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Achieving lasting fandom for your brand in 3 steps

16th Mar 2018
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Brands are like sports teams. Without a solid fan base, organizations don’t last long.

Sports franchises have the unique ability to build lifelong connections with fans by creating magical moments. Game-winning playoff drives and last-second buzzer-beaters act as emotional anchors, rooting each fan’s loyalty in a few key immersive experiences.

As a Lakers fan during the Showtime era, I can trace my passion for the team to my next-door neighbour at the time. Every no-look pass from Magic Johnson or basket by James Worthy elicited an excited yell. That neighbour became the advocate who got me hooked on the team, and through his passion, I embarked on my unique fandom journey. I carry those emotional brand anchors with me everywhere, even outside professional sports. When I see a kid playing a pickup game at the gym, I feel a little bit of that Showtime magic come back.

I know I’m not alone in those feelings. According to research from Forrester, emotion is the top driver of the customer experience. By creating emotional anchors, brands can inspire their own passionate fan bases. Consumers are willing to become fans of their favourite brands, but marketers must overcome a few hurdles to forge the emotional connections that lead to lasting fandom:

1. Navigating the personal journey

Brands that treat fans as part of the team, not onlookers, create stronger connections with their audiences. In sports, every team and stadium attempts to meet attendee needs in advance. When fans recognize the effort brands place on the experiential design, they become more receptive to the creation of new emotional anchors.

Unfortunately, many organizations focus first on the transactional relationship between fan and brand, losing the opportunity to capitalize on the immersive experiences that create these lifelong bonds. Marketers' roles should be to aid their journey and provide opportunities for fans to extend their fandom by triggering emotional anchors they have embedded along the way — not squeeze every dollar out of them until they leave.

2. Providing the right context

Marketers often develop strategies based on irrelevant information to get quick wins. Sports teams may think they know why fans buy tickets, but fans often have multiple personal reasons for their attendance. Marketers who assume they know better than their fans risk losing that loyalty by presuming false information.

Brands deal with massive quantities of data, but understanding what information provides the relevant context needed to orchestrate the right outcomes is lacking. Fans might attend a midweek game for business entertainment, saving weekend games for family outings. By understanding these nuances, brands can focus their attention on the information that drives better conversations during their fan journey.

3. Building stronger bonds

Brand fans don’t want to feel like cogs in a machine — they want to feel like partial owners of the brand’s success. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, customer engagement is rarely more than a notification away. Brands must create engagement strategies that don’t feel like sales pitches but rather like personal assistants helping navigate fans through their optimal engagement path. With that accomplished, the emotional connections guide their decisions, leading to sales that take care of themselves.

Also, marketers don’t have to do it alone. Data science teams and user experience teams can help design essential fan base journeys. Data and data science teams understand the dynamics of how to identify and collect relevant information, while user experience teams cultivate insights on how to deliver more valuable customer experiences. By making the user experience easier, these teams help marketers present clear, emotionally riveting messages to fans at the optimal time.

Building a better fan experience

Buyers are willing to take the leap to fandom. To inspire that next step, marketers must follow a few strategies:

First, define the pit stops available to create emotional bonds. Take inventory of which assets, experiences, and other marketing techniques create stronger connections between the fans and the brand at these points. Then, reconcile their path to fandom with your ideal customer transactional journeys. Determine where you can naturally incorporate the sales flow. Customers expect follow-up efforts after sales, so use those opportunities to get them to share their affinity by communicating their emotional anchors and experiences.

During these campaigns, figure out which emotional anchors suit each of your customer segments. Some people love doing business with environmentally conscious companies, while others want to see their favourite companies support their local communities. Research each group to determine which emotional anchors will resonate strongest; then, design campaigns to deliver those anchors.

Brand engagement in action

Don’t force fans to wait too long to deliver the promised benefits of their loyalty. Continually reward customers for their engagement by acknowledging and promoting their experiences, providing regular perks, and offering incentives to keep their business. Make your affinity program agile with quick-hit benefits, even if they're small.

For instance, the Boston Red Sox famously revamped its customer loyalty program over the past decade. Season ticket holders get to meet players, win all-inclusive trips to away games, and see games from inside the famous Green Monster. Purchased for $700 million in 2002, the franchise is now worth $2.7 billion, thanks in large part to these fan loyalty programs.

Throughout this engagement process, continue to refine the data points that dictate your customer acquisition strategy. New customers are potential fans in the making, but each person is different. Identify points to get the relevant context; then, use that information to help new customers evolve their fandom.

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