A technology evangelist “promotes the use of a particular product or technology through talks, articles, blogging, demonstrations, [etc.]…The word ‘evangelism’ is taken from the context of religious evangelism because of the similar recruitment of converts and the spreading of the product information…” (Source: Wikipedia)
I recently came across a blog post by technical writing and communications professional Dr. Ugur Akinci, who wondered aloud whether there was a better term to describe the title of Technology Evangelist. Ugur Akinci noted the dictionary definitions of evangelism in its original religious context; those definitions suggest communication that is, among other things, decidedly one-way. Point well taken, but none of the other alternative titles suggested – technology communicator, ambassador, champion, advocate, enthusiator (the latter one intended to provide a chuckle!) – comes close to conveying the role as vividly as Guy Kawasaki’s original term of technology evangelist: the active persuasion of people to buy into the superiority of his/her particular technology product and help spread the word about it.
Actually, the term technology evangelist becomes even more appropriate if we use more secularized religious terminology to describe the product offering itself. I have in mind an article product management professional Jacques Murphy wrote a few years ago, asking a still-timely question: Is Your Product a Missionary or a Savior?
(W)hile every (software) company wants their product to be brand spanking new, there are two very distinct strains of newness: the Missionary and the Savior. And one of those two types is a much harder sell…The Missionary product…represents a new idea or a whole new take on an old idea. Nobody has heard of it and your company is in the position of telling others about it and convincing them of how important it is…
With a Savior product, the market comes running out into the streets to greet it, cheering it along all the way. The Missionary product has to go exploring into lands unknown to make converts through its boundless zeal.
Of course, Jacques Murphy’s “market running and cheering to greet a Savior product” hyperbole has since become literally true many times over by Apple’s amazing run of true Savior products. As for software, particularly in the B2B space, every product will have some missionary, or educational, aspect to it. You will always need to effectively convey your understanding of your customers’ problems and how and why your product solves these problems in ways far superior to your competitors. Every software solution requires effective product marketing, and benefits greatly from technology evangelism.
But a “true” Missionary product will also offer a very different solution to fulfilling a need; a solution that might even be openly contrarian to current conventional wisdom; a solution that is proven to yield unique and compelling benefits for your customers, but in very new ways. Having a technology evangelist, a name and face for the product, actively advocating your unique, even contrarian solution to the market, becomes absolutely crucial, absolutely vital.
A very good recent description I’ve read describing what a technology evangelist is, does, and should do is a blog post by Simone Brunozzi, Technology Evangelist for Amazon Web Services. In the form of an entertaining “Master to Grasshopper”-style conversation, Simone Brunozzi imparts advice to the aspiring technology evangelist, with links to further resources:
- Know the technology you’re promoting inside and out, know what customers need, know your competition, be ready and eager to learn new things
- Practice your presentation skills, learn to effectively communicate in public, using powerful visuals, voice, body language
- Give your audience a memorable experience, and show them respect (Simone Brunozzi includes a great story on how he immediately won over a restless audience that had just sat through a turgid, I’m-reading-my-index-cards speech by a pompous CEO).
But as good as Simone Brunozzi’s advice to the aspiring technology evangelist is, a very important piece must be added: the technology evangelist must be a content-creating machine (!), as emphasized in the new book Content Rules by Ann Handley and CC Chapman. The ability to devise and create online content – success stories, webinars, videos, articles, ebooks, blog posts and more – that your prospective customers will find informative and helpful is the single most important tool in the technology evangelist’s arsenal (more here!).
As Ann Handley and CC Chapman write in Content Rules, the active, prolific creation of online content helps the technology evangelist and his/her company become a trusted resource that prospective customers will look to, foster a desire to work with your product, and finally ignite customer passion for your product based on their success with it, to the point where they help you create content in the form of testimonials and other online content – all stated goals of the technology evangelist, and absolutely critical goals for any company with a “true” Missionary product.
One last thought: On the other end of the content creation spectrum, if a company has no constant influx of new online content – no new case studies, no new customer testimonials, no new webinars featuring customers, no podcasts, blog posts, nothing! – then you can rest assured that no technology evangelism is taking place, no new understanding of evolving market needs is in progress, and the company is implicitly relying on the market to become “seekers of truth” (another borrowed term of religious origin!) and somehow find the product on their own – the online equivalent of a frustrating archaeological dig.