Guy Kawasaki Talks Consumer Evangelism

Guy Kawasaki is managing director for Garage Technology Ventures.  Garage's portfolio includes Claria, Simply Hired, and most recently, visual communications network FilmLoop. Previously, Kawasaki was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer Inc.  He has authored a number of books including, "The Art of the Start" and "Rules for Revolutionaries."

In the lead up to Kawasaki's appearance at ad:tech New York, starting next week, iMedia's Rebecca Weeks had a chance to chat with him.  They discussed nuances of customer evangelism, new media growth and the specter of a second bubble was raised.

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Rebecca Weeks: Advances in digital technology have disrupted age-old industries such as music and entertainment. How can traditional companies survive and adapt to these changes?

Guy Kawasaki: Philosophically, they should pretend that they are two guys or gals in a garage, in their senior year of college, broke, and with an idea to create a product that they themselves want to use. Furthermore, they should consider that to these types of people their own company is a big, fat, stinkingly rich cow.

The question to answer is, "How can we kill that cow?" Because if companies don't kill themselves, then two guys/gals in a garage will. The problem is that it's very hard to put yourself in this frame of mind unless it's truly your reality.

Weeks: You reiterate the importance of using evangelism to get customers. How can brand marketers find and recruit new evangelists?

Kawasaki: To a large degree, evangelists find you. First, you have to "let a hundred flowers blossom" by sowing fields, not window boxes. Sure, you may think you have figured out exactly who your target audience is, but then get your stuff out. See where it takes root and flowers. Second, evangelists will emerge from these flowers. You just have to have an open mind to work with them.

Weeks: What are two recent examples of innovative uses of evangelism (campaigns in which you were not directly involved)?

Guy Kawasaki: Very few companies use evangelism. Sure, they hand out business cards to employees with the title "evangelist," but "evangelist" isn't a title, it's a state of mind.

To start, the key to evangelism is a great product. Very few companies have a great product, and very few companies understand evangelism. Thus, the set of companies that have a great product and understand evangelism is tiny -- about as likely as a professional hockey player from Hawaii.

Some entities that may qualify: Craig's List, Harley Davidson, Nordstrom, JetBlue, Apple, Tivo (Tivo evangelism will last only if they improve their software), and the Linux movement.

Weeks: Years ago you said that the secret to evangelism and PR is to create a great product. But now in 2005, having witnessed the strength of blogging and social media, what do you believe is buzz marketing's future?

Kawasaki: Blogging and social media are forms of evangelism. The goal of a lot of online marketing is to get bloggers and networks talking about a product.

The best way to do this remains creating a great product. Ninety percent of evangelism is finding or creating a great product. It's very hard to evangelize crap.

Weeks: Your books inspire people to solve problems in new ways. What is one problem in today's marketing world that you'd like to see someone solve in a new way?

Kawasaki: I would like to configure every gadget that I own via a web interface. At the end of configuration, I would like to transmit the information via Bluetooth, SMS, satellite, or 802.11 [wireless signal] to my PVR, cell phone, thermostat, DVD player, laptop, and car. I know that some of this can be done, but I want iTunes/iPod-level synergy. That is, something that is really done right.

Weeks: Given your experience in the venture capital (VC) and investment banking world, what does the dramatic increase in media merger and acquisition (M&A) activity this year mean to you?

Kawasaki: It's probably too late to fund a media company.

Weeks: How is the current thinking of VC and large media holding companies different than that of 1999?

Kawasaki: Ironically, it's coming back to 1999. I heard Barry Diller say today (10/26/2005) that if you get enough eyeballs, you can somehow find a business model. Deja vu. Bubble II. I need just one more bubble in my life -- this time I know what to do. I sure hope Barry is right.

Weeks: If you could build a technology start up right now that leverages the current state of consumers' media obsession, what would it be?

Kawasaki: Fortuitously, I'm involved with a tech startup that does this. It's a company called FilmLoop. It provides a photobroadcasting ("photocasting") system.

I'm not the kind of guy who sits around procrastinating about what should be. One should invent the future, not talk about it.

Weeks: What is the most fascinating way you've seen a company use the internet as a marketing weapon?

Kawasaki: You know, I can't think of one that literally "fascinated" me. That's a little scary. Or maybe the truth is that evangelism is blocking and tackling. It's not miraculous, fascinating plays. It may be digital blocking and tackling, but it's fundamentals nonetheless.

Weeks: What common strategy in marketing products do you believe leads to failure?

Kawasaki: Reliance on advertising at the expense of evangelism and PR. The best kind of advertising catalyzes evangelism and PR--it does not compete with them.