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“Zealotry Marketing” is about creating programs that have a primary goal of generating referral. If referral is the best indicator of long-term profitability, then it made sense to us to use that as the starting point for creating marketing programs. Not merely looking at referral as an indirect end result.

This has led us to a revolutionary perspective on blending the classic marketing principles with today’s hot social media. And, heresy for old-school practitioners – the idea that the most effective marketing may well come from operations and service delivery.

This is the story of Zealotry Marketing: where loyalty begins with a company exceeding a customer’s expectation. An approach that can be engaged through any company and doesn’t require so-called marketing pros. It does require a sensitivity and commitment to exceeding customer expectations. Guest Relations Marketing believes Zealotry Marketing transforms the traditional loyalty equation.

What are you doing to create Zealots?

It was recently announced in the automotive trades – “Ford and GM renew a bitter rivalry.” Despite their financial issues, both companies clearly have “zealots” for both their overall company as well as specific branded vehicles. As a zealot for Mustangs, a Camaro, no matter how “transformed,” is simply second rate.

Great brands have zealots. They also have arch-rivals. One of the tenets of marketing from Steve Jobs: overtly identify and make known your enemy. It is core to great branding. If you make it clear what you stand for, you necessarily stand against something else.

Who is your brand’s enemy?

What are the great rivalries of zealotry brands? Here’s some that quickly come to mind. What is your best example?

  • Miller Lite vs. Bud Lite
  • Mercedes vs. BMW
  • Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola
  • Apple vs. Microsoft

There is lots of marketing talk related to loyalty, customer retention and how to leverage new media for fantastic results.  But, in reality, most loyalty and traditional frequency programs have dubious payouts for companies. They may trigger initial response and traffic, but most fall woefully short when analyzed against the overall return against costs.

Instead, the same things that have driven people for hundreds of years still hold true today for great brands. That is “word of mouth” or referral.

The best brands have the most effective marketing vehicle ever invented or discovered – their own Zealots! Zealots, as defined in marketing terms, are passionate followers or customers.

In a compilation of research, Harvard Busness Review determined the number one indicator of long-term brand profitabilty is the likelihood of a company’s customers to recommend their product or service to others. Referral. The higher the percentage of “Zealotry” customers, the higher the company was in the black. More referral = more profits.

So, that is the aegis of why Guest Relations is about building more Zealots for our clients. It’s about creating more profits.

If you follow Guest Relations Marketing, you know we are usually discussing three things: how to build brands; finding and developing more Zealots for your brand; and how to build Zealotry actions through Social Media. While those three things may seem a little odd and not well connected, they all fit nicely (at least in our minds) under this umbrella concept called Zealotry Marketing.

Our term is Zealots. Others may refer to these select customers as advocates, referral agents or extremists. We prefer Zealots. The word Zealot has an edge. There is an energy – a passion – that we believe more accurately fits the notion.

Our definition of Zealots: those who are passionate about a brand’s products or services, enough to freely share their enthusiasm and experience without provocation or compensation. In marketing terms, Zealots are willing to participate, often at their own expense, to further the brand because of their belief in what it stands for.

Because Zealots are the most authentic form of referral, it is only logical to build marketing programs from their perspectives.

Doing so is simply more profitable.

We are often asked, “Are you a B2B or B2C agency?”

This seems to be the initial cut-line for many marketers. With all due respect, it is already steering the discussion down a bad path. As the old country lawyer said, “Son, you are already convicting yourself.”

The answer we give – every time – “we are a consumer-driven agency.”

The fundamentals never change. Whether you sell pizza, shampoo through retailers or specially-machined widgets to a Chinese manufacturer. People engage in what is interesting to them. People buy when they decide you have a product or service that is valuable to them. People make those decisions – for themselves, for their family, for their businesses.

Reinforced another way… by an Apple employee:

“The magic of what Apple has done recently is telling people what they ‘need’ before they know they want/need it. By creating the best consumer product, they have created one that’s arguably more successful in the business market than consumer market – iPad.”

Does your marketing platform have a vision for what is needed in the future? Or, does it merely mimic what the competition is already doing? That is the difference in leading a category and being a second rate brand.

Businesses don’t sell to business. People sell to people.

The correct question in our mind is not “are you B2B or B2C?” The right question is, “Do you know how to create more Zealots for your brand?”

Guest Relations has been invited to share our unique Zealotry Marketing approach at the upcoming Georgia Center for Non-Profits Summit.

