The Pitfalls of Relying on Brand Fandom: Part 2

Hello, all, I’m back again to drone about brand fandoms. Last time, we covered the concept of a brand fandom and why many businesses want them, but also that it can be dangerous to let your company focus too intently on their fandom at the expense of their other customers and their wider marketing strategy.

To recap, a brand fandom is segment of a company’s customer base that are particularly devoted to that brand or company, going beyond being just consuming a product by becoming emotionally invested in that product and forming a strong relationship with that company. Last time, I focused on how a company that comes to rely too heavily on their fandoms can become complacent, failing to attract new customers or keeping their current ones because they became lazy or just assumed that their fans would mindlessly accept whatever they did.

This time, I’ll be looking at the other side of the fandom relationship, and show how the fandom itself can impact the company’s marketing performance.

Inclusion can also be Exclusion

One of the benefits of brand fandom, at least for the fans themselves, is the sense of community that it fosters. These people can come together and bond over their shared love of the same brand, allowing for a sense of belonging and support. Additionally, fans can pool resources and experience to assist one another or even produce fan-made products or content to go along with their products of choice. For instance, Harley-Davidson owners feel a certain camaraderie with others, a bond that might not otherwise exist. By buying a Harley, you’re not just buying a motorcycle, but joining a community.

By that same token, those communities might seem a little daunting to outsiders. People might see these brand fandoms, see their specific subculture and lingo and norms, and be confused, perhaps even be turned away.  Maybe they don’t want to join a community, but just get what they paid for.

I’m not saying that fandom will turn away more casual customers, but a company needs to work to make sure that potential new customers and the less passionate of your customers don’t feel neglected. As I touched upon before, relying on a brand fandom might be great, but getting complacent won’t win you new customers. Your marketing should take this into account and make sure to reach people who might be interested in joining the more active aspects of your brand’s customer base.

On a related note…

Your Customer Base Reflects on You

Now, this, admittedly, isn’t necessarily a marketer’s fault. They can’t directly control their customers. If they did, well, there wouldn’t be any need for marketing. But, the sad fact of the matter is, as I said, a potential customer’s decision to buy from your company could be influenced by the fandom that has built up around it. However, it’s not necessarily just the daunting nature of a fandom that could keep a customer from being more active, but the attitude fostered by that fandom and the image it presents.

Now, to illustrate, I’ll give a personal example. I might lose some of you with this, but, I refuse to buy Apple products, precisely because of their fandom.

I know, it’s irrational, and the products seem to be great. But, the Apple fans (or “Cult of Apple,” as I like to call them) just …really put me off the products. The really vociferous, passionate ones tend to be preachy, holier-than-thou, and kind of jerks. For me, it doesn’t help that Apple itself seems to intentionally market to this demographic and does nothing to counter this element of the fandom.

I’m Adorkable and Loveable, and I’m an Insufferable Hipster

I’m Adorkable and Loveable, and I’m an Insufferable Hipster

Is my perception biased and skewed from personal experience? Probably. Is it unfair for me to judge a company based on the people who buy from it? Of course. Should I give their products a fair chance? Sure. Will I? No.

Fair or not, the simple fact of the matter is, I still refuse to buy Apple. And the truth is, this is an issue that any company might have to face. Who they choose to market to, or how they manage their fandoms, will reflect back on them. All other things being equal, the type of people who buy and are passionate about your product will shape your company’s public image, right or wrong. For instance, I also know plenty of Apple or Mac users that are friendly, great people, and I’m sure the majority of them are. However, the nice ones aren’t the ones that get the attention; it’s the ones that are loud and passionate.

Now, despite all this, I’m really not opposed to the idea of brand fandoms or companies actively fostering them or interacting with them. If you can manage it, great! A fandom is a great resource for any company. They proportionately spend more than non-fans, they get out the word about your company, they defend your company and brand, they help provide support for other customers, and their contributions can even enhance the product.

By fostering a direct, active connection with their fans, companies get a great insight into what their customers want and can enjoy great success.

But those companies should also be aware of the realities of brand fandoms, too. Just because your company inspires a fandom, it does not mean that you can do no wrong, or that that fandom will always be there. A company should work to make sure that they still have a strong business plan and a good marketing campaign that appeals a broad base of potential customers, just as you would if you didn’t have a fandom. And, the sad truth is, no matter how hard you try, you might simply not able to develop such a devoted following. It’s all a matter of culture, image, and the strength of the product in the first place. And, if your company and product are good enough to attract a fandom, you should be proud enough of that and work to make sure that stays true.

