Creating raving fans is a different ballgame in the new collaborative future

10th Mar 2011

Raving fans of businesses generate disproportionately high profits but turning customers into fans is a different proposition in the 'new future' of collaboration and customer involvement, says Robert Craven.  

The raving fans of an elite set of businesses simply can't get enough of the brands they love.
These fans actually set up websites and discussion forums praising and promoting the brand they love. Roberts, in his book (Lovemarks Effect), explains the relationship between Lovemarks and other selling concepts through a simple schema based on respect and love.
The full schema is as follows:
  • Mere products (commodities) command neither love nor respect
  • Fads attract love, but without respect this love is just a passing infatuation
  • Brands attract respect, even lasting respect, but without love
  • Lovemarks, explains Roberts, command both respect and love. This is achieved through the trinity of mystery, sensuality and intimacy
Fig 1: Brands people love to be associated with

Disproportionately high profit margins: I‘ll have some of that!
These businesses (see Figure 1) have disproportionately high brand loyalty and disproportionately high customer service ratings and consistently have disproportionately high profit margins. These are linked. According to the Peer Insight Study (2005), businesses in the Forbes 100 with a key strategy of customer service saw average profit levels 10 times that of the rest! I rest my case.
Opinion: You get the customers you deserve
Surely it is easier to get the basics right in the first place. The customer experience determines their feelings towards you. You get the customers you deserve except that now they can fight back.
Opinion: Keep your friends close
My mother always said "keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer". To rewrite this for today, "keep your raving fan customers close but keep your dissatisfied customers closer still!"
So, what can you do?
  • Find out what people are saying about you; Google Search, Twitter, Technorati, Diggit, FaceBook (to name a few) enable you to track the 'word on the street' both about you and about your competitors.
  • Create a more compelling offer that focuses on the value that you add.
  • Respect your customer. After all they pay the bills.
  • Get into the discussion. Be honest and authentic (even if I hate the word!). Be there to discuss, share and understand the customer's point of view.
Surely, it’s the 'same as it ever was' 
In some senses it is the same as it ever was. You must listen to your customer, be different from the rest etc., etc.
So, what has changed? Why is it any different right now?
The new future is one of customer involvement and participation. Forming groups has never been easier: unpaid volunteers build an encyclopaedia (, mistreated customers gather together to take their revenge on an airline ( or a bank (FaceBook campaign forces HSBC u-turn). One man with a laptop can raise an entire army to retrieve a stolen phone (Ivanna's Phone). You cannot deny the existence of a new world of easy collaboration. You can put your head in the sand but it won't go away.
And what happens if you don't do something
  • Customers will always talk. You can't stop them. But now they are able to do it more than ever.
  • You will be seen to be a dinosaur business; out of touch, old world and potentially dead in the water.
  • Progressively your web-savvy competitors will have their ear closer to the ground, will be closer to the customers and, as a consequence, will be giving the customers exactly what they want.
Five suggestions for your business
  1. Corporate blog: You can dissipate antagonistic customers by giving them the platform to share their angst.
  2. Insider Twitter account: Quite fashionable at the moment as long as they are genuine and not an attempt to fix the result.
  3. Track what is being said about you: Start the conversation with the complainants.
  4. Sort the social media: By definition you cannot control the social media but you can encourage the conversation explicitly (set up a FaceBook page) or implicitly use (or pay!) ambassadors to spread the word.
  5. Do not try to fix the result by interfering: If you try to control the conversation, you will face a backlash. Media agency PHD Worldwide was recently on the receiving end of a kicking when it started removing large numbers of negative comments about its video 'We are the Future' on YouTube.
The 'customers talk...' and 'getting close to the customers' arguments are usually presented as 'nice to haves' or the rants of some relatively insignificant hysterically evangelistic social media fan. The reality is that while the future is a little ambiguous, the 'customers talks...' agenda will become one of the key axes for business survival in the next few years. The ability to 'get it', to tune-in and respond to what the customer thinks, feels and wants will influence the business landscape.

Telling the customer what they need is for the dinosaurs. Interruption marketing is dead. Start talking; and fast! 

Robert Craven is a keynote speaker and author of the best-selling business books 'Kick-Start Your Business' and 'Customer Is King'. As managing director of The Directors’ Centre, the consultancy for growing businesses, he works with ambitious directors to break through constraints on business growth.

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