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.
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
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!