Why you should care

Because fans have the power to make or break your brand.

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Everyone’s a fan of something: The World Cup? That new Netflix series? And as long as there have been fans, brands have known that they can make or break their businesses.

In today’s digital world, more and more companies are tapping into that fan-centric power base for campaigns, guidance and new releases. “Fandom is, at heart, externally generated branding,” writes Zoe Fradde-Blanar and Aaron M. Glazer in their 2017 book, Superfandom. “But its purpose is to project personal meaning.”

Projecting personal meaning — sounds pretty powerful. Let’s take a closer look at the fandom phenomenon and how valuable it really is.

What’s a Fan Worth?

In 2013, Bud Light set out to quantify the power of fandom. For one month, the brand conducted an experiment encouraging its social media followers to share beer-related photos on the Bud Light Facebook page. The upshot? During the month the photo experiment ran, Bud Light saw a 3.3 percent increase in sales — and for a brand that rakes in more than $5 billion every year, over 3 percent is a big deal.

Social media is a huge driver for brands looking to get their products and messaging in front of more people, but it can also quantify the value of their followers. After monitoring five million-plus Facebook ads for 50 different clients, social-media agency SocialCode calculated that each Facebook fan, on average, contributes an additional $10 to overall sales revenue. Facebook fans will make a purchase at a much higher rate than non-fans, and it’s significantly cheaper to reach them through advertising than it is to reach non-fans. So for brands, it’s clear that being popular on social media can translate to big-time profits.

Take, for example, JPMorgan Chase’s beloved travel and dining credit card, Chase Sapphire Reserve®. After launching the card in August 2016, Chase witnessed a huge spike in social engagement and followers, making the Sapphire Reserve card one of the most popular travel credit cards on the market.

How Do Brands Create Fandom?

For brands today, the number one tactic for attracting fans is authenticity. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot, but what it means, in practice, is responding to what fans want and delivering on it consistently. “There’s the authenticity of what a consumer wants and what a brand can deliver,” says Oved Valadez, co-founder of the experiential design agency, INDUSTRY. “When the two things come together and are done correctly — with the right timing and touch points — then there’s a vehicle to fandom.”

Those two ingredients came together when JPMorgan Chase launched Sapphire Reserve, the aforementioned premium, reward-rich credit card that offers perks such as VIP access to events and experiences, plus benefits that reward cardmembers more on how they are traveling, dining and living their lives today. With a unique, sleek design and an unmistakable feel, the card delivers a “plunk factor” that has been known to evoke card envy among friends when the bill arrives. And from the moment the card launched, consumers loved it — fans posted unboxing videos on YouTube, Instagrammed their card while paying bills and even dressed up as the card for Halloween.

JPMorgan Chase saw an opening in the market for a product like Sapphire Reserve, but it did not set out to incite fandom. The goal was to create a credit card that rewarded consumers for travel and dining to enable them to travel farther and experience more — a key passion point for the target customer. The result? Fans signed up in droves, exceeding expectations.

So What’s In It For Fans?

You know that feeling when you first meet someone and discover that you both like the same random artist? That click of connection is the essence of fandom. Fandom is shorthand for connecting you with what you like, affirming who you are and finding the people with whom you share interests.

“It speeds up the process of getting to know someone,” says Dustin York, assistant professor and director of communication at Maryville University. “I don’t need to have a six-month relationship with someone to trust them if we’re both fans of the same thing.” These types of connections can boost confidence and self-esteem and even help people define their identity.

Whether it’s an uncommonly cool credit card or a beverage with a cult following, we’ve entered a new “fandom-based economy,” where brand owners and consumers have converged in new and powerful ways. It’s a relationship built on passion and engagement — and has the potential to shape our physical and digital environments as well as the marketplace of the future.