It used to be simple. A popular brand had loyal customers. Not so much anymore. Today, brands have avid fans.
And no, this isn’t just a trendy, new term. People have changed. They are no longer satisfied just being “loyal” to their favorite brand – these days, they want to truly be a part of their very favorite brands. That means an engaged, two-way relationship. Successful brands are no longer idolized from afar – they are immersed into the identities of the fans who truly believe in them.
Let’s look at this another way. If you are really, really (really) passionate about something – let’s say, dogs – then much of your lifestyle will revolve around making dogs more a part of your world. You simply enjoy them that much.
For instance, you might don Bella in a 4-legged princess Halloween costume, run with Buddy at the dog park every day, feature Bonnie & Clyde on their own Instagram page, take Fido on vacation, drink coffee from a mug with Buster’s mug (ha!), or grill some chicken for Lulu’s dinner (none of that hard kibble for your baby!). Who you are and how you act are driven by what’s important to you. Everyone knows you love dogs.
As a matter of fact, extreme fans who identify strongly with a social group of like-minded fans (such as dog lovers) share five traits:
Emotional Engagement: Their passion is part of their self-concept and their participation in a “fandom” as part of their social identity.
Self-Identification: Each fan personally and publicly identifies with other like-minded fans.
Cultural Competence: As enthusiasts, they have an in-depth, expert understanding of their passion beyond its basic functionality.
Auxiliary Consumption: Fans collect and consume items and experiences related to their passion, immersing themselves on many levels.
Production – Fans create online content related to their passion.
From a brand perspective, it makes sense to create and nurture super fans, who by their very nature, will strongly advocate on the brand’s behalf. Their authentic, self-driven brand endorsements are powerful motivators for more folks to jump on the same brand wagon (pun intended).
Social media has been the gateway for extreme fans to voice their opinions and share their brand experiences with others, who are quick to join the conversation. Smart brands recognize these exchanges as opportunities to connect with their fans and engage with them on a deeper, more meaningful level. Fans want to be recognized and heard. Highly engaged fans are sought after because they generate brand buzz and invaluable word of mouth – their influential social sharing creates brand validation for others.
Certainly “joining the conversation” is one way for a brand to participate in their fandom and keep the momentum going. Rewarding active fans with special offers or public recognition also “fuels the fandom,” as I like to say! Another highly effective method is fan contribution & collaboration – my subject for today.
Giving fans a brand voice beyond basic online posts means both acknowledging their comments and accepting their input.
The brand actually notices and takes action on what they have to say. Fans may be showing off unique ways they use the brand or making suggestions that could prompt variations of the brand that would be popular with other fans.
Encouraging and then actually using fan-generated ideas is a natural, more genuine way to exponentially gain more fans. You simply let your fans guide you! You have to have an open mind, listen, and proactively take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
Let’s go back to our uber dog lovers. Maybe you discover that Rottie owners, in particular, are especially fond of your brand. That little factoid inspires you to conduct a photo contest to give the lucky winners a high-profile advertising feature using your product. I’m predicting you’ll be inundated with thousands of furry candidates! Ruff! Ruff! Contributing to a brand creates a thrill that ignites even greater fan passion.
Show your fans they matter. That you, as a brand, value their input and want them to participate in how your brand manifests. Instead of just listening and looking for opportunities to jump into a conversation, you instigate them with a clear purpose in mind – to show you not only care about their desires and needs, but you’re willing to adapt your brand’s strategy to account for them.
I’ll give you a recent example of how Idea Planet did just this.
We wanted to create never-been-done-before collectibles tied to The Expanse. If you’re an avid fan (and there are MANY), then you know that the series was cancelled by Syfy after three seasons and then revived by Amazon Prime after massive fan outcry. And I do mean massive… Fans rallied around the hashtag #savetheexpanse, and launched a petition to save the show, which garnered more than 132,000 signatures and raised money via GoFundMe to fly a banner with the hashtag around Amazon Studio headquarters in Santa Monica. Whoa.
With this level of passion for the show, we knew fans would want a say in what type of collectible we should make. So, we asked.
We started by creating a landing page and reached out on social media to offer fans a chance to collaborate on this initiative. Over 5,000 fans chimed in to tell us all the things they wanted. We narrowed it down, and they voted. The winner? A highly detailed, 21” Rocinante ship. (Which, interesting, was featured in fan media and trended on Google for a week.) Then, we worked together on the ship features and made a few design changes before we launched the initiative on Kickstarter. Word spread like wildfire, and the program fully funded in only 28 hours!