How to harness the power of super fans

L-R: Sapienza, Fensterman, Rabinowitz, Bhatia, and Braun
L-R: Sapienza, Fensterman, Rabinowitz, Bhatia, and Braun

Brands have to give super fans something that is relevant and brings value to their lives -- or they risk being torn apart

NEW YORK — Organizations need to be authentic and transparent at all times if they want to convert consumers into super fans and passionate brand ambassadors, said industry pros at Advertising Week here this week.

As more companies look to leverage digital and social media to maximize the revenue potential of their brands, super fans have become an ever-more important growth driver. As a result, organizations are now paying extra attention to these passionate advocates.

However, authenticity is essential when engaging brand ambassadors, said Greg Braun, executive creative director, Innocean USA, during a panel on Tuesday afternoon.

"From a brand's perspective, you have to give super fans something that is relevant and brings value to their lives," he added. "But, if you are not authentic, they will tear a brand apart."

Panelists included Seth Rabinowitz, SVP, marketing and fan engagement, New York Jets; Lance Fensterman, executive director, New York Comic Con; Braun; and Nav Bhatia, a Toronto Raptors super fan. Russell Sapienza, partner, entertainment, media & communications advisory, PricewaterhouseCoopers, moderated the panel.

Although these loyal ambassadors support your brand, it is still vital to practice transparency at all times, especially when experimenting with new initiatives, added Rabinowitz of the New York Jets.  

"When experimenting, people will give you a lot of latitude, but if you violate their trust, they will definitely let you know," he said. "If you are transparent about why you try to do something and it doesn’t work out, as long as you are authentic about it, they will generally stay with you as long your motives were good."

Rabinowitz added that brands – especially sports teams – have to be careful about ownership of fan rituals.

"Fans own their own rituals, we don’t. It belongs to them. We cannot try to control it, but we can try to guide or facilitate it," he explained. "The Jets are careful with this as we know the fans develop their own rituals, not us."

For brands though, there are challenges and opportunities associated with harnessing the power of super fans, one of them being monetization strategies.

New York Comic Con’s Fensterman believes there is incremental revenue to be made from these relationships, as long as you bring value that they cannot find anywhere else. 

"When you authentically tap into that audience, you will find that people are willing to spend incrementally and are ready to commit to something, participate in something that they find value in," he said.

In crisis situations, when emotions run high among a passionate community, Rabinowitz warned brands not to disengage entirely with their most loyal advocates.

"The intensity of emotion can be negative or positive. What we have seen with the NFL in the last couple of weeks is that partners sometimes get scared when [the issue] runs to the negative, and sometimes for good reason," he said. "But, sometimes negativity does not mean the end of the relationship. As long as you try to make it right, it can survive what seems like heavy incoming fire. With super fans, if you disengage them, you will find it hard to get them to come back."

One example of super fan engagement that was highlighted was The Walking Dead Chop Shop, an online and social media initiative in partnership with Hyundai. 

Fans of the TV show were encouraged to create their own survival vehicle, equipped with customized elements to escape a zombie attack. What started off as a tie-in to the show’s season four premiere exploded online as the team working on the campaign listened to and monitored its fans throughout, before empowering them with more customizable options, which led to a 150% increase in visitors to Hyundai’s website in just three months, and more than 250,000 vehicles being created. 

"We look for ways to empower fans," added Braun, whose agency Innocean USA worked on the initiative.

"We learned some things the hard way by listening to them, but we respected our audience and empowered them," he said. "We knew we had to be authentic and we were diligent about it the whole time."

This article first appeared on

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