The dance between brands and their fans


Keep your customers close but shower your biggest fans with affection.  I think that generally speaking most marketers would agree with that sentiment.  I even have some friends at an agency that have that belief as one of their core tenets. Recently I began thinking about that concept after having been in meetings with some manufacturer brands about their product lines.

One of the interesting dynamics that the marketing team at my job faces has to do with the role of the brand.  As one of the directors in my office describes it, he talks about how Best Buy is a brand in and of itself.  Our company stands for something in the mind of consumers and in the market place.  You may like Best Buy or you may not, but you have a brand perception of the company that is Best Buy.  But looking at it another way, Best Buy is also a brand of brands.  To me this makes sense when you think about all of the different big name brands that we sell and what those brands may mean to people.  (Side note: I liked this idea so much that I made a case study out of it when I gave a presentation on the topic earlier this year at the University of Minnesota – thanks Keith for the inspiration!)

In my current job, I have an active role where I work closely with some of the manufacturer brands that we carry.  This means that I get visibility to new products before they launch or I get to hear about product roadmaps that look out two-to-three years down the line.  But by being privy to this kind of information, I have to understand the sensitivity at play and abide by rules of confidentiality.

When thinking about this aspect of my job, I started reflecting on an wrinkle that these tech companies have with their biggest fans.  These are big technology companies; they thrive on product innovation.   And for the most part they don’t want news of their new products getting out early or ahead of time.  But when it comes to tech brands, these companies have some of the most zealous fan bases out there.  Heck, these customers go out of their way to create places where they can connect with each other and share information (whether founded or not) on new product releases and information.  (Just think about all the “rumor” websites that are out there for consumer electronic products.  Here’s just a small sampling that I found when searching Google: Canon Rumors, Mac Rumors, Nintendo Wii U Blog.)

Having an enthusiastic fan base can be such an asset for brand.  They can do your marketing for you and help amplify your message.  Or they can be your advocates and come to your defense. And they also want to be in the know on what is new and what is coming next.

This is where is gets tricky for some consumer electronics companies.  What if, for competitive or for cultural or for other reasons, a brand doesn’t want to embrace their biggest fans to that extent?  What if there is that barrier that keeps your brand from sharing the very information that your fans crave the most?  This has to be a tough stance to take.  Maybe it’s the right play; maybe it’s not.  I’m not sure there is a general rule of thumb answer for this one.  But at least the brands have customers that give a damn and are passionate about what they do.  And to me that sure says they’s doing something right.

(photo courtesy of Creative Commons license: Simon James.)


3 thoughts on “The dance between brands and their fans

  1. "This is where is gets tricky for some consumer electronics companies. What if, for competitive or for cultural or for other reasons, a brand doesn???t want to embrace their biggest fans to that extent?"Super-interesting question, Jamie. It’s true – sometimes there are immovable and legitimate barriers to sharing desired info to customers. What kinds of things have you seen people do that address that problem? I think that many times, something is better than nothing, and being transparent about why you can’t share shows your passionate customers that you are listening to what they want.

  2. Good point Dodds. Around here we talk about "radical transparency." I don’t think CE companies will go that far. I agree that something is better than nothing. It would be cool if you could bring in some folks into the fold. Open the kimono a bit, if you will.I’m trying to think of anyone that does it well. The gaming side of things kind of does it; I mean at their E3 convention they show off technology that isn’t coming out for a year or two. But when it comes to other brands – Apple for example, they are beyond tight lipped.

  3. Isn’t the difference between successful, transparent brands and successful, guarded brands interesting? "Radical transparency" can have so many benefits, including better products (you’re getting input from the end user). Questions rolling around in my head: "What other brands like Apple are really guarded, but really successful? Why does that not work for other brands?" Great stuff to think through.

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