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Content marketing: How to turn loyal customers into brand evangelists

September 27, 2010

One of marketing guru David Meerman Scott’s favorite lines is that consumers don’t care about your brand, your company or your products – that they are only interested in themselves. While there is a lot of truth in that statement, it’s not 100 percent bullet-proof.

Not only is it possible to create a following of loyal customers, using some simple tactics you can actually turn those brand aficionados into a small “army” of messengers who will go out and spread the good word about your company, product or services. Here are a few of the methods we used to help golf equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf identify their most passionate customers and turn them into brand evangelists.

1. Create a “reader panel” to identify the opinion leaders
Shortly after we launched Callaway Golf Magazine, we ran a small promotion in the magazine asking for volunteers to join a new “Reader Panel”. We explained that, as a panellist, you would be signing up to provide your opinion and feedback on editorial content and direction, to test and review new and prototype equipment and to participate in editorial features by agreeing to be interviewed or photographed.

The reason we asked customers/readers to jump through a few hoops in order to become a panellist was because we wanted to identify the “opinion leaders” among the audience – those readers passionate and opinionated enough about the brand to invest a small amount of their time to become more closely affiliated with the company.

The reader panel was incredibly successful. Over a three-year period, some 750 Callaway customers became members. The feedback we received from these hand raisers helped us to continually fine-tune the magazine. The end result was a greatly improved editorial product that met the evolving needs of the reader.

2. Seed New Products
Once the Reader Panel was established, we used that core group of readers/customers to help Callaway seed and “test market” new equipment. For example, prior to the launch of a new driver, we would select, say, 50 panellists and send them the new golf club to try. We swore the readers to secrecy and explained that they could keep the club if they used it in their next round and emailed us their thoughts on its performance.

We thought this would be a popular tactic, but we were amazed at just how effective it was. One reader emailed us and explained how he attracted a crowd of some 30 golfers at his club’s driving range on a Saturday morning when they heard the “booming” sound of his new driver. When pressed for information on the new club, our panellist was thrilled to tell the other golfers that he was secretly testing a new Callaway driver, but could not divulge any more information at that time!

Other times, we sent the entire panel a supply of new golf balls as a “thank you” for their continued participation and asked them to share them with friends, family and fellow golfers.

3. Deliver exclusive, behind-the-scenes experiences
One of the most important keys to creating successful branded content is delivering exclusive, one-of-a-kind experiences. In each issue of Callaway Magazine we tried to include at least one “insider” feature. For example, we would accompany one of the company’s sponsored Tour Professionals – such as Ernie Els or Phil Mickelson – to Callaway’s top secret Test Center in Carlsbad, Calif. and interview and photograph the player going through a clubfitting session.

On another occasion, we traveled to Pennsylvania to visit golf legend Arnold Palmer at his home at Latrobe Country Club, and were granted an exclusive interview, photoshoot and private tour of his memorabilia museum and personal archive.

4. Ask, listen, learn and acknowledge
Nothing makes people feel more special or important than asking for their opinion. We used the Callaway Magazine Reader Panel primarily to solicit feedback on the editorial content and direction. More importantly, we listened to that feedback, learned from it and then acknowledged it in the Editor’s Letter or in the news section of future issues.

When a specific idea was provided, we responded with a personal reply that acknowledged the communication and explained how we might use that idea in future issues. While we clearly couldn’t include every single idea or suggestion in the publication, simply giving customers the opportunity to provide feedback and then proving to them that you listened was an invaluable tactic in solidifying customer relationships.

5. Reward participation
Although no mention was made of any reward in the initial invitation to join the Reader Panel because we wanted to identify the authentic opinion leaders among the audience, we nonetheless felt it was important to reward participants. As such, we would frequently send a small gift to every panellist as a “thank you” for their continued support.

Summary: To turn loyal customers into brand evangelists who will passionately spread the word about your company, you need to deliver value beyond the benefit of your products or services. Evangelists need to be empowered with the “tools” to deliver that message – they need to be able to tell the stories about the very latest technology and their exclusive content experiences. They also need to have the depth of product knowledge that they can then share with others. And they need to be rewarded for their loyalty.

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