Why You Must Keep The Faith With Evangelists.

At the heart of the success of all great retail businesses are its evangelists. These are not bleeding edge early adopters – many of whom hunt for their own selfish ‘bag and brag trophies’. Evangelists are the true believers in the business. The ones with a genuine belief in what the retail brand stands for, a passion for what the retailer does for them and a driving ambition to baptise as many of their peers into dedicated (and profitable) converts as humanly possible. They become a highly motivated and un-paid sales-force. They are also the most influential promoter because they do it with integrity at the peer group level. One to one within their circle.

One of the best in world at this is Apple and it’s messianic leader Steve Jobs.

While Microsoft and the Windows world targeted the Information Technology Department and the accountants who revelled in the draconian power of forcing what appeared to be low entry cost hardware on their “indentured slaves”, Apple took a very different approach. It built into it’s DNA the concept of people power and embraced the idea of engaging evangelists. It targeted segments that influenced the purchase decision and for whom the hardware / software combination was not a utilitarian commodity.

It built a model that revolves around a straight out of the box, ease of use approach and encourages a self-help approach to problem solving. It built stores that are called Apple Clubs. It has a membership approach to services, support and even content. It really is one giant Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Can you tell I’m a card carrying Apple Evangelist?

GfK data recently showed that Apple has grown to represent more than 30% of all computer sales dollars in the USA. In the markets that it contests – those people who choose the computer to buy and spend more than $1,000 on the hardware – Apple now commands more than 60% market share. In a mature category like mobile phones, Apple went from nowhere to sell 1 million handsets on the first weekend of the launch of the 3G iPhone and is now the number 4 mobile phone handset brand in the world – with only 1 model.

Evangelists built the business and sustain the business. Despite me-toos and knock-offs of all types, Apple continue to grow because of their engagement with the evangelists who tell them when they get it right and get it wrong; who tell them what they need and what they want; who trust them enough to fix it that they risk trial of the new model on the day of launch; who want the dialogue to work two ways and to be heard and acted upon.

The opposite is true when you don’t have evangelists at the heart of your business. Despite the Microsoft / Windows world outspending Apple by more than 10 to 1 in promotion, Apple continues to dominate all the markets in which it competes. In some industries, age segments and institutions nobody would be seen dead with a competitor’s product. Evangelism works when you have integrity and engagement with a core segment of customers. It’s not an easy road to tread. Just ask Steve Jobs. But it is strong, profitable and sustainable – the underpinning of 21st century retail.