Turning Your Customers into Fans

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Lou Imbriano

Having built my entire career in sports, I have come to appreciate that the consumers for the organizations I have worked for have been fans. The real power of having fans instead of merely customers didn’t truly dawn on me until I had been through a couple of seasons with the New England Patriots. It really began to sink in as we created new events: not only were fans enthralled with the thought of the team and everything associated with it, but their appetite to consume anything and everything Patriots was insatiable. That’s when it really hit me: fans are consumers. Sure, I always knew they spent money to see the team, but it’s deeper than that. Fans become consumed with the team. Once that clicked, I never looked at fans the same way again.

Sports teams and rock bands have not cornered the market on fandom. Nike, Porsche, and Coca-Cola are just a few of the bigger brands that have made fans out of their consumers. Your company, no matter how large or small it may be, or whether it sells business-to-consumer or business-to-business, must put a strategy into place to trans-form your customers into fans. The passion that comes from a new fan is powerful and always leads to significant revenue growth.

Be forewarned, though: if you’re going to create new fans, you have to accept the increased responsibility that comes with them, because your brand becomes personal to a fan and you will be held to a higher standard. Look at the backlash that Coke experienced when it introduced New Coke to its consumers. Coke was not true to its brand or to the relationship it had built with its fans. This disenchantment eroded the relationship, and therefore the business, significantly. It took Coca-Cola a while to rebuild those relationships and recover lost revenues. There are probably still some former Coke consumers that never returned because of this breach of trust.

Identifying Your Fans
As a company, your goal is to identify your customers’ level of commitment to your brand. Here are three key indicators of a fan:

  • The regular customer. If a customer comes into your store on a regular basis—every week or, even better, every day—he’s obviously committed to you and your product for a particular reason. Even if your business is simply in close proximity to his home, so you’re easy to get to, you want to be aware of it. However, usually anyone who frequents your business on a regular basis is honestly just into your goods and services.
  • The talkative customer. When a customer stops to chat with your staff and takes a sincere interest in your product and your methods of operation, there is a good chance that she’s a fan of what you do. If people are ambivalent about what you are doing, they won’t be spending time chatting and asking question about your product.
  • The complimentary customer. If a customer is always telling you how much he likes what you do, or, even better, if someone else says to you, “So-and-so is always talking about your store, so we had to come check it out,” you’ve found another fan of your establishment.

This is not rocket science, but it’s a great guideline to jump-start your data tracking. If your customer does one of those three things, you absolutely must know more about her. Once you begin to identify who they are and their level of enthusiasm, you can implement tactics to grow their avidity and transform them into core fans who will be with you for a lifetime of purchases. It’s important to remember that when consumers are fans, they do not mind paying if there is true value in what you offer and if you are making them feel special. Converting customers into fans is all about treating them the way they want to be treated.

So, if your first objective is to identify your fans, having the ability to capture and track their information must follow. If you have a mega database that can track a consumer’s spending habits and likes, the way credit card companies do, you can be much more scientific in the process. If you’re a small business and you do not have a plush database system (or even if you’re a huge corporation but simply haven’t started yet), don’t sweat it. It’s time to begin gathering information on your customers with the intention of understanding their avidity toward your brand. Yes, you have to invest time entering names and preferences into a database—no matter how basic it may be. I don’t care whether you are a pizza joint or a huge financial institution, you must capture, gather, and utilize information about your consumers.

I don’t mean “get their names and start spamming them with e-mails and promos.” This is a totally different perspective.

The Rings of Fan Avidity
When I worked in the radio industry, we categorized our listeners in a four-ring hierarchy to better understand who they were and how to increase the amount of time they spent listening. We grouped those listeners according to a pretty classic system from the radio industry, as P1s through P4s.

P1s (P1 stands for “First Preference”) were the core listeners to the station. They listened religiously, tuning in every day for many hours. The true goal of any radio marketer is to make everyone who listens to the station a P1 listener.

P2s were regular listeners who tuned in multiple times per week to listen to several different daytime broadcasts. They enjoyed the station and what it had to offer, but P2s were never “all in” the way the core P1 listeners were.

P3s were still frequent listeners, but they tended to tune in primarily once a week for a particular show. They liked the station, but in comparison to the P1s and P2s, they were basic listeners with no real emotional connection to our brand.

P4s were infrequent listeners. They would tune in once in a while, but only if there was a specific reason driving them to listen.

Moving Fans to the Inner Rings
The overlying concept of the four-ring fan categorization system is to take each tier and create mechanisms that move the people in it closer to the center. The goal of any marketer is to make P4s into P3s, P3s into P2s, and P2s into your core fan base, your P1s. Having a great product lays the groundwork, but other vehicles must be created to support and enhance fan avidity for long-term sustainability and growth. The focus here should be on identifying the characteristics of each ring and marketing to the commonality of each kind of fan instead of identifying individual preferences. Grouping fans into affinity rings will allow an organization to market directly to a particular group, thus strengthening and growing the fan base.

Make no mistake: your consumers are not all the same because they buy your product. As you build your database of customers, use your knowledge of them and your product to fit them into one of the rings. You should base your categorization of each client on the levels of both interaction and purchasing that are appropriate for your brand and your company.

Remember, the goal is to move people from ring to ring to ring, toward that P1 status. To do this, you must reach out and interact with each segmented group. Questionnaires and surveys are one mechanism to learn more about and define each group. SurveyMonkey is a spectacular tool for every company, large or small.

Once your entire database of customers has been subdivided, you’ll want to create programs, promotions, opportunities, and exclusive offers specifically designed for each fan type. The objective of these promotions is to facilitate the fans’ investment—both emotional and fiscal—in your company. The goal is to condition fans to connect with you, which then moves them toward the inner circle.

While everything you do causes the P1s to stand up and applaud, you need to work harder to move the P2s. This may sound inverted, but you ultimately have to treat your P2s even better than you treat your P1s. Face facts: you own the P1s. The likelihood is that they will be with you for the long haul. I’m not telling you to ignore your P1s—you have to maintain that relationship—but they’re already “all in.” To grow your business, you need to focus on the best potential, and that lies with your P2s.

Final Thoughts
What it comes down to is, as a company, you have to form relationships with your consumers so that you can understand them and offer them what they want. It’s so simple: the more you know about them and the more you understand their likes and dislikes, the more you can cater to them. First and foremost, put in place the structure and mechanisms necessary to capture the information and act on it. Once you know who your consumers really are and where they fit within your organization, you will understand how to get them to spend more money and provide a lifetime of purchases.

© 2012 by Lou Imbriano. All rights reserved. Excerpted and adapted by permission of the publisher, from Winning the Customer: Turn Consumers into Fans and Get Them to Spend More, by Lou Imbriano. Published by McGraw-Hill.

About the Author(s)

Lou Imbriano is president and CEO of TrinityOne, a marketing company specializing in creating strategy for corporations to maximize revenue generation through building customer relationships and branding. From 1997 to 2006, he was vice president and Chief Marketing Officer of the New England Patriots He is author of Winning the Customer: Turn Consumers into Fans and Get Them to Spend More (McGraw-Hill). For more information: www.louimbriano.com