Apostles are most often viewed in a religious context. Indeed, all 12 Books of the New Testament were written by Apostles. But, the term didn’t originate in the church: it was around long before modern Christianity. In the Greek language, the word Apostle is “apostolos,” which meant a delegate, a messenger, one sent forth with orders. It was first used to describe the captain over an armada of ships, chosen by the king or a monarchy to lead and then sent out on an expedition, either of war or exploration
Relationships between companies and customers reflect a wide range of intensity. The chart that follows is called “The Apostle Model.” It illustrates four different types of relationships. They range from defectors, who are so unhappy that they speak out against a brand at every opportunity to mercenaries who are very satisfied with the brand or product, but are price or offer sensitive, see the brand as interchangeable with others, have no passion for you and will easily switch when a better opportunity arises. They also include hostages, who feel trapped: unsatisfied with the product or service they’re using, but trapped by high switching costs, or lack of competition and loyalists, who are highly satisfied and extremely loyal. Looking at these brands, perhaps you can imagine how they end up being positioned as they are.
Satisfaction and Loyalty: Selected Hotel Brands
A brand apostle is a sub-segment of loyalists. Apostles have the highest satisfaction and loyalty scores but the relationship with the product or service goes far deeper, creating an emotional connection. These are the regular customers, who you should know by name. They bring other people to your business, introduce them to you and introduce them to your other customers, as well. These customers refer to you on the phone, the streets, their blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook.
They serve as your messenger, helping you launch new products or services, rationalize the occasional “oops,” defend you against competitive actions and suggest product or service improvements.
What really qualifies them for “Apostlehood” is that they don’t want anything from you in return. When customers are immersed in the “whole” idea of the brand, it becomes a soulful connection rather than a cerebral connection. They don’t just think it; they feel it. It becomes a part of them; they embrace it. When that happens, the connection goes beyond brand loyalty (only as good as the last transaction) to brand discipleship – a way of life, to brand apostleship – sharing the meaning of the brand.
Historically, personal experience and word of mouth have been the top two reasons consumers cite for choosing one brand over another. These were the most trusted and convincing forms of brand communication, but they were excruciatingly slow. Then “voila!” Along came digital and social media and suddenly Apostles are able to sing your praises to communities large, small and everywhere in between.
If loyalists are repeat buyers and disciples are committed repeat buyers, apostles are brand partners. Sure, they’re repeat buyers, but that’s the most obvious part of the relationship. Loyal Four Seasons hotel guests not only enjoy the experience, they’re constantly talking about their experiences; Mac users, iPad buyers, Virgin Atlantic – customers turned into evangelists.
These are the relationships you should aim for. It not only impacts your revenue, it impacts your cost, as Apostles become proxy for ad campaigns.
How can you create brand apostles?
- It starts at home: how can a customer feel evangelical about your brand if your own employees don’t? Research shows up to 86% of employees are communicating incorrect or incomplete information about the brand to customers. 66% of companies face severe inconsistencies in the way employees perceive the company mission or brand. Advertising has never created one moment of brand loyalty. The primary factor is how employees respond to customer expectations.
- “Wiki-ize” your brand: Share knowledge and information freely – get brand disciples to participate. Crowdsource.
- Add thoughtful, more than expected, surprising moments: Every company has up to 100 different touch points that impact current and past customers, employees, suppliers, partners. Each touch point (invoices, POS, phone/e-mail, warranty) is an opportunity to surprise and delight. Give customers some positive, “you won’t believe this” stories to tell.
- Create community: Encourage communities of customers to meet and share – you can facilitate and listen, but don’t try to control or prescribe.
- Be cause-related: Focus on making the world or (at the very least) your industry better – it gives Apostles a bigger platform, a more meaningful message.