From an evangelist without a cause: A love letter to Pret A Manger

Chris Leydon thinks coffee and sandwich retail chain Pret A Manger should hire him as an evangelist, and in making his case suggests all businesses now need more than just a Twitter or Facebook account - they each need their very own evangelist.

Pret A Manger Christmas

Advertising and marketing in the tech world is leagues ahead of any other industry, admittedly because tech companies build new tools to better further their sales reach. However this doesn’t mean that companies in other sectors can’t pick up a few pointers and take note of some tricks that companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and even smaller startups have up their sleeves.

Evangelism is a dirty word for me, mainly because of its religious connotations but also because it sounds highly pretentiously American. The pure definition of the word is “the spreading of Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness”. In the tech industry an evangelist is that cool guy you just spoke to at Microsoft who’s going to give you a bunch of freebies, all of the support you need and who gets you really excited about building cool stuff with their platform offerings. The real trick to corporate evangelism is getting your users / customers / developers so excited about your company that they go out and preach the word to others; effectively doing your job for you in a self perpetuating circle. In order to get people talking you need someone to instigate the conversation.

Pret A Manger Christmas

2011 was the year of the social media expert. Finally every high street brand, coffee shop, TV show, personality, had at least a Twitter account and a Facebook account; catching up with tech firms who had jumped on the bandwagon years before. However to be an industry leader it takes more than just following the current trend. Sure you’ve got a Twitter account with a few thousand followers and a Facebook page with a couple more, but Starbucks (your biggest competitor) runs rings around you with their millions. How do you fight it? You take to the streets and get people talking about your great coffee, fantastic work ethic and marvellous food. You bring your brand to the people in the hope that they’ll love it and pass it onto their friends.

You’d be hard pressed to go to any tech conference in London right now and not have a spokesperson for a new killer app attempting to inspire you to build something amazing with their kick arse developer tools; a company that does this fantastically well is Twilio. Through their support of developer centric events (as a sponsor, organiser or participant) they’ve managed to get a tonne of developers fiddling around with their services, consequently bringing money and attention to the company.

Hiring an evangelist might not be an obvious move for a coffee chain like Pret A Manger; it could be considered risky. They’d have to place their faith in a person to pass on the same love and passion that they have for their company and products. Enough to be able to convince someone to buy Pret products willingly. It’s hard to measure the effectiveness of someone who essentially does personal one on one marketing in normal business terms.

Pret A Manger Twitter

Not everyone can be an evangelist and not every evangelist could work for any company. The job requires dedication and passion to an almost unhealthy level. The best evangelists live and breathe the company they represent and have the uncanny ability to pass that on to others in a way that doesn’t seem intrusive and is welcomed.

Right now there are millions of Starbucks slaves out in the world. They are the product of careful marketing in TV shows, films and the essential selling of the Starbucks lifestyle. Many consider themselves coffee snobs and love the experience of visiting a coffee shop, but have never attempted an alternative. The only way to get them to switch their brand allegiance would be to literally bring an alternative to them and encourage them to try it. Go and sponsor a tech conference’s catering budget; give them free coffee or croissants for the day, make sure people knows your behind it. Brand everything.

To any coffee shop chain, or in fact any company out there reading this and wondering what to do, the next steps are easy. Go out and find your most dedicated and passionate fans; the normal people on the street who are already singing your praises. Give them a financial incentive and the support to be able to go out there and get your product to the forefront of peoples minds. Mass marketing and advertising isn’t as effective as it used to be. We’re bombarded by thousands of adverts every single day, they don’t sink in. Go out and make a connection with people, make an impression, that’s how you’ll shift and sell more units. You’ve already followed the tech industry with online marketing and social media; it’s time to take another leaf out of their book and hire evangelists. Spread the love.

Chris Leydon is a self proclaimed evangelist without a cause. Former TechCrunch TV Producer and founder of TinyGrab, Chris has a ‘unique’ insight into the tech startup world and can be found on Twitter at @leydon.