Guy Kawasaki: The evangelist’s evangelist

The evangelist’s evangelist

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist of Apple Computer, introduced evangelism to Silicon Valley in the early years of Apple Computer.
His 1991 book, Selling the Dream: How to Promote Your Product, Company, or Ideas – and Make a Difference – Using
Everyday Evangelism,
is Guy’s dissertation on
how to build support for a cause that changes the world. If
there was a marketing Hall of Fame, Guy would be in it.

Research for “Creating Customer Evangelists” took
us to Silicon Valley to meet with Guy. Here’s the inside
scoop on our chat.

There’s no garage at Garage Technology
Ventures headquarters. The company Guy Kawasaki founded in
1999 has an open-air blacktop parking lot and a regulation
basketball hoop.

Kawasaki’s corner office, inside a glass-and-gleaming-metal
office building that’s nestled among the numerous buildings
of nearby Hewlett Packard, is filled with high-tech toys:
brand-new cell phones, beepers, computers, the latest Palm,
and a hefty-sized model of a Porsche (right next to the
coffee table book about Porsche).

The toys of any early technology adopter are expensive and
can break early and often, and Kawasaki has recently been
paying the price. He kvetches for the first several minutes
of our meeting; he’s having “a very bad digital week.”
His cell phones don’t work, a Macintosh is misbehaving,
his new Palm isn’t synching up correctly because of beta
software from Palm and… he isn’t evangelizing any of the
stuff at the moment.

He’s whining, actually, but it’s still funny, which makes
this native Hawaiian endearing to his thousands of fans.
He’s Guy Kawasaki, the technology marketing pro whose mantra
for success is, “Whatever is gold, Guy touches.”

US: We’d like to explore the roots of your idea of everyday
evangelism: How did it come about at Apple?

KAWASAKI: The job title (of evangelist) already existed at
Apple when I got there, so I didn’t invent the title. The
way it was initially used was not the way I just described,
i.e. of getting people to get more people. It was used more
in the evangelistic sense of preaching, pounding on the
pavement, getting the job done, taking the battle to the
customer – all that stuff. And that’s the sense. It was kind
of a good way of saying that this is a real intellectual
sales and marketing kind of hype job (laughs).

The secondary effects of getting people to believe, who then
got more people to believe, is something that was stumbled
upon. In my recollection, I was never told, ‘OK, you go get
XYZ to write software, and they in turn will get more
customers to buy your software and to buy Macs.’ We never
thought it through that much. That’s what happened, but that
was not the plan.

US: How did you stumble on that second part?

KAWASAKI: It just happened! As I like to say, I believe in
God because there’s no other explanation for Apple’s
continued survival. We didn’t plan it that way, it just
happened. Apple has thousands of user groups. Those are
truly the evangelists. They’re not paid. They’re not
employees. They tell people to use Macintosh solely for the
other person’s benefit. That is the difference between
evangelism and sales. Sales is rooted in what’s good for me.
Evangelism is rooted in what’s good for you.

US: After you started to see the effects of customers
bringing in other customers and the fervor that started to
develop among Apple’s customers, did you start to codify it
into the marketing mix and marketing strategy?

KAWASAKI: Not really, well, yes and no. There was definitely
an established program to codify working with user groups
and accelerate that phenomenon. My evangelism was to get
software companies to write Macintosh software, so that was
definitely codified. I just don’t want to give you the
impression that we knew what we were doing because we
didn’t. One of my great motivations for writing, “Selling
the Dream” was to codify this. “Selling the Dream” was as
good as I could get it for ‘this is how you do evangelism.’
But that was all after (Apple). I could not have written the
book before.

US: How much do the personalities of company evangelists
weigh in inspiring others vs. a really great product?

KAWASAKI: Let me give you what’s called ‘Guy’s Golden
Touch,’ the most important concept of the day. Guy’s Golden
Touch is: Whatever is gold, Guy touches. This is very
different than whatever I touch turns to gold. Lots of
people say, ‘How do I become an evangelist?’ Ninety percent
of the battle is: pick the right thing to evangelize. If it
isn’t exciting or doesn’t excite you, it cannot be done. Now,
some people can get excited about salt, I mean, literally, if
it’s the best salt, at an extreme. I resent the concept that
people think that I can evangelize anything, and I cannot.
Most stuff I don’t give a damn about and more stuff is crap,
so I can only evangelize a few things I really love.

US: Have any of the tenets you wrote in 1990-91 about
evangelism marketing changed?

KAWASAKI: Jeez, I don’t even remember what I wrote in 1990
(laughs)… well, certainly in 1989 there was none of the
online evangelism because the medium didn’t exist. (pauses).
I don’t really don’t think — I mean, I ripped it off from
the bible, so it’s had 2000 years to change (laughs), so
what’s the last 10? (laughs).

US: You attended the Billy Graham evangelism school as part
of your book’s research. What are some of the memories that
come back to you recalling that experience?

KAWASAKI: I am a Christian but that [the Billy Graham School]
is ‘Beyond Thunderdome.’ I was just a fish out of water. I
was there for secular reasons. I thought it would be
fascinating, and it was fascinating. Evangelism comes from the
three words of ‘bringing good news’ and clearly, that’s what
Billy Graham believes what he does. When I was evangelizing
Macintosh, I believe that I was bringing good news. Any car
manufacturer should go to the Harley Davidson biker rally.
They would learn a lot. It’s almost too obvious. I’d like to
know: How many car manufacturers have sent their marketing
staff to a HOG (Harley Owners’ Group) rally? They would learn
a shitload of stuff. Pardon my French.

US: Speaking of that, why don’t companies promote their
cause as opposed to grabbing customers and throwing products
at them? The buy-buy-buy! theory…

KAWASAKI: Maybe because many of them came from Procter &
Gamble, where everything is a science and you run a test in
Columbus (Ohio) and all that. That’s one factor. Another
factor is that, ironically, companies have too much money.
One of the reasons why you get evangelistic is because you
don’t have money. If I had unlimited money, it’s much easier
to place a magazine ad than to go out and pound people to
buy a Macintosh! It’s an overabundance of resources. Another
reason is that it takes a certain amount of willingness to
put yourself out there. On the one hand if you’re rejected
because no one wants to buy your soap, it’s OK. But if
you’re telling people that this is changing the world, then
you’ve upped the ante. I tell you, though, I think people
are just used to the 5 Ps of marketing, whatever they are.
And evangelism is not one of them! So, people have never
been taught that you can get people to do stuff for free for
you. This never occurs to them.

US: How do you suggest evangelism marketing should fit into
a company’s overall marketing mix?

KAWASAKI: So what you’re saying is that there’s a marketing
budget and one line item is mentally or financially,
evangelism, right? I think the right concept is: Evangelism
and there’s a line item called marketing. That’s very
different! It should not be, ‘OK, so we’re spending $20
million on advertising, $2 million on coupons, $1 million on
trade shows and $500,000 on evangelism. The whole company
needs to be evangelistic. Some of that stuff will be
expressed through audio, some through print, some through
trade shows, and some through whatever, but evangelism is
the overall philosophy, some of it through engineering, some
of it through tech support. It’s a very different orientation.