trends and feed that back to the organization.. It’s not about shouting with a megaphone when a new trend breaks. It’s about analyzing trends and picking the right message to draw from its impact, and retaining authenticity.

5. Connect the dots

And lastly, it’s about taking those stories and using them to connect the various departments within the organization itself. This allows marketing to connect better with pre-sales efforts to deliver a more consistent and concise message. That message feeds back into the product roadmap, allowing for consistent improvement and adaptation to market needs.

It you can’t draw your company’s proposition on the back of a napkin, there’s something wrong with your brand identity. Imagine a client trying to understand your company and product if you can’t.

Filed under: Business, Entrepreneur

    




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