A qualitative and quantitative exploration of consumer religiosity and customer evangelism

Nathalie Collins

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Over 30 years ago, Guy Kawasaki took a sales job at Apple Computer. Upon receiving his business card, where the job title appeared, he expected to see the word ‘salesperson’; instead, he saw the word ‘evangelist’. Apple was, not for the first time, using the language of religion to describe the passion and commitment of their staff and their vision. When Kawasaki described the behaviour of Apple fanatics as ‘customer evangelists’, he did the same thing: appropriated spiritual symbols to imbue particular, significant meaning. This kind of co-opting of religious language in a marketing context has become more and more common as the lines between consumer culture and social culture have blurred or even disappeared. Religions are consumed as products, while symbolism is appropriated from a religious context to imbue stronger meaning in people’s material existence (Miller, 2003). Years later, Kawasaki wrote the seminal book on zealous customers, and called them ‘customer evangelists’ (Kawasaki, 1991). A decade later, the term has become commonly used in practitioner circles (Goldfayn, 2012; Katz, 2008; Martin, 2011; McConnel & Huba, 2007), and has started being used in scholarly ones (Collins & Watts, 2009; Katz, 2008; Rothschild, Stielstra, & Wysong, 2007; Svensson, 2011).It is surprising that scholarly literature would discuss customer evangelism, or evangelism marketing, without any evidence beyond the anecdotal. Also surprising is the fact that customer evangelism is often mentioned in word of mouth (WOM) related literature, and less so in consumer religiosity literature. By its very moniker of ‘evangelism’, the phenomenon of customer evangelism has an essential religious component that sets it apart from other WOM types, such as mavens and opinion leaders. However, the scholarly literature seems to follow the industry literature when it comes to customer evangelism, and the industry literature is not robust even by industry standards.The contribution of this thesis is to discover and develop a scholarly space for customer evangelism, with authentic roots in religious evangelism. Using religious evangelism as the basis for customer evangelism is a conscious choice. Linking religious and customer evangelism does three things. First, whether ‘evangelism’ is an appropriate word for the phenomenon will depend on how closely it mirrors religious evangelism. Second, developing a theoretical basis for customer evangelism from a religious studies framework builds an authentic foundation for further exploration of the phenomenon. Finally, the perspective presented in the following papers is that the lines between spiritual culture and consumer culture have become blurred. Consumer culture presupposes that people can author their own identity through their consumption and identification with commercial products. Commercial entities appropriate powerful cultural symbols in an effort to imbue their product/brand experiences with heightened meaning. At the same time, people in a spiritual context appropriate religious symbols out of theological context, in a consumption approach to their spiritual life. While traditional community religious and secular organisation membership is declining, non-traditional organisations are reforming and increasing. These include evangelical churches, online communities and consumer collectives.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


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