Brand Champion or Evangelist–Which is Better?

A few weeks ago, there was a question on Brandchat (online twitter chat focusing on all things brand) regarding internal brand advocates.  The participants online finally clarified that brand evangelists tend to be those wonderful, raving fans of a brand who are not on staff, and brand champions are those within an organization who are charged with brand management duties.

Why the differentiation?

Brand advocates are those consumers who spread word-of-mouth endorsements about a product or service.  As one person put it, “brand evangelists are created, not employed.”  When money crosses from company to consumer, the “evangelist” label gets cloudy and the person tends to be seen as a paid shill.

A brand champion is a person inside the company making sure that the “brand is expressed at every touch point,” according to one participant in the chat.  This champion believes in the brand, supports the brand, is the cheerleader for the brand.  A brand champion should listen to all constituents (consumers, employees, vendors, etc.) to understand the perception of the brand in order to continue to align it with the customer’s needs and wants.

There are lots of blog posts, tweets and white papers dedicated to the proposition that acquiring brand evangelists is the marketing key to brand success.  While nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations from true brand fans, I think there needs to be two to tango.

What happens when there is no brand champion in an organization?  The fans are gushing, putting the brand on their personal Facebook pages, talking and tweeting about their product discovery and…their communication hits a brick wall.  The company ignores the messages from the consumer and instead continues to broadcast their sales messages.

We’ve all seen it–on and offline.  The company doesn’t care what the customer has to say, unless the social media manager can auto-forward the messages to the world.  There’s no dialog with the consumer, just a message outbound from the company that they want their fans to pass along.

After a while, the brand evangelists catch on.  They’re being used.

Instead of continuing as unacknowledged advocates, the evangelists go on to discover new and exciting products from other companies that stroke them for being special.  Everyone wants to be praised, not used by a company to be their adjunct (and unpaid) sales team.

So which is more important?  I think a Brand Champion who lives and breathes the brand values and can instill them in others–internally and externally–is by far more important to a brand’s eventual success. With enthusiasm, passion, listening skills and engagement, a brand champion can transform buyers to brand evangelists.

Thanks to Tom Fishburne, The Marketoonist, who publishes cartoons on marketing and brands on the Brand Camp site.  As a Brand Camp evangelist, I urge you to subscribe and get a wickedly funny cartoon each week!

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