What do Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus all have in common besides being current pop music stars? Answer: They all have fan brands that were nominated in iHeart Radio’s Music Awards for being the loudest, most supportive, and most enthusiastic fans in existence. Wouldn’t you and your company want fans like these? No matter if you are a band, a record company or a product brand from motorcycles to movies to novels, you too can create a fan brand in seven steps. Read on!
iHeart Radio held its 2018 Music Awards ceremony March 11, 2018 to honor the best songs and artists of 2017. In addition to recognizing a variety of different artists, iHeart Radio is keeping with the tradition of honoring the most passionate fan brands in the world today. Some of the top nominees include Justin Bieber fans (Beliebers), Taylor Swift fans (Swifties) and Ariana Grande fans (Arianators). But what are fan brands, why they are important, and how can you create and exploit your very own fan brand as part of your integrated marketing communication strategy?
What Are Fan Brands?
According to an article by E-commerce Consulting, a fan brand is a group of fans who have been affectionately given an identity by the brands they follow. This is not at all a new concept. The Grateful Dead, jam rock legends who formed in 1965, had a fanbase known as “Dead Heads”; Barry Manilow, who released his first record in 1973, called his fanbase “Fanilows.” Today, “Maggots” represent the metal band Slipknot and “Little Monsters” represent pop star Lady Gaga. Even outside of the music business one can find fan brands. For instance, Star Trek, the science fiction media franchise, has “Trekkies” and Harry Potter, a series of novels, has “Potterheads.”
Why Are Fan Brands Important?
John Michael Morgan in his book Brand Against the Machine says that fan brands are a way to build loyalty and create evangelists who are going to spread the word-of-mouth about your brand. People have a natural desire to be part of something bigger than themselves, and to feel as though they are part of an elite and exclusive club. Fan brands allow customers entrance into such a club and an opportunity to socialize with other like-minded club or tribe members as well. When you refer to a fan brand by name, each member feels as though you are not only communicating to “us” (the tribe as a whole), but to each individual. This builds brand equity. The stronger the bond a customer has with your company, the greater the possibility that fan will be a repeat and ongoing customer for a very long time.
How To Create, Cultivate and Exploit Your Own Fan Brand
So how do you go about creating your own fan brand? Well, besides having a quality product that fills an important need in the marketplace and is positioned uniquely from the competition, there are simple yet essential tasks for creating and exploiting your very own fan brand according to both a blog posting by Jackie Huba and Commerce Consulting. Here are seven tips they offered:
1) Research your fans: Understand what makes your fans tick. What are their demographics (age, gender, ethnicity), psychographics (activities, interests, opinions), and behavioral characteristics (the attributes they seek in your brand as well as the rate at which they consume your brand)? Note that the greater you understand your fans and communicate with them in a language they understand, and the better you listen to them and show them that you care, the better the chance they will trust you and passionately follow your company for years to come.
2) Name your fans: Find a name that both represents your brand and your fans and that shows affection for them. Take the rock band Kiss for example. Given its heavy metal sound and its rowdy fans who were rumored to have threatened to “attack” any radio station that did not play Kiss’s records, the band named its fans “Kiss Army.” Pop star Lady Gaga is another example. Given her far-out stage antics and her allegiance to those who do not follow the stereotypical path in life, Lady Gaga called her fans “Little Monsters.”
3) Create a language or a symbolic shared meaning: Lady Gaga uses a monster claw hand symbol that specifically is her way (and the fan’s way) of identifying that they are one of the same tribe. Jimmy Buffet fans, called “Parrot Heads,” identify themselves by wearing crazy looking parrot hats. And the jam rock band Phish actually communicates with its "Phans" live in concert by using a musical language they created specifically for the fans. When the band place certain notes and riff, Phish "Phans" respond in a certain way. By creating shared meaning through symbols, a company essentially gives its fans a secret insider code or language that says, “This is our club.”
4) Create a website dedicated to the fan-brand: Start an official fan brand website (e.g.,kissonline.com) as well as social media pages on different platforms that allow the fans to interact with each other and engage. Provide special perks on these mediums for the fans that other non-members are not entitled to. By making fans feel special, you will create a feeling of exclusivity that can lead to building stronger bonds and greater brand loyalty.
5) Create or sponsor offline fan brand events: Create exclusive offline events specifically to give fans a way to mingle with you, interact with the brand and to interact with each other. Harley-Davidson Motor Company is the title sponsor of Daytona's Bike Week held in Daytona, FL during the month of March. Star Trek conventions around the country have been drawing devoted Trekkies for years. And Slipknot is known for gatherings where dedicated fans share ideas and information with each other. Typically, thousands of people show up to these events and flood the Internet with pictures and stories of how they engage the brand. This creates tremendous word-of-mouth and is a great way to build community around your brand.
6) Utilize the fan brand hashtag in all of your social media post: When communicating with your fans on social media sites, utilize a uniform hashtag where all of the tribe members can easily search, find, and share content from one and another. By getting fans to interact with other fans online, the family bond has the potential of growing on a global scale. Again, the stronger the bond, the greater the loyalty you'll get in the long-term.
7) Be Consistent: Finally, when branding your fans, as with all branding, be consistent and go the long haul. It is important to refer to your fans in all of your communications and engage them in the same way over a significant period of time.
So that's pretty much it. Whether you are a band, solo artist, manager, record label and really any type of branded product, from motorcycles to cars to novels, you too can work at creating a fan-brand by following these seven steps. Sure, this will take a lot of time and effort, but as Bieber, Kiss, Swift, Harley Davidson and many others will express, the return on investment is worth it.
Bobby Borg is a former major label, indie and DIY recording artist. He is also the author of four widely read books: Music Marketing For The DIY Musician, Business Basics For Musicians, Five Star Music Makeover, The Musicians Handbook and over 1,000 magazine and blog articles. The founder of Bobby Borg Consulting, he helps artists and business professionals turn their art into a successful business.