How to Create Brand Evangelists: Lessons from Startup ReadyForZero

I’m just getting back from some time in San Francisco, where I had the pleasure of taking part in a photo shoot for ReadyForZero, a startup that helps people get out of debt. As a long-time user of the service, I was excited and flattered when they invited me out to San Francisco to be a part of it.

Me and some of the ReadyForZero team after the photo shoot. From L to R: Kristina Schneider, Lead Visual Designer; Shannon McNay, Community and Customer Support Manager; Myself; Rod Ebrahimi, CEO & Co-founder; Loren Baxter, Director of User Experience.

Photo shoot aside, there are some great lessons brands can take away from my experiences with ReadyForZero thus far. Since day one, the company has done an incredible job of showing me that they care about me as a user—and their gestures have gone a long way in my “evangelizing” their service any chance I get.

Let’s start at the beginning. When I first signed up for the service, I received a snail mail letter thanking me for using the service – and it was hand-signed by the whole team. A small gesture, but when is the last time you received something like this from an online service you used, unprompted? Granted, ReadyForZero is comprised of a small team so I’m sure hand-signing the first batch of these wasn’t a major undertaking, but that doesn’t mean a large organization can’t emulate this same gesture in a thoughtful manner that customers would appreciate. Sometimes, the small things like this make the largest impact.

Months passed and I was paying down my debt with a logical plan using the ReadyForZero service. Needless to say I was thrilled. So happy, in fact, that I was literally telling everyone I knew about it—both online and off. It was after I responded to someone on Twitter touting the benefits of the service that their community manager reached out to me and asked if they could feature the Tweet on their homepage along with some others they had compiled. Awesome. I agreed without hesitation, and I was impressed with the brand’s willingness to let their users tell their story.

A short time later, the team contacted me once again, this time asking if I’d like to be featured in their Success Stories segment on their blog. Once again, I accepted without hesitation and scheduled the interview. Turns out, my success profile ended up being one of the most popular to date – that’s probably because my passion for the service and brand showed throughout the post.

Riding on the momentum of all of this, the founder emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in participating in a photo shoot to capture images to support a new product launch coming soon. All of a sudden I was turning into a spokesperson for this service (and that is totally fine with me). Two weeks later, I was on a plane to San Francisco. Flash forward to today, and the redesigned homepage is now live. (I’m toward the bottom and sprinkled throughout if you’re keeping score.)

One of the finished products. Kudos again to ReadyForZero for a creating a great customer experience for me!

There are some great takeaways from the way ReadyForZero engaged with me as a passionate supporter of theirs. In broader terms, here are some ways brands can do the same to unlock the potential of their champions:

  • Make Contact: Passionate users and customers want to feel like they are noticed and that they matter. Physical items like letters are a nice touch, but even just using social media to reach out and thank these people means the world. Do it early and do it often.
  • Highlight Your Supporters: Each customer or user is an individual, each with their own story of how (and why) they use your service or product. So take a day every week to highlight them in some way! You can go subtle, by simply showcasing valuable users on Twitter every Friday, or you can go big by highlighting them in a newsletter or blog post. Reach out via email or social media, send them some questions to answer about themselves AND how/why they use your product/service, then draft a blog post about them. The opportunities to have your supporters tell their story on behalf of your brand is limitless and will help build loyalty.
  • Involve Your Supporters: Have a new product or service launch coming out? Invite customers and users to weigh in. Seeking volunteers to help staff an event? Reach out to customers and users for assistance. It may seem farfetched, but it’s a great way to get them engaged and show them their opinions and support are appreciated.

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