Is there anything worse than an evangelist quitting on your brand?

Volunteer evangelists are a godsend. They work part time for your PR department out of appreciation for your brand, nothing more. And you don’t have to pay them, although they sometimes bring in a lot more revenue than your employees, especially when they have a certain traction in groups that are part of  your target market. While they are wonderful when you enjoy the benefits of having their support, I’d say it would be wise not to alienate them and force them to “file for divorce.”

Die-hard fans and self-appointed evangelists are not there for you just because you’re trendy or because of the perks of getting noticed. They are because they genuinely like your products and services, they believe in your philosophy and will stand by you through a lot. But if you get to disappoint them and have them give up on you, then it means you’ve done something terribly wrong. See, they know your products and services inside out, they know what you as a brand have promised, and when it all goes south, they will know exactly where you failed.

Thus my question – is there anything wrong than a dedicated fan going rogue, deciding you’re no longer the brand for them? You might think there isn’t. But there is. They could be a journalist working for a big magazine and they might send you a good-bye letter that might then be published by said magazine. And their arguments might be so compelling, they would alienate a lot more people by stating them.

That’s the case with Business Insider contributor Ed Conway and his break-up with Apple. I don’t know how others would react, but if I ever received such a letter from a long-term client, I would cry for three days straight. Apple won’t do much about it, I’m afraid. And why would they? Although what Mr. Conway says is quite true, if you think about it for a bit, who would? Apple sacrificed a lot of their old philosophy in their quest of going mainstream. Which they did. Everyone has an iPhone, MacBook, iPad, one of the myriad of iPods, something that has their brand on it. People queue for days on end to be the first to get their latest product.

Sure, they release them too often, they are overpriced – if you asked me, and lately they don’t seem to have anything extra to justify the price you pay for a former “coolness.” But in mass production and mass purchases there are profits and what business would give them up to keep just a fraction of their market happy?

Could Apple have prevented this? Of course, they could have reached a middle ground between gaining new customers and keeping the old ones happy. The steady relationship is as important as the new fling distracting them. Because there is always a new kid on the block that is edgy and knows how to address real problems. One day that new kid goes mainstream and the millions of trend-chasers will follow them. What will happen then if Apple can no longer rely on the support of the die-hard fans?

Apple will survive this blow and many others. But I do hope that one day people doing business will learn that short and mid term profits are not everything. Staying true to your principles and promises and trying your best not to disappoint those who love you is what powers great companies. Epic companies, if you will!

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