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Tapping Into the Power of Fandom with 8,000+ Study Participants

Cultural Anthropologist Susan Kresnicka wanted to understand more about how fandom works for companies.

People Nerd Susan Kresnicka is a fan expert, and a fan herself—she claims not a day goes by that she doesn’t watch an episode of Supernatural. From March 2016 through February 2017, Kresnicka led a study on the power of fandom at Troika. (She has since left to start her own firm, Kresnicka Research and Insights.)

The study’s goal was to understand fandom inside and out: to know what it means when we call ourselves fans; to ascertain how fandom is born, reproduced, and potentially fractured; and to learn what bonds and sustains fan communities.

On the participants

Susan: We recruited people for the study based on their self-definition as fans. We asked them to consider what it means to be a fan, i.e., to define fandom for themselves, and with that definition in mind, we asked if they considered themselves a fan of something. In our quantitative work, 78% of the 10,250 we initially surveyed said they did consider themselves fans, so most of us think of ourselves that way.

A balance of qualitative and quantitative

Over the course of the year, we asked over 600 participants to send us a video whenever there was a moment where fandom proved important, meaningful, or relevant in the course of their daily lives, and to tell us why. That's really all we asked, but that question proved to be the heart and soul of the study.

"It would have been impossible to discern how fandom meets core human needs without a tool like dscout, and watching those everyday moments where fandom matters. We had video after video with people talking about how fandom helps them understand who they are now and who they want to be in the future. How fandom helped them remember the parts of themselves they like best, get through a rough day, or mend a wounded relationship. It was profound."

How brands can start cultivating fans

If there’s one thing we learned from this study, it’s that brands that understand who they are, what they stand for in the marketplace, and what they believe in—those are the brands that fans gravitate toward. Identity operates as a filter for the brands you let into your life and the ones you exclude.

You aren't going to get everyone to become a customer. But if you want the customers you do have to feel totally impassioned and loyal, they have to believe that your brand can represent who they are. That it aligns with them. It’s especially relevant at this current, very polarized moment. People are staking out moral and political identities more purposefully than ever, gravitating towards brands that share their moral perspectives, and rejecting brands that don’t.

What brands should be aware of

As a business, if you've made the decision to pursue a fan-based strategy, then you probably understand the value of a deeply invested, smaller audience or consumer base. It’s about depth, not breadth. But the other thing you have to understand is that you can’t over-commercialize the fan experience.

To build long-term relationships, you have to put fans at the center of everything you do, and foster a genuine respect for fans and the value they create within the organization. You have to think about what you can do to create revenue streams without burdening fans, inundating them, or worst of all, making them feel used.

The only reasons we found for people saying “I’m no longer a fan of that,” were perceived moral violations or over-commercialization. Ultimately, the relationship needs to be respectful and reciprocal. Because at its core, fandom is a mutually beneficial relationship between the fan and the brand.

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