You can’t pay someone to be an true fan. But you can spend money to get someone to become (or remain) one.

Case in point:

Divvy gives their software away for free

email from divvy customer saying they love the product and asking for a discount, and a reply from the divvy salesperson giving it to them for free


Divvy lost money by giving this gentleman such a discount, undoubtedly. If they said “sorry, no”, the guy might have even found the money down the line to upgrade, thus resulting in profit. But Divvy knew that there was a potential evangelist here – he obviously loved the product, despite being unable to pay the full price.

By giving him a free copy of the software, this story racked up 2500+ votes on Reddit and 785 comments. And through Divvy’s continued friendly interaction in the comment thread, they generated a number of new customers and evangelists.

But they’re selling software, so it doesn’t really cost them to give it away. Surely a physical business wouldn’t dare do this, right?


Wow Bao gives away free food on Twitter

twitter conversation with the customer asking about a new product from wow bao, then ending up with a free 6-pack of bao courtesy of the company

Wow Bao certainly had a paying customer here – they could have simply answered his query and let him go pay them. Instead, seeing an evangelist drooling over their food, Wow Bao gave him a free 6-pack of Bao’s ($8.50 worth of food). Their karmic reward? He turned another friend on to their restaurant and provided them with a great tweet to retweet. And he’ll probably evangelize more in the future.

(I could go on for hours about Wow Bao – scope out this great write-up on their marketing practices)

Reward like a friend, not like a machine

There are CFOs everywhere breaking out into a cold sweat as you read this article. He’s telling them to give things away for free!! Never fear, CFOs! I’m not suggesting you give free things away to anyone and everyone. It’s about establishing individual relationships.

For every company out there being stingy and losing potential evangelists there is at least one giving away things to everyone indiscriminately. “Free cookie fridays!” or “Join us on Facebook and get a 10% off coupon!” or even paying people directly with referral programs.

The problem with these big giveaways is that they focus on monetary rewards on a mass, impersonal scale. These offers cement customer relationships with the company into what Dan Ariely calls in Predictably Irrational* a “market norm relationship” instead of a “social norm experiment”. Think about it: you’ll do a lot more for a friend (or a friendly brand) than you will for an employer (or a brand giving you money). Dan demonstrates this in one of his experiments, showing a 7% increase in productivity of participants asked to complete a task as a favor over those asked to complete the same task for $5.

People don’t want to be paid for their enthusiasm and they don’t want to be treated like a “target market” with a mass offer. But if you reward and thank your evangelists individually, genuinely, and with presents (not discounts), it will reinforce their positive feelings towards you, establish a social norm with them, and encourage them to keep spreading the word about your business.

How can you ensure that you’re finding and rewarding these types of people? Check out Part 2.

*Go buy this book now. Now!