Why fans are your best weapon

From HSBC to Disney, all brands thrive if they convert customers into passionate advocates - Campaign led a senior-marketers' discussion on how to do just this...

"Brand fans are the lifeblood of any business and they drive a disproportionate amount of sales and profitability," said Claire Beale, Campaign’s global editor-in-chief.

But how do you find brand fans? How do you create an environment that allows brand fandom to flourish? How do you create compelling content that can turn a consumer into a fan? And how do you find the right partners to help? These were the questions senior marketers and CMOs wrestled with during a roundtable session hosted by Campaign and Turner.

Shareable and bearable
"It’s all about content. You need to create things that are worth sharing," said Serena Duff, EVP, general manager, Horizon. "Then use your fanbase to create new fans. But you have to create content that is true to your brand."

Molly Battin, chief corporate marketing and chief communications officer, Turner, added: "It’s about sharing experiences, building communities and finding ways to broaden your touchpoints."

Molly Batin
Battin (right)..."The best brands that are authentic to their purpose start from within"

Scarcity is another essential component argued Adam Boita, head of marketing, light spirits at Pernod Ricard: "If you look at any brand that people crave, it’s all about scarcity. Take Game of Thrones: fans know there are only going to be seven episodes in a series then you have to wait a year for the next one. Fans are properly invested. It’s all about striking that balance between creating and fulfilling desire."

Leo Rayman, CEO, Grey London said there’s more to it than just that: "We have to be acutely aware that content in its own right doesn’t build fans. You build fans by delivering repeated experiences that people really want. The best brands have a deeper truth about them."

So, high quality customer service is essential in creating brand fans: "This speaks to the humanity in us all. People are always looking for that human touch and a real connection," said Tom Punch, chief creative officer and chief commercial officer, Vice Media.

Deeptha Khanna

"There’s a word that comes to mind," said Deeptha Khanna (pictured left), global president, baby, Johnson & Johnson Consumer, "which is ‘delight’. At some point of the experience with a brand you have to have been delighted. It’s a product that’s superior or a striking piece of content, but if you’re not thrilled at some level you’re not going to talk about it."

"It’s surprise and delight," said Tricia Weener, global head of marketing, HSBC. "It’s not enough just to be consistent, you have to have spikes in terms of your ability to surprise. And if you do that, you build fans."

Feeling it, meaning it
Anna Hill, CMO, UK & Ireland, Disney said that authenticity is key: "There are lots of brands that believe they have to have a purpose to attract fans, but people can see through that. The key is listening to your fans but staying true to what you really believe in.

"What Walt [Disney] wanted to do was keep the child in everyone, to create happiness and ultimately for us that is in the form of a healthy family unit – and it stays consistent in everything that we do. We’ve been trying to champion getting kids fit and active and eating better. We’ve got the power with our IP to do that but it’s crucial that you find the right partner. And it has to come from the top and remain baked in."

Kathryn Friedrich, chief business officer, RYOT Studio, Oath said that consumers want brands to display good moral judgement: "Consumers are demanding that companies try to make a difference because brands have money, the IP and they actually have the ability to make a difference. Consumers are saying: take a stand."

Kathryn Friedrich
Friedrich..."Consumers are saying: take a stand."

"The problem is operationally organisations aren’t set up to create purpose or fan communities," warned Stuart Bowden, global chief strategy officer, Wavemaker. "If you have a central marketing servicing group who have briefs coming in on campaigns on a quarterly basis then the idea that you’ll have a long enough run to create a user experience that becomes authentic is difficult. Ideally, if you want to make a difference you need a five-year cycle. You can’t be authentic and you can’t have fans if you’re just a quarter-by-quarter sales function creating marketing collateral."

Living it
But Battin thinks building a brand purpose and quarterly goals are not mutually exclusive: "The best brands that are authentic to their purpose start from within. So how do you educate your employees so that they are truly living the brand?"

Friedrich used Gap as an example of an organisation that do it well. "Every employee gets a card with the brand values and they are asked to memorise them and live up to them."

"Pret do this well in the UK," said Hill, "And what they’re brilliant at ‘surprise and delight’. Because as a customer that is what you want. It’s about empowering your team, it’s as much about in as out. Take people on a journey and make that a benefit of working for the organisation."

Tom Punch

An organisation’s ethos is another essential element, for both customers and employees."Take sustainability," said Wheeler. "Does it need to be an essential part of your organisation today to attract new talent? Absolutely. It cannot be a side issue. People have to feel it before they’ll even open an account or apply for that job. That is a big shift. And it will change people’s decision making around where they will and won’t buy – even if it’s less convenient."

Boita said you have to "walk the walk. It’s not just about saying it’s about doing" offering up an Absolute campaign as an example. "The global team delivered us an ad that was an endless kiss for three minutes between members of the LBGT community. But it wasn’t enough for us to run the ad so we partnered with Stonewall and because it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, we did a campaign around the fact that homosexuality is still illegal in 72 countries."

Allowing your fans to get involved also increases fan involvement. "Go outside the boundaries of whatever it is that you offer," said Weener. "Find things that are real passion points for your audience.

"In the world of banking we are having fewer and fewer touch points, no one comes into a branch anymore because everyone does everything on their mobile today. So how do you actually create those opportunities for people to engage with you with something that they are passionate about? Not something that we are. And that is an area we are really looking at, particularly with our choice of sponsors and partner selection."

Hill argued that some of the biggest organisations lag behind because older people, who are less in tune with what the next generation want, still lead them. "I wonder if it’s going to take time for some of these larger brands to really get it."

Donna Speciale, president, ad Sales, Turner said: "You have to get your message to all the places where your customers are consuming the content. You can’t just look at it as linear. It also needs to be a consistent message but tailored to the specific medium."

"Your creative messaging now has to be endless. It can’t be one message, which is why there’s so much targeting of audiences, because every audience has their own set of purposes. It makes it hard for the marketer."

The road ahead
Beale said that one of the greatest obstacles to building effective campaigns is the high turnover rate of marketers: "The amount of time marketers are in their posts in the UK is less than two years, so actually your loyal fans know the brand and stick with the brand longer than the people working on the ad campaigns."

Bowden explained: "Fans are an outcome of doing everything else right rather than the objective itself. If you really believe in your brand and you’re in it for the long term than you’ll get fans at the end."

While Hill cited "surprising and delighting" as key. "Keep on your toes. Deliver things that people expect from your brand on one level, but make them surprised by your brand on another. Which is exciting for both the consumer and the brand owner."