3 steps to building brand awareness with true fans | Insights

3 ways to ensure you're connecting with your brand's true fans

January 2021


  • James Chutter, Digital Strategist
  • Jeremy Burrows, CEO

At one time, brands had fewer options when it came time to raise awareness for a new product. If you wanted to make a splash in the market, a big mass campaign was the most reliable arrow in your quiver. To build brand awareness, you had to secure a time or a place where as many people as possible would hear what your campaign had to say.

Unfortunately, brands that apply that approach must be okay with a level of attrition. A million people may see your message, but at best only a hundred people will go on to spend money on your brand. When comparing the cost of the campaign to the resulting sales, the numbers didn't always add up.

Now, a “spray and pray” approach may raise awareness for your brand, but it’s far from a reliable indicator of campaign success. To ensure your campaign makes an impact on your sales totals, you need to target customers who are already aware of your brand. Then, within that audience, you need to focus on those who are most likely to become your fans.

When brand awareness is high but sales are stagnant, you must find your biggest fans to increase business. And once you've found them, you may not need anyone else.

Brand awareness is a vanity metric

With multiple channels at your disposal, you have new, more focused options for building a groundswell of attention from a more receptive audience. Social media allows your brand to identify audiences where your brand enjoys a high rate of awareness but low levels of purchase intent.

For example, a gaming company wanted to market a new piece of hardware to women aged 18 to 35. Instead of rolling the dice with advertisements in Times Square, the brand focused on a few social media influencers aligned with both the brand and its target audience.

By finding an entry point into the communities these celebrities represented, the brand was able to target customers who were their fans-in-the-making. Once you market to your fans, you increase your chances of building a more lasting relationship. And that’s where you find the greatest rewards.

How cultivating fan relationships protect your brand’s bottom line

Some 20 years ago, a Super Bowl spot was the surest way to get the word out about your brand. As audiences have grown more fragmented, you can no longer be assured of reaching your target customer.

In 2008, Wired editor Kevin Kelly wrote that the internet’s possibilities allowed for a shift in focus for artists. Instead of reaching for national or even international stardom, artists could make a steady living by only targeting their “true fans.”

With the help of digital networks, creators only needed 1,000 fans that would buy whatever they produced for roughly $100 a year. Through that level of fame, an artist could produce a six-figure income, which constitutes a decent living. In 2018, investor Li Jin took Kelly’s idea a step further. As a result of new social platforms and the “passion economy” they facilitate, she believes creators now need to only attract 100 True Fans to pay them $1,000.

In both cases, an appreciation of your True Fans can be extrapolated to a marketing strategy for brands. Your brand doesn’t need to be the pop star whose name is on everyone’s lips to be successful. All you need is a passionate, dedicated community that your brand can nurture long-term.

Built around a subscription model, software-as-service (SaaS) companies already benefit from tending to the community around their brand. If they continue to provide strong service, they can better predict their average revenue per user (ARPU) than brands that attract less committed fans.

Even as consumer habits shift in or out of your favor, your brand can count on a baseline of revenue through a cultivated fan community. Rather than worrying about raising brand awareness to boost sales, you can focus on maintaining your niche.

Brand relationships are built upon trust

Building a relationship between your brand and its fans takes time. Like any relationship, you have to build a connection with your brand's fans through trust. These three steps will ensure your brand's bond with its biggest fans is built to last.

Be consistent

Once you’ve established that your brand has a specific identity that resonates with customers, you can’t deviate from its principles. Pepsi competes with Coca-Cola at a national scale, which has allowed it to change its look multiple times. However, when Coke changed something as foundational as its formula, the fan backlash was intense and immediate.

When nurturing a relationship with your fans, you have to consistently show up in a way your fans recognize. Once your best customers feel they relate to your brand, you have to be careful about deviating from that identity.

Align with your fans’ values

Your brand identity is built on what you value. When customers become fans of a brand, they’re aligning with the values of your company moreso than your individual products. Back when reusable bags were just beginning to grow more common, a Whole Foods bag briefly became a status symbol. The store’s customers weren’t just buying a bag; they were buying a signal of their shared values with the brand.

The fitness apparel brand Lululemon succeeds based on a strong connection with its fans. But its reputation was damaged by its founder’s insensitive remarks, which were inconsistent with how customers viewed the brand. Not surprisingly, they lost a lot of fans.

Be a good listener

As the digital marketplace has expanded possibilities for communication, brands should maintain a two-way dialogue with their fans. For years gaming companies have solicited fan feedback before the full release of a given title.

Even established companies like Nintendo have updated games before their full release based on fan input. As a result, the brand’s customers don’t just enjoy your products. They also feel a stronger connection with you because their feedback is valued and they’re being heard.

Obviously, brand awareness remains a need for every successful business. But if you want to deliver a consistent impact on your sales goals, you have to stay aware of your biggest fans as well.