Capturing enthusiasm: The rise of the casual hardcore consumer

Fierce brand loyalty among consumers is waning. Find out what Justin Cox thinks the industry can do about it.

Breaking with conventional wisdom

Conventional wisdom holds up customer loyalty as the key to a brand’s success in the marketplace. Without a doubt, loyalty has positive effects on the bottom line—higher customer lifetime value can reduce the barriers to introducing new products and fuel acquisition of new customers.

What if long-term loyalty is more fantasy than reality? There are number of studies that state how rare customer loyalty is— Only 22% of Americans say they are brand loyal[1]—or how the payoff for loyalty isn’t as big as we think—72% of Coke drinkers also drink Pepsi, with 30% of Coke buyers buying less than once a year.[2] If we’re not after loyalty, what should marketers be after? In one word: enthusiasm.

The era of the casual hardcore fan

In a world where people are ever-distracted and over-stimulated, brands need to capture the intense and ephemeral enthusiasm that has come to define consumer culture. We tend to think of people as light or heavy buyers, as engaged or uninvolved in certain categories. However, people don’t pick-it-and-stick-it in life or in work anymore. With access to more information, content, and technology than ever before, people can instantly and casually become enthusiasts, activists, followers, and experts of any topic with minimal effort. From fitness and cooking to fashion and philanthropy, we are witnessing the rise of the "casual hardcore fan." People who display the same passion as life-long devotees, but who don’t build their lives around any one topic. Then, just as quickly and ferociously as they jump into one passion, they switch interest and focus.

At Heat, we noticed this trend across several of our client’s categories and decided to dig deeper. We ran a study of 500 adults and found this "casual hardcore" behavior represented in 57% of the population.[3] We discovered that every aspect of daily life can become a casual hardcore interest with applications across hard-fought categories of packaged goods, consumer electronics, apparel, home improvement, fitness, travel and entertainment.

The challenge for brands is two-fold: identifying the traits of a Casual Hardcore consumers and tapping into this behavior to drive brand adoption.

Key traits of casual hardcore consumers

Casual Hardcore consumers love to try new things, have tried at least 3 activities, but do not see the activities as part of their identity. These adventurous souls skew slightly younger and more

affluent,but are largely economically and demographically representative of the general population.

Casual Hardcore Consumers dedicate time to their new interests, moving on after one year

The majority of Casual Hardcore consumers spend a couple of hours a day on their new interest for a little over a year, with 33% stopping because they found a new interest. 

They spend in pursuit of their new passion

Casual Hardcore consumers do more than consume free content, they open their wallets and invest in their new passions. While it varies by category, 46% spend between $200 and $1000+ on each new interest over the course of a year. [4]

They opt-in on their own

Most consumers are influenced by popularity, but what makes Casual Hardcore consumer different is how they enter into a new category or activity. 47% state that their behavior was triggered by nothing other than their own interest in particular topic.[5]

Brands are missing from discovery

Brands currently do not play a role in initial discovery around the new interest with 63% driven by internet search and only 24% reaching out to someone for recommendations on how to begin. [6]

They actually stay loyal to the brand even after the interests change

While most brands aren’t fully tapping into the desires of this consumer to become an expert in their new interests, 41% of Casual Hardcore consumers do see brands providing the tools and equipment needed to participate. And this involvement is rewarded, with 71% of Casual Hardcore consumers continuing to use the brands that helped them well after moving on to other interests. [7]

Brands win when they connect with enthusiasm

Segment targeting creates a static definition of consumers often based on life-stages that don’t adapt to changing consumer behaviors or tastes. The opportunity is to broaden brand appeal beyond any one segment towards the obsessive interests that bring people from all different segments and walks of life together.

Secondly, Because Casual Hardcore consumers filter everything through their interests, and are eager to do and buy, whatever they need to fuel their passions, brands need to adopt an interest-first, product-second approach to capture their attention.

Lastly, when you frame your brand in support of an all-consuming interest you can transform your role from transactional to a valuable partner. Given that 78% of consumer state "brands never emotionally connect with them," integrating a brand with the enthusiasm of Casual Hardcore consumers has the potential to create authentic connections that lead to adoption and loyalty.[8]

Brands will never be able to control how consumers behave, but they can behave in the same way Casual Hardcore consumers live their lives—enthusiastic and completely obsessive. It compels marketers to identify the interests their brands can best connect with, reflect the culture of their audience, feed their enthusiasm, and use it to bring others in. If we do that, we’ll capture the attention, love and wallets of modern consumer culture. 

Justin Cox is the chief strategy officer at Heat.

[1] "Connecting through the clutter: stay ahead of consumers to win in today’s fragmented markets", Nielsen, 2014

[2] How Brand Grows, Byron Sharp, 2010

[3] Casual Hardcore Behavior Study, Heat, 2018

[4] Casual Hardcore Behavior Study, Heat, 2018

[5] Casual Hardcore Behavior Study, Heat, 2018

[6] Casual Hardcore Behavior Study, Heat, 2018

[7] Casual Hardcore Behavior Study, Heat, 2018

[8] Most Connected Brands, The Drum/Opinium, 2017

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