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The Pitfalls of Relying on Brand Fandom: Part 1

Now, many of us dream of being liked, of being popular, and the same is true of many brands and companies. In the marketing world, it’s considered quite a coup if you can manage to develop a strong, emotional connection with your customer base, to not just be successful but to be well liked. Perhaps the greatest level of success a company can have in this regard is what is known as “brand fandom.”

A brand fandom is more than just a group of loyal customers; they are people who are emotionally invested in a particular brand and are known to be particularly devoted.

I’m sure many of you have seen brand fandoms in practice: the die-hard Coca-Cola aficionado, whose person, possessions, and residence are festooned with the Coca-Cola logo, or the near fanatical devotion that some Apple/Mac users seem to have, or even our own Mandy Kilinskis and her love of Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Brand fandoms tend to be a company’s most loyal customers, and can be depended upon to not only buy more than more casual customers, but to defend and promote your brand on their own.

With all that in mind, it’s understandable that so many companies would be interested in fostering such a relationship with their own customers. Not surprisingly, there’s a great deal of literature on how a company could work to build such a relationship. However, while this is an understandable goal, companies should be wary about relying too greatly on brand fandoms as their marketing strategy, as it could have some serious pitfalls and drawbacks, which I’ll get into here.

Complacency

Like I said, brand fandoms are pretty tantalizing for many companies. You get free brand advocates and your own customer base will go out of its way to promote your product for you.

Viral marketing and heightened brand awareness seemingly for nothing! What could be wrong with that?! Well, you know what they say: you get what you pay for. You still have to work to maintain your company image and market presence. In order to win a fandom in the first place, you have to really wow your target customers and build a strong relationship with them. If you let that slip, you risk losing that bond and, with it, your fans.

Just because you have a highly devoted and loyal customer base, doesn’t mean it’s always going to remain so, or that it’s impossible to alienate them. If you become lazy in your marketing, you risk hurting your public image and disillusioning your customers. If your brand fandom feels that you’re taking them for granted, they can easily turn on you.

And besides, putting your public image in the hands of your customers might not be the best of ideas, since it means you lose control of it yourself. But, more on that later.

Loyalty Does Not Mean Mindless Consumption

They Changed It, Now It Sucks

Now, here’s the thing about fandom: despite everything I’ve said up to this point, it can actually be quite fickle. Members of a brand fandom feel a personal connection to their product of choice, and can become quite emotionally invested in it. These strong feelings mean that they may not take changes in the product or company particularly well, perhaps even feeling personally betrayed by their brand.

For example, there is, of course, the infamous New Coke debacle. When Coca-Cola decided to change their traditional formula, people were up in arms and Coke’s sale plummeted. People had been fiercely devoted to the original Coke, and just as fiercely opposed to its intended successor. And, so, if you intend cultivate a fandom, be careful not to just assume they’ll be willing to accept anything you do, and be wary of too drastic a change in your product, company, or image.

So, to sum up, a brand fandom, though desirable, doesn’t necessarily solve all your marketing problems, and comes with its own share of dangers.

Now, there is more I have to say on this topic, but I’m already running a little long, so I’ll be ending this article here.  But don’t worry! I’ll be back tomorrow to talk more on why companies should be wary about letting themselves rely too heavily on their fandoms for marketing success. Because next time, true believers, we’ll be delving in how the fandom itself impacts a company’s public image and influences how new customers approach a company!

What do you think? Are there any brands you feel passionately about? If so, what are they? Are there any companies that you feel have become complacent in their marketing?

Image credit: riebschlager and TVtropes.org.


Mike Raboine

Mike is a data entry specialist at QLP. Just about the most stereotypical nerd you’re likely to meet, he loves role playing games (like Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun), comic books, and all manner of science fiction, fantasy, and horror television shows and movies. He also loves reading (again, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and comic books), playing computer games, and hanging out with his friends in his spare time. He is also something of a science geek, and enjoys reading science and tech-based magazines and news. You can also connect with Mike on Google+.

Comments

  1. Eric

    It’s funny how strongly people react to change. Wendy’s debuted a new logo not too long ago. Now, it’ll only be noticable in new restaurants, but after seeing the new logo, I have to say: I much preferred the old one. It almost seemed like a stamp, or something you’d brand onto an object. And – up until recently – that logo hadn’t ever changed. I grew up with it. It may be different for younger brands, but for the tried-’n-true, stand-by brands…change isn’t very often welcome. As the old bit of sage wisdom goes, “If it ain’t broke…”

    Good debut post, Michael, and a well-written one, too. Welcome aboard!

    • Mikey

      Thanks, Eric! It’s greatly appreciated. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Some brands and products will be a cherished part of someone’s childhood, and the people will not always appreciate changes to tradition. I’ve yet to see the new logo myself, so I can’t comment on how it looks, but I agree that there was really nothing wrong with the traditional logo.

