Brands need fans, not friends

Make your brand the destination

Technology trends and news by Ben Elowitz
July 8, 2009 | Comments (3)
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/94a

 What makes top brands so valuable? It's not just that they sell a lot of volume. The most valuable consumer brands are successful because of the relationships they form with their customers.

And while 'relationship' is the promise of the social Web, most brands have missed the boat when it comes to their social marketing initiatives. Instead of investing in relationships, brands have largely invested in a token presence on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. It's no wonder they haven't seen an ROI.

Don't get me wrong, plenty of people go to Facebook or MySpace for plenty of reasons; your brand just isn't one of them. My company recently completed a study of the entertainment sector, for example. What we found was that while there were plenty of fan pages for TV shows & movies, and they had thousands or even hundreds of thousands of 'friends', these members did not actually engage. In fact, we didn't find a single brand that had even close to one engagement action (comment, photo, video, etc.) per fan. Let's face it: people are on social networks to do just that, socialize with their friends. Forcing yourself into those conversations puts you in the same class as telemarketers calling during dinnertime. You're interrupting and out of context.

So how can your brand benefit from its fans online? The solution is not to barnacle onto existing social networks, but to create your own -- either building it yourself or using any of the various solutions in the marketplace. By doing this, you'll attract your brand superfans -- the people who will actually want to interact with your brand. These superfans will do more than you ever imagined, without a dollar of marketing spend. Your fans will find you and stick with you if you let them do what they want to do: celebrate and go crazy with your brand. Take, for example, how fans of FOX's popular show Dollhouse recently played an integral part in the show's renewal by orchestrating campaigns on the Official Dollhouse Fansite and creating fansites like www.SaveTheDollhouse.com. FOX's ownership of the fansite allowed the network to interact with the show's supporters and gain greater insight into the show's popularity, eventually influencing their strategic decision to bring the property back.

It's clear why this matters to brands and should matter to you: your biggest fans are your most valuable and authentic social marketing vehicle. If you invest in a true relationship with them, you'll be able to move and react quickly to their ever-changing needs, and even ask them for help. It doesn't take much to keep them happy - just creating a special and honored place and engaging in honest dialogue. When you invite them in, you unleash their willingness and desire to recruit other fans that will gush and rave online with them. Just look at Starbucks' MY Starbucks Idea campaign from last year, which by the way, is still going strong with the coffee community. Starbucks built an environment where their fans and customers could come together and discuss ways to improve the already immensely popular café experience. Starbucks fans have submitted, discussed, and voted on somewhere around more than 60,000 ideas since the site went up. That's impressive online engagement, to say the least, for a company who hasn't been top of mind when it comes to successful internet campaigns. No matter what industry you're in, when fans beget fans, you've got a recipe for continued success.

To take the next big step in monetizing fans' passion online, you have to go beyond having a page on the social nets. Build an environment where fans can connect with other fans as well as your brand because they love it, not because it's there. This is an environment where you're not just one among thousands of brands. It's an environment where your brand is the destination.

(Image source: fastforwardblog.com)


John Smith, on July 8, 2009

While I agree with this article, I think brands need to use already established platforms (facebook, myspace). I'd rather have all my favorite brands in one place, than register on 4-5 different websites. And by using I mean constant engagement with fans on a personal level.

Unfortunately, Facebook does not have fully developed "Fans Pages" system (ie no notifications, easy to use discussion boards, voting polls, etc.)

Ronny Kerr, on July 9, 2009

I think Emil has it on the money. These days we don't consider a brand "with it" unless they've got a solid page going on popular social networking sites. Even more importantly, those pages have to have real content and real reasons to make us visit those pages. You can't just flash an image of your product on the screen anymore. The Internet isn't a TV. Brand pages need to draw interested fans, the really interested ones (as you were saying), with interesting and creative campaigns.

Ben Elowitz
Ben Elowitz, on July 9, 2009

Thanks Emil and Ronny. Many others have echoed your sentiments on MediaPost and I'll pass along what I replied back to them with.

The general theme seems to be an argument for the value of being on the existing (and massive) social networks; the Facebooks, MySpaces, Twitters, and touches on the importance of leveraging the rapid outreach potential inherent in these networks, and rightfully so. The power of reaching hundreds to thousands to millions of customers at once cannot and should not be abandoned, that said, I consider them to be more of a distribution outlet than a community. Try this example on for size:

The business model of creating a destination for brand enthusiasts to revel and immerse themselves is certainly not a new one. By owning and developing this community space, the brand has control over the end experience and can test out new messaging and products; essentially treating their superfans as guinea pigs (they love to be a part of this process by the way) for insight into where they should direct their efforts (and dollars). A great example is retail brands like Nike and The North Face. Both are fashion leaders and both have adhered to this strategy with great success. Like many other brands, these two leveraged the existing (and massive) department stores as distribution methods for spreading awareness, and even selling products, while maintaining their own B&M stores, albeit smaller, but that attracted their most dedicated aficionados. The Macy’s and Nordstroms of the world are great platforms for introducing style and products to new audiences, while the personal, more boutique stores are perfect for converting a tire-kicker, maybe one-time buyer, into a loyal fan who will go back to their own social networks and evangelize.

Coming back to your comments, I agree wholeheartedly that brands need to leverage the platforms that have the masses already, but also give those ever so valuable evangelists, and potential evangelists, a place to connect with one another and the brand on a more intimate level.

Bambi Francisco Roizen, on July 9, 2009

I agree with both Ronny and Emil that brands need to be where the consumers are. But I also agree with Ben that Twitter, Facebook, etc. ultimately are distribution channels that help brands have exposure, but not necessarily build community. I think brands need to have a presence where the consumers are, but they also need to build that community/engagement both in those established communities and ultimately in their own. Nike is a great example. It is in retail outlets for presence, but it has its own store that creates another tier of engagement that can't be achieved by just being another brand in a sea of brands - regardless if that's where the consumers are.

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