As brand marketing moves away from a push and moves toward a pull mechanism -- and immersive experiences begin to trump traditional forms of marketing -- the value and leverage of the super-fan is becoming more important than ever.
First, what is a super-fan and how do you know you have one? A super-fan, put simply, is not just someone who follows your brand, but is radically curious and involved with your brand over a long period of time. An obvious example is the Apple fan -- some even go so far as to call the Apple fan base a cult. The loyalty of Apple super-fans extend far beyond "liking" Apple on Facebook or throwing the odd comment on an iPhone forum every couple of months. These people have the need to overturn and investigate every single rock and test every single product, whether they buy it or not. The super-fan will get in his or her car and drive miles just to stand in line for hours when the newest gadget is available in stores. However, the most telling sign of super-fandom is a fan that creates content with your brand. Whether it is in the form of short stories, blogs, sketches, or videos -- if someone is willing to put their face and opinions on the internet in such a direct and open way, they are surely someone who believes in your brand.
The following five steps have proven highly successful in gathering and cultivating the super-fan and were invaluable to our recent transmedia campaign, GoBZRK.com.
Create a seismic event
A seismic event is an activation (real or virtual) that turns heads and creates conversation. This is the marketing equivalent to tipping over the apple cart. It is often a piece of video or online content that forces consumers to ask more questions than it answers. For example, in the GoBZRK experience, we created a fictional and somewhat comic piece of video that appeared to be produced by a new age "mega church." The result was instantaneous. While viewers didn't know who or where this video came from, they immediately began passing it around and asking other people whether or not it was a real organization. As a result, communities formed as people began to investigate.
Move the early adopters to an exclusive area
Once a small vocal group begins to form around your initial seismic event, move them to a place that celebrates their early involvement. No one wants to go to a club that anyone can get into, and no one wants to engage a brand that is only selling them something. Create the equivalent of a velvet rope.
Reward those who make it into your "club"
The incentive is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is to make it exclusive. For example, we offered our super-fans sneak-peeks at yet-to-be-released content, personalized comic book covers, and extra virtual currency for community building.
Make the experience "more than free"
More than free is what the average super-fan is after. Their philosophy is simple: "I will give you my most valuable assets, my time and my friends, but you have to give me something too." At this point we have asked them for something, and they have asked us for something. As marketers, we have just created a two-way conversation between our brand and our super-fan, and this will soon prove to be invaluable.
In addition, never ever ask super-fans to buy anything. In fact, reward them with lots of free stuff for their involvement. It doesn't have to be expensive or cost much to produce. What the super-fan is really looking for is proof that his or her involvement with your brand means something -- so be sure to honor that relationship.
Make content your swag
Super-fans are crazy for narrative. The ability for fans to truly participate in the extended story is the coup-de-grace of engagement. For brands, creating genuine and authentic content endears super-fans to your brand because they feel that they have influence and that their voice matters. In other words, let super-fans play with your content first. Let them tell you how they feel about it -- and tell you they will. If you're lucky enough to have them like it, they will tell everybody about it.
One thing you will notice is that super-fans travel in small but engaged groups, and they are very influential in the success of your project. At The Shadow Gang, we consider them small "digital nations" and have a great deal of respect for their "digital autonomy" because the minute we don't, we lose them. Once they are gone, scrambling to find an audience becomes nearly impossible.
In the end, not only will super-fans become consumers, but they also will covert many others to become consumers -- and all because your brand gave them a voice and rewarded their engagement. Conversely, super-fans give your brand a human and authentic voice, resulting in a much more human and authentic relationship with your brand.
Alex LeMay is CEO and founder of The Shadow Gang.
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"Enthusiastic sports fan" image via Shutterstock.