my title is "Manager Evangelism & Marketing Operations" and I am asked frequently what the reason is behind using this word: Evangelists!?
Well, sometimes it is better to let others speak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_evangelist
For me the idea behind Evangelism is that evangelism is about you. I see the role of evangelists as a central part of modern marketing. Marketing is NOT advertising (while advertising is part of the marketing but it is only one tool in the box of marketing).
For me the basic idea of marketing is to do three things:
First observe the market and find trends and needs unserved today, bring those back into the company.
Secondly react on those observations and include this into a product which is the long running approach or extend already available products to fulfill the need. Here innovation happens...
Thirdly bring those innovations back to market.
Step one is a typical evangelist job: Go out and talk to people. Use the technology yourself and show it, receive feedback, try it...
Step two might be an evangelist job, too. Here at Microsoft Germany evangelists are the pure luxury in that sense that this is a crowed of highly skilled techies able to develop stuff. So we are the only marketing team which has the agility to write our own demos and shape them that way that they make sense in a broader way.
The third step must be a combined effort. Yes, the evangelists are those guys going out and showing the solution but we need broader communication. And here an evangelist is part of the game.
Does this work? Yes, see www.codeplex.com/raktajino
It is my believe that Microsoft does not "own" the brands MSDN or TechNet any more. Those brands are "owned" by the people building the MSDN and TechNet community (you got the point, we still own the brand according to the laws but this does not count for now). To work with those brands we need evangelists in the field being trust worthy advisors. Marketing is no longer advertising...