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Beyond admiring or enjoying something, being a bona fide fan means adopting it as part of your identity. Fandom is a form of love that engenders an intense level of devotion. When you’re a fan, you keep up with news, follow closely, feel deep loyalty and maintain perpetual excitement about the object of your affection.
It’s when you think beyond “consumers” that doors start to unlock and true relationships are built. And the relationship of a fan to the object of their affection is one of the strongest there is.
This is a familiar concept when it’s applied to Lady Gaga or the Lakers, but some brands are still unsure how to turn consumers into fans. Anyone can do so; you just have to play by the same rules that individuals — whether they’re social media influencers, sports icons or pop stars — have for creating fandoms.
Rule No. 1: To thine own self be true.
It sounds simplistic, but frankness about your brand, its offerings, and even its limitations is your starting point. Somewhere deep in the genes of advertisers is the idea that too much honesty runs the risk of alienating some audience members, and that alienating anyone is a risk not worth taking. But that’s old-school thinking. Today, distinction equals strength; weakness equals authenticity, and mistakes can be turned around.
Take a page from brands like Apple that have made mistakes and have done apologies right: Being fallible is normal, and being honest about it is key.
Rule No. 2: Be relatable.
Identification is a huge factor in fandom. So, as much as “distinction” is your selling point, the fact that your brand is distinct in the same way as others is how to start building legions of fans. As connected as we all are, this has been said to be one of the loneliest times in human history, which should remind us that people are seeking community. If you play your cards right, you can provide it.
Conventions, fan clubs and chat rooms — classic gathering places for fans — are actually still important ways for brands to make each fan feel like they’re a part of something bigger. But now social media channels allow us to reach far more fans and stay connected in a meaningful way. It’s interactive; You don’t just talk to them; you hear from them as well. Let them know you’re listening and that you value their opinion.
The next step, of course, is becoming a part of your fans’ “real life” through authentic experiential marketing. For adidas x Concepts, our agency created a next-level clubhouse with The Sanctuary, a concept store-slash-temple in Boston worthy of the most dedicated sneaker fans. Because we spoke their language, the worshippers flocked by the thousands.
Look at your fan base, and determine what part of their identify your brand is speaking to. Shape your real-life interactions around that.
Rule No. 3: Dare to bare your beliefs.
Taking a stand — and I mean politically — is still anathema to so many brands, but the proof that today’s audiences demand it is everywhere you look. We are living in deeply divisive times. Many people feel like our government is failing us and are looking to corporate America to fill an ethical void.
When we created the Walls Are Meant for Climbing project for The North Face, we created a small revolution. At a time when walls were being used to symbolize racist and exclusionary beliefs, we built walls for people to climb together. We got August 19 declared Global Climbing Day and created a movement that got The North Face unparalleled media attention and with it, galvanized a fandom that also believes climbing can positively impact lives.
Again, know your fans and the ways in which your brand fits into their worldview. Some brands may determine that jumping into politics is still dangerous, but for most, the loyalty lost in not taking a stand is a far greater risk right now.
Rule No. 4: Be inspirational or aspirational.
From Rihanna’s fashion risks to Kobe Bryant’s self-righteousness, going above and beyond the norm tends to get you in the spotlight. As a creative agency, it isn’t our job to write people’s narratives for them, but rather to provide opportunities for them to express what they couldn’t have without us.
For example, to grow Honda’s market share in Europe, we mined gear-head chat rooms to uncover 10 diehard fans located all over France. For a project called Honda Next Door, we pimped out their private garages to make them real, working pop-up Honda dealerships that they themselves could own and operate — a dream these Honda fans could never have achieved otherwise.
Rule No. 5: Turn on the charm.
Advertising is — and will always be — seduction. Building individual relationships is based on charm, connection and personability. Building a relationship with the public is no different; it’s a matter of getting people to like you.
Brands are made up of people, so prove that you’re human and have a personality in all your interactions with fans. Look at Slack, for example. I attribute a good part of its runaway success to how approachable the software medium is. By speaking like a human (and a funny one at that), and doing it on conversational channels like Facebook and Medium, Slack has built a cult-like following of younger employees who integrate it into their workplaces. It’s a brand that’s highly discoverable, and even more shareable, without ever being salesy.
By cultivating your own fanbase, you can create a legion of shoppers filled with loyalty, excitement for your brand and unending affection. In turn, this fandom can act as your own unofficial, on-the-ground marketing team — basically, a crew of unpaid brand ambassadors with a reach that’s wider and more viral than any social media icon. You can’t beat that.
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