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Competing in a Fan-based Economy: Create Fans Not Customers

SoftServe VP Matt Kollmorgen describes the problem with audiences and strategies for cultivating a loyal fan base.

January 24, 2017

Professional athletes and musicians have known for years that one of the keys to success is cultivating and maintaining a robust fan base. Fans are loyal, fans buy merchandise, fans involve you in their lifestyle and, most importantly, fans look to create additional enthusiasts. They’ll go to almost any length to convince people that you’re a great running back, a fast pitcher, a superb guitar player, or a talented writer. Fans are what separates the superstars from the athletes and the rock stars from the musicians. These devotees enable otherwise normal human beings a channel for stardom.

Audience Versus Fans

What’s the difference between an audience member and a fan? An audience is made up of either demographics or circumstances. It’s typically a population of people that you want or expect to appeal to with your products, brand, or services. They could either be a target profile or simply the people who happened to attend your event. You don’t know why they’re there and you’re not even sure they like you yet, but you’re going to try to win them over as fans.

Fans are a group of people drawn together by a common interest. We know what they like and, more importantly, we can infer what their interests are.

We may not know or completely understand our audience, but we sure know our fans. Fans are a group of people drawn together by a common interest, whether it be music, sports, or movies; we know what they like and, more importantly, we can infer what their interests are. We understand their motivations, how to appeal to them, and how to get them to spend money. Audiences watch but fans engage!

Fans are the Future

The future of media and entertainment companies depends on converting audiences into fans. Technology advances such as time-shifted media, online viewing, mobile viewing, and super platforms are rendering traditional audience-based media models obsolete. “Eyes on screens” is rapidly becoming an outdated way to measure content value. The legacy audience model is destined to evaporate because media and entertainment companies now have something even more valuable and powerful at their disposal… fans!

The future of media and entertainment companies depends on converting audiences into fans. Technology advances such as time-shifted media, online viewing, mobile viewing, and super platforms are rendering traditional audience-based media models obsolete.

And unlike an older audience demographic, we actually know these admirers. We know where they shop and what products they buy. We’re connected with them on social media and we know when they’re at events. Fans aren’t concerned with privacy when it comes to our content; in fact, they’re willing to broker and trade all kinds of data and information about themselves in return for special treatment.

Cultivating a Fan Base

So how do you cultivate fans? Luckily we have digital technology at our disposal to help facilitate connections that transcend any single event. It starts with better understanding your audience. What characteristics separate the fans? How do they consume or experience our content? What is their journey through these experiences and how can we streamline this journey, make it more enjoyable or remove any friction, in the process?

As providers of content and experiences, we have to ask ourselves how can we leverage technology to engage our audience, beyond traditional channels?

How do we connect them with others that have similar interests? Over time our content, our destination, and our media becomes the glue that bonds people together. Here are some examples:

If you’re a fan of a particular athlete:

  • How would you like to see his or her workout?
  • How would you like to see how you measure up against the data collected by their personal Fitbit?

If you’re a fan of a specific band:

  • How would you like to see them rehearse in the studio?
  • Would you like to hear acoustic versions of your favorite songs?

If you’re a fan of a certain TV show:

  • How would you like to see outtakes, extras, alternative scenes?
  • Would you like to hear the actors talk about their characters?

Fans of this type of content crave more, and they’re willing to provide data about themselves in return. Meanwhile, the more data they give us, the more personalized we can tailor their experiences. This is how we can turn audiences into fans and fans into super-fans.

Fan Case Studies

Industry innovators are achieving successful engagement with fans and are learning some incredibly valuable things about them. ABC recently launched The Bachelor Fantasy League, its own version of a traditional fantasy sports league. Each week while contestants on the show try to find love on screen, off screen more than 500,000 fans compete for cash, prizes, and bragging rights. Participants of the The Bachelor Fantasy League consist not only of traditional viewers, but ABC has been able to engage a surprising new demographic; millennial men have begun competing in this bracket-style or point-based challenges to bet on who will win a rose, leave still single, and who, ultimately, will go home with a ring.

Pharrell Williams has successfully extended his presence beyond his music into clothing and jewelry with the launch of his signature clothing brands, Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream. Williams has also partnered with Adidas to create a line of sneakers. His clothing companies and alliances have put Pharrell Williams’ estimated net worth at more than $100 million.

The same fan-base model can also work for innovative non-media entities as well. Lowe’s has recently launched Lowe’s TV, a streaming app available on major devices to deliver its new original series “The Weekender.” The 10-episode original follows the host as she helps homeowners tackle five DIY projects in one weekend. Lowes is creating a fan-base of DIYer’s and engaging them on their terms.

Retailers can engage fans through media, just as media organizations can engage fans through commerce.

Innovators of Engagement

Today’s fan-bases are an amazing phenomenon, and create a unique scenario that can only be attached to certain entities. Media and entertainment companies are uniquely poised to exploit this phenomenon, leveraging their fans to preserve current relationship equity or attract and grow strong relationships. Organizations that understand how to cultivate and nurture a fan-base will not only retain a loyal following of consumers, but also benefit from increased engagement and long-term revenue opportunities.

Interested in using digital innovation to turn your audience into fans? You’ll likely need buy-in from stakeholders. Read SoftServe’s guide to developing a business case for building a digital enterprise here.

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