Recently, a very well-known company — one that commands what might be the world’s largest and most zealous army of brand loyalists — denied a warranty claim on one of its products. No big deal. Happens everyday, right? Not in this case. The man who submitted the warranty claim is known nationally for his devotion to the brand in question (no, they shalt not be named here).
He’s so well-known, in fact, that one of the company’s products that he owned is in a museum devoted to the company’s products. The guy even lost part of his leg while using the company’s products and kept right on singing their praises and using their products (to be fair, the product wasn’t to blame).
On top of that, the brand is nearly synonymous with freedom and American values, and the warranty was denied because the gentleman was flying a U.S. flag from the company’s product.
It doesn’t really matter whether the flag caused the product malfunction or not, because the resulting media frenzy from the denied claim cost the company 100 times what they would have paid for the warranty in reputational damage and bad publicity.
So, what’s the lesson here?
One take away might be to treat your customers well, and your really good customers really well. But, it’s more than just that. The company here failed to understand its own brand and its responsibility to the everyday people who are devoted users of its products. There are many names for these people. I like “brand evangelists.”
Brand evangelists are the heart and soul of word-of-mouth marketing, and have been made exponentially more powerful by the Internet and social media. For companies that make products that inspire fans and loyalty, these people present a tremendous opportunity, as well as the potential for great risk.
The opportunity is clear. These are ordinary, unpaid people who usually have expert-level knowledge in a given market and, after trying plenty of other products, prefer yours. And not only do they prefer your product, but they want everyone else to know how great your products are, too. Find them, give them the megaphone and stand back.
The danger is that, by necessity, these brand evangelists, and therefore the message they convey, are out of a company’s control. As we’ve seen, if you burn them, they might come back and bite. As soon as a company brings these people too close, however, they lose the power of their authority and credibility, and they become perceived not as an impartial expert, but as a corporate shill.
So, brand evangelism can be something of a tightrope act. The power and influence brand evangelists wield is considerable, but it can be used to a company’s benefit or detriment. At EPIC Creative®, we help our clients walk that line by identifying the brand evangelists, empowering them to amplify the message that they’re already communicating on a smaller scale, treating them well without eroding their status amongst their peers and, ultimately, helping create new brand evangelists. It’s not easy, but when done right, it can be an amazing feat.