What do you think? Are there any, brands you feel passionately about. If so, what are they? Do you have any positive experiences with brand fandom? Any negative?

Image credit: Mac/PC commercial screencap, and Intersection Consulting.


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  1. Eric

    I don’t know what it is about the resurgance in retro appeal, but I think some brands are starting to recognize what made their brand marketable in the first place, and smartly playing that card. Over the weekend, my girlfriend and I were doddling about Target, trying to drum-up ideas for Christmas gifts. We happened upon the bicycle aisle, and – lo and behold – they’d Schwinn bicycles that looked straight out of the 1950’s. Cool-lookin’ bikes! Makes good sense, when I’ve seen boutique shops in the city and suburbs selling retro-styled bicycles for well over a grand each.

    The best part? After checking out, we were walking out of the store, when – sure enough – a Target employee was waiting outside, with that same powder blue bicycle in hand. Suffice it to say, I think their new marketing strategy worked, and they’re finally back to selling what made them a famous name to begin with.

    Cool, too, realizing they’re making a new generation’s-worth of followers using the same bikes these childrens’ parents were riding.

    • Mikey

      Heh, I suppose this plays to the “if it ain’t broke…” sentiment you were talking about yesterday. It is nice to see a company recognizing where it did things right playing to its strengths. Heh, and fans almost always appreciate a beloved classic making a comeback. Now, they can bank on nostalgia for older customers, and hopefully get a whole new generation hooked.

  2. Cybernetic SAM

    The Cult of Apple! Ha! That’s awesome! I completely agree with you! I just fear that world as we know it will become so ingrained (more than it is). This is the ONLY aspect of life I like to play the ignorance card. If you don’t know what you’re missing and what have you. Brand Fandom, brand loyalty and the companies who promote this (*cough* apple) to such high levels and keep the public constantly hitting the feeder bar really make me move farther and farther in the opposite direction. I may be alone in this but I can’t help but hold extreme distaste for this stuff as much as brand fans love obsessing over it. I know this is how businesses make their wealth and it at times is a necessary evil but I can’t help not agreeing with this type of marketing. Great Post Mikey! I haven’t gone on a rant like that in a while! 🙂

    • Mikey

      Heh, well I’m glad I could provide something to rant about! And I do agree with you there, at least as far as Apple is concerned. It seems like that Apple has been intentionally and cynically exploiting their fans for years, going with the assumption that they’ll eat up what ever they shove out the door. (Which I listed as a dangerous policy yesterday, but it seems Apple fans seem to be an exception) Heh, but I’ve already had two whole blog posts to be on my own soap box. Thanks and I’m glad you liked the article!

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    I must’ve read too many Mashable/tech blog comments, because I am absolutely sick of Google, Apple, and Microsoft fandoms. I like all three of those companies and use all three in some way every single day. But yikes, if someone writes an article praising Windows 8, Google and Apple fanboys attack. If someone writes about how great a new Android-powered Samsung phone is, Apple lovers will hate on that phone and anyone who likes it. It’s really gruesome!

    I’ve learned to stop reading comments, and that helps, but man. Those die-hard fans are out of control!

    • Mikey

      Heh, yes, exactly. That’s the exact attitude and behavior I’m talking about above. It can just get so vitriolic! I also try to avoid that kind of stuff when I can, but sometimes it seems you just can’t escape it on the internet, at least not completely. But, then, this is kind of stuff you’re likely to find in any fandom that gets large enough, regardless of what it’s for. In any case, thanks for reading!

  4. Amy Swanson

    This fact, “by buying a Harley, you’re not just buying a motorcycle, but joining a community” always fascinates me! As humans we’re conditioned to seek groups because of a desire that we have to feel like we ‘belong’. I only remember a bit of it from classes in college, but it probably has something to do with basic survival skills during man’s first days. Groups are safer than being a ‘loner’ in the wilderness.

    Marketers eat stuff like that up; how they can tap into what makes people tick? Consumer behavior classes are always really interesting to take, they were my favorite of my required marketing classes 🙂

    Once again, great job Mike! Both parts of this blog were really interesting and very thought-provoking.

    • Mikey

      Yeah, I thought that Harley would be a good example for that point since it seems that bikers are a particularly close knit community in my experience. They’re like their own little sub-culture, in my experience. I also thought it was interesting how some bike manufacturers capitalize on this in their advertising: “You meet the nicest people on a Honda,” or “Start seeing motorcycles.” Apparently, those marketers have been paying attention! I’m glad you enjoyed my article and thank you for your comments!

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