Enthusiast organizations.

Powerful--but tricky--marketing allies.

Chances are, everyone reading this belongs to some enthusiast group, whether it be as precise and serious as the ’68 Steve McQueen Bullitt Mustang Exact Replica Club, or as whimsical as Facebook’s “Put Tina Fey In the White House" (link). Because groups and clubs like these have been around as long as there has been civilization.

For marketers, they can be invaluable communications vehicles.
Few resources carry the credibility of a product owner or a member of a cause. They, in many cases, live, eat, sleep and breathe the object of their enthusiasm. They’ll work hard to know more about a product than the company’s chief engineer. They’ll be more evangelical than most salespeople. They’ll gladly gobble up every speck of information on a spec that you can give them.

That’s the beauty of it. And the problem. Because if you embrace an owner’s group or cause organization as a marketing tool, it’s a lot like having a child: You have to be prepared for constant care and attention. And that’s not a bad thing if you’re ready for it. It can be disastrous if you’re not.

Enthusiast organizations can work for both B to B and B to C companies. But they won’t work for all of them. If you have a product that’s a commodity or a secondary purchase, or something not designed to get people excited, then you’re probably not a candidate for a group of people to actively discuss and promote your product. See our post "They're Just Not That Into You" (

That, however, doesn’t preclude you from using individuals who are pleased with your product to influence others. Testimonials from individuals are still a very effective way to sell almost anything: See our post “Customer Spokespeople Part 4: The Power of Testimonial" (
link). And companies like Angie’s List (link) are now creating ways for people to rate different service providers so consumers can have an idea of others’ satisfaction before buying.

But those are different than having motivated, fanatical people reaching out to others to share their enjoyment of your product. If you are fortunate enough to have a product, a service, or a cause that excites people in this way, here are some things that can help you harness the power of enthusiasts as marketing “partners.”

1. Provide support.

Any enthusiast group will need support. This can take a number of forms—from simply providing access to information that people outside the group may not get (and—very important—BEFORE others may get it), to sponsorships of websites, events, or other things. For a group to be a marketing ally, they have to have the resources available to do it.

2. Maintain autonomy.

Credibility is the core value of enthusiasts—they aren’t promoting your product or idea because they are being paid to; they’re doing it because they enjoy and believe in it. To reinforce this, it’s ideal for the group to be separate from the parent company. It’s fine if you start the group yourself, but it’s best to have an owner or someone outside the organization as its leader.

3. Make sure there are organizers.

Most people join enthusiasts groups so they can associate with other people with the same interest. They may or may not, however, be interested in doing any work to keep the group going. That’s why it’s critical to identify the people who are willing to help organize, coordinate events, and update websites and other communications. You may have to designate someone inside your company to make all this happen. It is possible to maintain autonomy and still be in charge of most of the organization—just keep a low profile and let the members have the spotlight.

4. Brace yourself for disagreement.

At some point, the enthusiasts are going to go off the reservation. They won’t like a product improvement, or they’ll want something you’re not prepared to give. Chances are, they’ll be vocal about it, and word will spread quickly. This can be a nightmare—or an opportunity. If you can demonstrate that you’re listening and taking steps to address member concerns, you can create powerful goodwill—and often, even more enthusiastic supporters.

5. Never stop.

Very few things look as bad as an owners’ club that appears to have died out for lack of enthusiasm. If you start supporting a group, do what’s necessary to keep it going.