  2. Rachel

    Great post, Mike! Both of your points here speak to hardcore fans’ tendency to scrutinize a brand’s products much more than casual consumers do. And with the internet as it is, a small but vocal group of fans can definitely hurt a brand’s reputation if things get out of control. But that same small group can be an influential bunch of brand advocates, too. It’s a tricky demographic to please! This is a great topic, Mike — I’m looking forward to part 2. :) And welcome to the blog squad!!

    • Mikey

      Thanks, Rachel! And, yeah, it’s true, maintaining a brand fandom is really like walking the razor’s edge, and, for another blade metaphor, a double edged sword. It requires a soft touch to get the most out of them and they can do a lot of harm as well as good. A good marketer really has to keep their wits about them to get as much worth from a dedicated fanbase as they can. And as for fans hurting a brand’s reputation, well, stay tuned…

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    This is a great and informative post! I get annoyed when people are die hard addicted to brands, brand loyalty is one thing, brand obsession is another. Seriously, this was an awesome post though!

    • Mikey

      I’m glad you found my post to be informative! And, I’m definitely with you there. There’ve been times where the more obsessive or zealous fans have put me off or creeped me out. But, there’s not much you can do about other people. And, if you like the product, I suppose that all there is to do is try to ignore them or not let them get to you. Thanks for your reply!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    This reminds me of the infamous Gap logo change from 2 years ago. After spending so much money on a logo change, Gap’s customers freaked and the clothing store changed it back.

    On one hand, I get it. Using the example you used of me, I love Converse All Stars. And if they decided just to change the design one day, I’d freak.

    But on the other, I see why marketers/product developers give it a try. You don’t want to grow complacent. You don’t want to be left behind. You want to stay fresh. I’m pretty sure that was the choice with the new Wendy’s logo.

    I’m looking forward to reading part two tomorrow, Mike! Welcome to the squad! :)

    • Eric

      Eh. Wendy’s is actually – so far as I know – the only major burger chain (aside from my beloved Culvers) to make their patties fresh, never frozen. As long as they’re keeping it fresh in the kitchen, I wouldn’t begrudge them an unchanged logo. :)

    • Mikey

      Heh, yes, “they changed it, now it sucks” seems to be a reaction you can often expect from the more hardcore fans and thus an appropriate reference, even if it did involve a link to the dreaded tv-tropes. Trying to change or update a product or logo can be a tricky proposition if you have a dedicated brand fandom, but necessary eventually. In the end, you just have to hope to find a change the fans won’t object too vociferously to and move on, or risk stagnation. Thanks, Mandy!

  5. Jill Tooley

    I’m glad you mentioned the New Coke “crisis” as an example. I couldn’t believe that people freaked out as much as they did about that. It just goes to show that fandom is a double-edged sword…

    Amazon is the only company I could say I’m passionate about (besides maybe Think Geek), but I’d like to think I remain calm when they implement changes. In fact, I can’t think of a single thing that either of them could do that would inspire hate mail on my part!

    Great post, Mike. And welcome to the Blog Squad!

    • Mikey

      Exactly! And I’m sure no one was more surprised than the Coca-Cola executives themselves. …well, unless you buy the theory that the Coke people intentionally staged this debacle with the hope of increasing sales of Coca-Cola Classic. But, well, as one of the executives themselves said: “We’re not that dumb, and we’re not that smart.”

      And, as far as getting upset with company’s changing things, It’s about the same for me as I can’t really think of any company that I’m that personally invested in. Now, you mess with my shows or games or comics, and that another matter! Glad you enjoyed my post and thank you, Jill!

  6. Amy Swanson

    Wow! Kick-ass first post, Mike!!

    I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts fan girl, not a “true” one because I still do enjoy Starbucks, but given the option for where I’ll stop for a cup of plain coffee, DD gets my vote :)

    The example you gave about Coca-Cola is always an interesting to examine. Personally, I always wonder if there would’ve been so much of an uproar if Coke released their “new Coke” while keeping the original version on the shelves too? They could’ve given customers the option to try the new variety, but if they didn’t like it they could go back to the original. Seems like common sense to me, but then again I wasn’t in their shoes at the time.

    • Mikey

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked the post! I also prefer Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks! Though, to be fair, that’s because I love donuts and hate coffee. But, yeah, the New Coke incident is an interesting situation, and a perfect example for why companies need to be careful about these things. As far as New Coke just being another flavor, as I understand it, they were having troubles on the production end at the time that would’ve made it difficult and costly to release another new flavor. I’m sure, to them, it seemed perfectly reasonable to just replace Classic with the new stuff to save production costs. Of course, we know now that it was a horrible decision, but that’s hindsight for you.

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