Product evangelists make it their business to find out what the market out there is looking for.

First this tribe was sold on religion and God. Today evangelists are the gods of mundane consumerism. Think Steve Jobs. As messiahs of the product world, they pack in a potent mix of technology, entertainment and people connect. We tell them when a new software or an application doesn’t gel. With passion they excite us about what’s possible, or yet to happen; a car, bike, bite or soft drink. Or something else you could do on the iPad, like multi-language publishing, which Adobe is now showing.

These pied pipers’ slice of life looks buttered on both sides: they are within modern-day companies. And they are with the customer. They don’t sell to a target, what they say sways the market. On the move, five steps ahead of the street and the scientist. They can’t afford not to update the jokes book, cricket tales or film songs.

These two star evangelists have just done it in Mumbai for Adobe’s Creative Suite 6 desktop software. Ahead of a hectic three-city mid-June road show, they plugged in from Sydney and Mumbai to chat with Business Line about their passion: their brand of a word-of-mouth marketing.

Over to Michael Stoddart, APAC Evangelist, Creative Solutions, Adobe Systems Asia-Pacific, Sydney, and Rajesh Patil, Evangelist, Creative Solutions, Mumbai:

What a product evangelist does

Michael Stoddart: Evangelism as a job description has come out of Silicon Valley.

If you go on social media, there is awareness of IT companies that they need to engage with customers beyond marketing, particularly when so much change is happening. An evangelist engages with the customer, the whole community, outside the normal commercial relationship of companies. It helps the market, the brand, to win.

In early 2000 Adobe was bringing out InDesign, a desktop publishing software. We needed to engage with a lot of organisations, make them aware of what’s possible and the company’s future direction.

Ten years ago, we had a lot of successful Flash evangelists. Now we have them around traditional print, digital publishing and Web tools.

Rajesh Patil: It’s definitely a role close to the customer. Extended marketing is not how the company looks at evangelism. The customer feels you are his friend. You are not pushing for sales, or saying ‘upgrade’. . You become his trusted adviser. The customer does not see you as a salesman. That gives you insight into how customers use the product.

Why more special than a marketer

Michael: I exist out of the company as well, I probably have my own community. Evangelists have been their own brands externally and come to work for Adobe and have brought industry credibility. As evangelist you are more or less the voice of the customer inside the company and when you are outside the company, you are part of that community.

I was a technology person and have a lot of technology credibility. At the executive level, we understand what the company is trying to do. You also understand what your customers go through everyday because you are probably that yourself. It is pretty unique.

To be credible is a fundamental tenet of evangelism. If you lose it, everything is lost.

Rajesh: I come from the print and publishing industry. I understand what the production guys and advertising agencies go through, foresee trouble. Being from the company but understanding the community.

Michael: We are able to take our community’s desires, wishes, requests, feedback, anger and frustration and feed them back to the company as well.

One of the evangelist’s roles is to effect product marketing, management, product building and feed our product teams with, “Guys, you have to build it in the next version.”

We sit in that area between the policy side and marketing in an organisation. Also between current processes and the future. The main thing about evangelists is, they want to move the market. They want to use credibility to say ‘this is what we brought to market and this is how we think it will help you’.

The role of the evangelist is to get people to buy in to your vision. We know what’s coming from our company in the next year or two. But we cannot always disclose it for commercial reasons.

Rajesh: India as a market is growing. We wanted Adobe to support Indic languages and all languages used in our country in our software. In India we are still very big on print. We really need that support for our languages.

I’m happy to say that has come true. With our latest versions we can have 10 Indian languages supported within the applications.

Evangelists’ life, charms & tools

Michael: The great and negative things about evangelism is we travel quite a lot. We are able to bring to our community experiences from elsewhere in the world. They are not just in Mumbai, India or China but part of a larger community. Our community thinks that’s all we do, some cool and interesting things. But we do have other tasks as well, just as other employees.

We do a lot of self-marketing, go on Webcasts, video snippets, online tips and techniques, and build our own brands. With social media, that’s much easier than it used to be. We are required to tweet, have followers and have a Facebook presence. You have got to like people, like meeting and talking to them. It’s a great job.

Rajesh: Yeah.

Who wants them & why

Michael: Every company can do with evangelism. It could be publishing. Or Toshiba Electronics, or the classic example of Apple.

A lot of companies are looking at evangelists. As a software, or as any vendor, you are bringing something to the market that it doesn’t yet know about. Companies that take in evangelism the most are the ones who also drive the future.

We often get caught up in doing our business, magazine publishing, cars or financial spreadsheets. Evangelists can get you to break out of that routine and dream about what’s possible.

After the road show on (Adobe’s) new digital publishing solution on the iPad a lot of Rajesh’s community will be telling him, ‘This is fantastic! I had no idea I could do this. Tell me more about the future’.

I think every company relies on that, is always looking towards the future. I see more and more companies advertising specifically for evangelists, where earlier they asked for marketing persons. Not just IT or consumer electronics, but electric car companies, too.

Rajesh: I don’t see a particular industry or vendor saying ‘no’ to evangelism. Maybe there are no roles (now) for (some) other vendors, but there would be. It has become important for everybody to move away from conventional sales and get close to the customer.

The agonies

Michael: One of the challenges in my 12 years is specialisation.

Once, Rajesh and I would be able to talk a lot about production on the video and the Web. They are now widely used. I have had to specialise and focus mostly around design: i.e. layout, typography, colour. That’s for print, the Web and the iPad.

Twelve years ago you had to be there for impact. With Web conferencing and social media in the last two years, this has increased (the reach). People don’t need to know you physically, they follow you on Twitter. I have become more focused technically, but my reach is much broader now.

Rajesh: When I joined Adobe I was the only solutions consultant in India, I had to function across web, video, design and print. As the company grew, Adobe understood the need for more people. You got into a focused role. Print has changed. I had to change my capabilities. I speak to 10-fold bigger audiences these days.

The upside

Michael: There is no greater sense of fulfilment for an evangelist than the joy of somebody saying, ‘Ah, I can’t tell you how helpful what you said is’. You connect with the audiences, get them nodding or smiling in agreement with you, grow in their minds. You show them something that will help their lives. That’s what the word is about.

That much emotion also happens to the company as well when you find out later from the CXO, CTO or the marketing person. This empathy in a human being makes you a good evangelist. More and more companies are saying it is benefiting them. It is being recognised as measureable and is a return on investment to the company.

Rajesh: There is some quirkiness to every evangelist. Jason Levine is our evangelist for video products. He is a huge fan of Lata Mangeshkar. He sings on the stage, ‘Paro’, raga and playing out Bollywood scenes. The crowds love him.

In Mumbai, you talk about cricket. Delhi crowds are reserved, laugh when I speak about illegal software. It is difficult to get the Chennai crowd moving. And the next time in Mumbai, I shouldn’t crack the same joke.

The bottomline

Michael: (You can gauge) an impact on revenue that comes after the road show because there has been no other large marketing event in India. There is a clear return on investment because we can track the number of people we meet, back to the impact on our business. You can see the impact on bottomlines.

(This article was published on June 27, 2012)
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