Are You a Superfan? An In-Depth Look at Society’s Alpha Consumers
Zoe Fraade-Blanar and Aaron M. Glazer are co-authors of Superfandom and new additions to the Lavin roster. They checked in with us to offer thoughts on fandom v. consumerism, leveraging loyalty, and what exactly it means to be “super” in today’s fan-driven economy.
What is Superfandom (both the book and concept)?
Zoe Fraade-Blanar: Superfandom is about this modern rise in fandom, which is revolutionizing how people interact with the things that they care about, and with each other as communities. As fandom has gone from being this fringe activity to this major economic force over the last 10-15 years, businesses are having to relearn how to deal with these fan groups, and not just as outsiders. As partners, and not just buyers and consumers.
Aaron M. Glazer: If you look at the licensing industry, licensing something that's purely fandom-driven—that industry is tens of billions of dollars in and of itself.
The thesis of the book, is it how to cultivate a superfan? Or is it more about understanding their existence?
ZFB: The book is meant as a pop sociology book. It’s set up from the point of view of: if you're a fan, you might be interested in it, just to understand why you're doing what you're doing. It also has a very heavy business and marketing bent. So if you’re coming at the book from the business side, this is a how-to for you.
AG: The book comes at it from the angle of this is where fandom comes from, and this is where businesses have done it well—or badly. We have an equation for what we think allows fandom to happen. It’s what we call an “emergent behavior.” It’s very easy to look backwards and see how fandom got there. It’s a lot harder to put together something that makes fandom happen. What you can do is establish a platform that allows fandom to come together.
What’s the difference between a fan and a consumer?
ZFB: Fans engage with the emotional underpinning, the core, the way they feel when they’re interacting with the brand. Consumers like to buy things. Fans feel like insiders.
AG: We’ve progressed away from traditional tribal markers, that now people wear fandom on their sleeves, both literally and figuratively. Fans engage with the brand to establish their own sense of self, and to project that sense of self to outside people. People who buy Tide regularly are not fans unless they also wear Tide tee-shirts. It’s much more about taking what fandom represents and incorporating it into who you are.
How do you make those fans feel like insiders, especially if you're a big company?
ZFB: My suggestion is letting the fans do it themselves. Once you get past a certain point, it's impossible to enforce a top-down policing that everyone is engaging in the right behavior, and following the social norms you want to instill. It’s just not possible. But what is possible, and what's so powerful about these superfans, the ones who really embody what makes the fan group special, is if it’s set up properly, they do it for you. They take over the roles of customer service, answering questions as people have them. They often take over the role of the policing. It’s fun getting to be on the top of the heap, especially if in the outside world, that’s not a social role you typically inhabit.
AG: In general, our recommendation is that people approach fandom-driven change with a sense of deliberateness that requires almost thinking of your fan group as a supercharged market research department, where they have the ability to tell you what the actual end-user is using your product for. What you may have created and what's they're doing are often two very separate things, and internally, especially with siloed organizations, you frequently miss a step between what you think you've built, and what the end audience is using it for. Fans are a great source of telling you what the real world is like.
“No one understands how fans tick and what they can mean for business better than Zoe and Aaron.”— Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations