Super Fans: How to Draw Loyalists to Your Brand

July 1, 2016

[getty images]
[getty images]

As marketers and communicators, we often get caught up in the measures we are trying to achieve — impressions, Facebook Likes, open rates and click-throughs — all in the overall pursuit of more sales and increased market share.

But what we’re really in the business of doing is building fan bases for the brands we represent. Because it’s people who buy the products and services we offer, who experience those products and who share those experiences with others.

Every brand — from big brands such as Apple to little brands, such as Granny’s Donuts in West Saint Paul, Minn., two miles from my home — has super fans.

Law firms have super fans, as do elementary schools, senior living facilities, financial planners, faith communities, equipment manufacturers, government agencies, fishing guides, politicians and nonprofit causes.

What makes a super fan?

Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired magazine, tackled this question in a well-known article titled “1,000 True Fans,” published in 2008, in which he speculated as to how many dedicated fans an artist, such as a musician or a sculptor, needs to make a living over the artist’s lifetime.

Kelly determined that a true fan, or a super fan, is someone who buys everything you produce. Think of Elvis or Michael Jackson. Long dead, their super fans continue to buy their music, apparel, photographs and posters, contributing millions of dollars each year to their estates. This endearing loyalty is called the long-tail effect. Long after the introduction of a new product or innovation, fans continue to drive revenue for an organization based on their loyalty to the brand.

Super fans are the first to Like your Facebook page. They’re the people who write positive reviews on Amazon. They recommend your brand over other brands at the office or at the reception following the school band concert. They invite their friends to community events sponsored by their favorite brand. They share articles and videos with their friends through email. And they create their own fan blogs and Facebook pages dedicated to their favorite brands.

They are, in essence, an extension of a brand’s sales force.

Nurturing super fans isn’t limited to just the sales of products and services, obtaining a vote, or encouraging donations. It applies to recruiting and retaining talent, too.

It starts with dialogue.

So how do you attract more fans to your brand?

I believe that the key is to take the time to really understand how someone becomes a fan of your brand, and learn to craft relevant marketing communications that speak to the heads and hearts of a brand’s core believers, while allowing others to listen in. Here are some practical suggestions that you can put to work today toward building a loyal base of super fans for your brand:

1. Interview super fans face to face. If your brand wants to connect with super fans, then you must leave your office and go talk with them in their environment to understand the context of how they became fans.

Mark in your calendar one day per month to go meet with customers, take calls in the customer service center or meet with customers — one on one — at an industry or consumer event.

2. Ask this one question. Collecting data from your CRM systems is critical, but obtaining understanding and context is even more important. Inviting two-way conversation with your customers is the first step.

Identify 20 stakeholders and ask them this question: “What’s your greatest challenge?” The point of this exercise is to identify how your brand can add value to your customer’s life by solving problems for your customers.

3. Be crystal clear about what your brand stands for. This may seem obvious, but you need to clearly communicate who you are, what you stand for and what value you offer your fans — especially if you want them to accurately share your story.

Boil your brand message into a billboard with no more than eight words and an image, and share it profusely with your super fans through emails, social media, newsletters, etc.

4. Make your brand likable. When someone goes shopping, they’re checking you out online. After they’ve determined if your organization has the capability to solve their problem, they want to know if your brand is likable. Most people want to do business with others they like — and can trust.

Take a close look at your marketing communications. Do they convey a brand that’s approachable, caring and aspirational? Are your Facebook posts and the content on your website inviting and relevant?

5. Collaborate with fans in building the brand narrative. The recent “Chewbacca Mom” video, created by a Kohl’s super fan that generated millions of impressions for the company, serves as an example of how an organization can invite its super fans to share their love for its brand.

While Chewbacca Mom was a surprise to Kohl’s, the company joined in on the fun, increasing engagement with fans and new customers. Your brand could create events or social media opportunities for fans to share in the brand narrative. Or, if a fan creates a site centered on your brand, reach out and share resources to make the online experience even more incredible.

6. Plan your content. When it comes to content creation, whether it’s white papers, how-to videos or regularly posting on Facebook or Instagram, many organizations can feel overwhelmed with the day-to-day process of generating new content.

Think like a magazine publisher that plans content months in advance. This discipline will help ensure that your content is consistently in line with your brand, while giving you the flexibility to create new content when an unplanned opportunity pops up.

7. Create sharable content. People share content with others because it reflects their identity. A social media campaign for Delta Dental of Minnesota allowed people to share their smiles with those whom they love. A video for Lakemaid Beer showing a drone delivering a 12-pack of beer generated more than 700,000 YouTube views and millions of dollars of broadcast exposure.

Don’t worry about length; focus on creating content that is relevant and leverages the words and images that your fans use in real life. And don’t be afraid to show a sense of humor.

8. Follow the No. 1 rule of small-town newspapers. Having reported for the Prior Lake American as a college student, I learned a valuable lesson: People love to see their names and photos in print.

Apply this rule liberally to all of your paid, earned and owned content and social media — mention as many fans as possible. Go out of your way to promote your customers and the success they’re enjoying by using your product or service. 

9. Be unexpected. We took an unexpected approach to reach hardcore runners for a national footwear company. We created posters highlighting the color of a marathoner’s urine (as it relates to their hydration) and posted them in portable toilets at marathons across the country. There was minimal cost, as no other companies wanted ads near portable toilets. But if you want the undivided attention of a marathon runner, that’s where you go. 

Where are the unexpected places, events or moments where you can reach your core fans? Find out, and show up.

Super fans don’t just happen. From the day a brand is founded, it’s up to the people behind it to nurture fans who will support the brand through thick and thin.

Focus your attention on placing a priority on the relationship over the transaction (a sale, a vote, a donation, an employment application). Take a human-centered approach to your marketing and communications to build a community of fans who will be so pleased with the brand experience that they can’t wait to share it with others.

Do this and the numbers will follow.

Always remember: It’s fans who breathe life into a brand. Not the other way around.

Stephen Dupont, APR

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (, a brand-marketing firm based in Minneapolis. He blogs at Contact him at


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