April Voris and Mike Tyre, partners, will be discussing “Why engage in a Zealotry Marketing approach?”  They will also be sharing insights and tips on why focusing on Zealots is the surest way to profitable results and the best way to leverage current customers and resources.

Non Profit Summit:  Tuesday May 10 from 3:30 – 4:45 pm at the Georgia World Congress Center

Smoothie King Atlanta has brought on Guest Relations to execute an online program for their north Georgia stores. Guest Relations will be utilizing Facebook and foursquare to increase followers and create store level traffic.

Smoothie King’s product mix and locations are perfect for the online world and today’s mobile lifestyle.

We’ve already gotten started with a fun promotion for Smoothie King Atlanta! Everyone who likes our page on Facebook can enter to win a year of Smoothie King Atlanta! Enter by May 8, 2011 for your chance to win! Click here to enter!

“I don’t need 15 or 20 customers coming in my store.  I need 100s.” A retail store owner explaining why he was dropping our program.

It was then I realized I was a reformed ad guy.  I was fighting for a targeted marketing program for this upscale niche retailer.  And, he wanted a mass media ad program.  In a former day, I would have delighted in his words and been excited to create such a program.

Instead, that was the moment I realized I had truly gone to the “other side.”  To Zealotry Marketing.  He wanted faceless bodies.  We wanted to build passionate supporters – Zealots.   And, what he wanted was not the right answer.

“I need numbers –  I just need more customers – our people will be able to sell them if I just get them in the store.”

Respectfully, I said “No.  The right 15 to 20 ‘guests’ will be better for your store.” He shakes his head in disdain.

“Why?   They will embrace your store and the reasons you carry the type merchandise you do.  They will value your “value add”, not just be browsing because of a deal that they saw in an ad.  A deal that you offered below cost, by the way, to attract these 100s in the first place.”

“But, here’s the real rub.  The right 15 to 20 customers – they will return.  And, because they highly value what you offer, they will tell their friends.  And, some of those will come to visit.  So, in time we will deliver the 100s, only they will be attracted to your store for the right reasons and are willing to pay for it.”

“Well, you may be right.  But, I don’t have time to wait for that.  I gotta have numbers now.”

We shook hands and departed.  Last I checked, his mass “numbers” approach had not helped his store avoid treading water financially.   So, much for the short term solution.

There are very few quick fixes in marketing.  Most mass media campaigns do not return a positive ROI.  Most referral-based programs do. It’s simply a matter of when.

At heart, great brands deliver a distinctive experience that is personal and can motivate referral.  Zealotry Marketing is about creating programs and touch point channels that encourage such referral.  And, mass media can play a role.  Whether it is communications, service or product, when the program focus tips to mass versus personal, the ability to create Zealots diminishes.  The basis of referral is a one-to-one action.  The basis of creating a sustainable referral program is Zealotry Marketing.  It’s not a quick fix.  But, it is a sure, and profitable fix.

I’m about creating winning programs.

Maybe, that’s why I’m a self-confessed reformed Ad Man.

Seen at an local indie coffee house – a blackboard wall that people write their favorite sayings/graffiti – quite interesting!  Contrast that … at a Starbuck’s – a similar blackboard wall with chalk writings – which upon further reflection are all about how great Starbuck’s product is.   In other words, it was a fake graffiti wall carefully written by Starbuck’s.   So much for “organic” … or authenticity.

What happened to the Starbuck’s that focused on experience and not constantly selling you?  Another big brand gone bad?

What do you think?

The airlines frequent flyer points program was hailed as the marketing program of the decade when it was introduced. Their program is held up by many as the ultimate “loyalty” program.  Is that really so?

Airline frequent flyer programs and other similar points or frequency programs don’t really drive zealotry action.  Why?  Consumers understand that they must perform – take certain actions, make certain purchases, jump through proverbial hoops in order to earn rewards.

On the other hand, think about the last time you received something unexpected. The waiter who comes to the table with an appetizer “compliments of the chef?” The fresh flowers upon check-in to your hotel room?  Your car freshly washed and detailed after a service appointment?

Which action engenders more loyalty – collecting points for a purchase or the unexpected touch?   Which one are you more likely to talk about or share with others?

The name of the game in Zealotry Marketing is referral.  It is clear to us that unexpected delights (or rewards) are much greater motivators of true guest retention than most so-called “loyalty” programs.  Consumers understand that earned programs offer value.  If I make multiple purchases, I gain additional value.  But, touches or actions that are unexpected create delight that is the basis of referral and Zealotry action.

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