Last year, my friend Liz Strauss challenged me to think about how companies could better connect with their fans, and vice-versa. I wanted to think about how this process would actually take place inside a company. How would a company identify and connect with its brand advocates? How would it create and continue a connection with that group? How would it facilitate a flow of communication from the company to its advocates, and vice-versa? How would it act on that information internally, and who would handle it?
Some of these same questions have been rolled up into the thought-process of what a ‘Social Business’ could be and we talked about it yesterday, although not in the detail I was hoping for. But last year when I started trying to wrap my head around what this framework could look like, I realized with the events I would be speaking at and attending in 2011, I would have plenty of opportunities to talk to some pretty big brands and companies about how they are connecting with their fans.
So that’s what I did. At almost every stop in 2011, I made it a point to set up meetings to talk with companies about how they were connecting with their brand advocates. We’re talking VERY large companies, and usually the people I talked to were CEOs or CMOs. After probably a dozens or so interviews in 2011 with big companies about how they were systematically connecting with their brand advocates, I came up with this answer:
They weren’t. The closest would probably be Dell’s DellCAP program (Disclosure – I had a very limited role in helping Dell flesh out some of the initial ideas behind it and executing them), which I obviously think is a fabulous program, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s solely based on connecting with Dell’s brand advocates. All the companies I talked to saw the importance of its brand advocates, and several were doing things like monitoring for positive brand mentions and responding, or maybe highlighting fans on a Facebook page, but for the most part there wasn’t a formal process in place where the company regularly connected with its advocates. Several expressed to me an interest in taking that next step, but they wanted to know what that process would look like. This is why I kept harping on the need for more detail around ‘Social Business’ for the same reason in yesterday’s post.
But perhaps the biggest roadblock to companies adopting a formal process for connecting with their fans is they don’t understand who they are. My friends at Brains on Fire call this figuring out the identity of your advocates, but I think of it as asking ‘What’s the heartbeat of your fans?’ Whats the one thing that binds them together in a love of your brand? Even at the DellCAP reunion last year, at one point I was talking to a Dell exec and we were looking at the attendees and going around the room and we realized that they all loved Dell, but for very different reasons. Some loved the product, some loved the people, some loved the service. But they were different people. You had the hard-core gamer that professionally competes in contests over here with his Alienware laptop, and the mom who writes a blog on tech for other moms over here.
Yet understanding who your fans are and why they love you is a step that cannot be overlooked and skipped. I honestly think this is why Brains on Fire is so successful because they invest the time and energy for their clients in helping them understand who their fans are and what their identity/heartbeat is. We all love the Fiskars/Fiskateers case study, but remember that it was made possible by Brains on Fire doing a LOT of research and figuring out how Fiskars’ customers were using its product, and realizing that a passionate scrapbooking community existed that loved the brand. Without investing that time and energy in research, the resulting movement wouldn’t have happened.
I’ll wrap this post up now cause I see it’s starting to resemble a thesis, and we haven’t even gotten into what the formal process would/could look like. I’ll dig into that in the next post on this topic.
But for now, if your company wants to really connect with its fans, make the starting point understanding who they are. What’s their heartbeat? What’s the ONE thing that unites them in a love of your brand? To put this in music terms to help you understand, Lady Gaga doesn’t have fans, she has Little Monsters. The Grateful Dead has Dead Heads. You need to find that one thing, because that’s their passion point. And in doing your research to better understand your fans, don’t rely solely on online research. Look for ways to get feedback from your fans in an offline setting. If you only hear from your fans that are online, you are getting an incomplete view of who they are and why they love you.
What are some examples of brands that you think do a great job of connecting with their fans? Which ones do you think have found the heartbeat of their advocates?