Preach it! The role of the Chief Evangelist in marketing

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher March 14, 2022
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Influencer marketing is a popular marketing strategy to help gain attention to a product by getting people well-known in your market to create content, talk about your product, or promote the work you are doing in some way. If you can find the right influencer, it's a strategy that can be highly successful.

The Chief Evangelist role is a take on influencer marketing. Probably the most well-known Chief Evangelist many will have heard of is Guy Kawasaki, formerly for Apple, now for Canva). But he's only one of a growing group of people who spend their time advocating not just for a product or company, but also for a better way of doing things.

What exactly is a Chief Evangelist? When he joined Canva in 2014, Kawasaki wrote a blog about how to be an evangelist. He posited that a Chief Evangelist's role is to evangelize a brand, not for the product it sells, but for how it can change people's lives:

Macintosh changed the world. It democratized computers. Google changed the world. It democratized information. eBay changed the world. It democratized commerce. After two decades of looking, I found Canva. It can change the world by democratizing design, and that's why I'm now the chief evangelist of Canva.

Kawasaki is only one of a growing list that includes Sangram Vajre (Terminus), Mathew Sweezey (Salesforce), and Randy Frisch from Uberflip.

From CMO to Chief Evangelist

Vajre is a great example of a Chief Evangelist. I'm not sure we would talk about Account-Based Marketing (ABM) the way we do today without Vajre's FlipMyFunnel movement (which included a podcast and an in-person event). In his work, he didn't sell Terminus, the company he co-founded; he evangelized a better way to market and sell to customers through account-based marketing.

Although he recently ended his podcast after five years and a community of 100,000 plus people, Sangram built a movement around a topic that is top of mind for marketing and sales today. And in doing that, he not only kept Terminus top of mind, but ensured it remained one of the most well-known ABM platforms.

Frisch is the co-founder of Uberflip, a Content Experience Platform (CEP). For the last six years, he has served as CMO. Frisch told me that the decision to leave the role of CMO was because he didn't feel he was the person to help define and implement the go-to-market plan for scaling Uberflip. He believes that he is better suited to continue the work of evangelizing content experience; to help people understand how to leverage content to create personalized, contextual content-driven experiences.

He plans to do that not through his own ideas and beliefs, but by sharing how companies are going to market with a CEP, using it as part of the tech stack design to create experiences at scale. He said he wants to be a bridge for the stories:

What I absolutely love to do is connect and engage with marketers to learn what they're doing, either to help them or simply learn from them. This angle has been such a key to me becoming a better marketer and, in some cases, connecting other marketers to do the same from each other.

Content is a fuzzy term, Frisch told me. It has multiple meanings, and different technologies support different types of content (DAM, Web CMS for example). But these technologies don't have the capabilities to provide a content experience. Even WordPress CMS has admitted it doesn't manage the day-to-day campaigns, which is why it partnered with Uberflip to activate content.

The role of Content Experience platforms like Uberflip, PathFactory, and others is to take that content and present it to customers in a personalized, contextual way. Even sales enablement platforms like ShowPad and Mediafly provide Content Experience capabilities. Content Experience is something we've been talking about a lot, and the market has come a long way, but there is still a lot of growing to do.

If you know Frisch, you’ll know he does a fair amount of evangelism already. He loves to talk about Content Experience, and he is always sharing what successful companies are doing in this area, whether it's a conference, in a podcast, or some other channel. He currently hosts the podcast, The Marketer's Journey, where he talks with CMOs about their career path and their buyer's journey experiences.

This shift to Chief Evangelist is a natural evolution for Frisch. Vajre was also CMO of Terminus before he shifted to his Chief Evangelist role, so maybe it's a growth path for CMOs who don't want to continue with the day-to-day go-to-market work, but still want to share that vision of what their products provide?

Should every company have a Chief Evangelist?

Is the Chief Evangelist a role every company needs? No. And it's a tricky role to fill, as Frisch pointed out. You are betting on that person to become your voice, he said. They have to be passionate about what you are trying to do, and you have to know they aren't going to leave (at least not for a long time).

Kawasaki explained this one well:

'Evangelist' isn't a job title; it's a way of life. It means that evangelists must love what they evangelize. No matter how great the person, if they don't love the cause, they cannot be a good evangelist for it.

It's also not a role that has a clearly defined ROI. Sweezey started his role as evangelist for Salesforce in 2012, sharing the vision of demand generation. His role has evolved over the years, and today he is a founding member of the Salesforce Web3 Studio, a thinktank/incubator researching how brands can evolve in the next era of the Web.

The work Sweezey is doing is interesting, forward-thinking, and has the potential to help some of Salesforce's customers do great things. Still, I don't think you can directly tie his work back to the business's success (at least not yet).

But if a brand is trying to bring a new way of working to the market, a new way of thinking, then having a Chief Evangelist who is out there every day sharing that vision and talking about why it's important and how it will change customer experiences for the better, makes a lot of sense.

My take

When I searched for the role of Chief Evangelist on LinkedIn, a large list of people popped up, but many of them seemed to have evangelist as part of a person's job, not their only job. Companies that invest in a Chief Evangelist, whose only role is to evangelize or create a movement around a new idea or way of working, need to be sure they have the right person.

The ability to speak and share ideas is vital, but I think even more important is an innate curiosity and the desire to learn is even more important. You have to love talking to people and learning about what they do. You also have to understand the product your company is selling, which means you have to know everything about it and believe in its ability to solve specific challenges.

But most important of all, you have to know that person is going to stay for a long time. That’s a hard thing to ensure in this market where people move around a lot.

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