The Greatest Marketing Lesson: Passion Trumps Control

by Mack Collier

We all want to be rock stars, even brands.  Because rock stars have fans that love them like this:

Fans that so passionately love their favorite rock star that they literally break down and start crying when they talk about them.  And brands don’t have that. Except, when they do:

So if we accept that brands can have fans that love them just as passionately as rock stars do, then the question becomes why don’t more brands have such devoted fans? 

When I started writing Think Like a Rock Star, the question I wanted to answer is why so many rock stars like Lady Gaga have fans that love them, while most brands do not.  I expected to learn that rock stars simply have an innate advantage when it comes to creating and cultivating fans.

In fact, I learned that rock stars aren’t doing anything to create and cultivate fans that brands can’t do.  Instead, the answer to why rock stars have fans and brands don’t lies in what brands aren’t willing to do.

The Greatest Marketing Tool Ever Invented

The rock concert.

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I just love this photo.  Look at those smiling faces!  Happy people in the audience, and on the stage.  Everyone happy, happy, happy.

Think about what a rock concert is.  It’s a way that rock stars have created to:

1 – Give a special experience to its biggest fans (that helps validate why they are fans to begin with)

2 – Sell that experience to its fans

3 – Sell merchandise to its fans

4 – Bring its biggest fans together in one place and connect them to each other

That fourth and final point is what makes concerts so valuable to rock stars.  Sure, the ticket and merchandise sales create a huge direct benefit to the rock star, but bringing all those fans together is an incredible driver of positive word of mouth for the rock star.  Think about it, thousands of people that share a common interest are placed in the same area for several hours.  What are they going to do before and after (and during) the concert?  Interact with other fans and talk about how and why they love their favorite rock star.  It helps validate why they are fans, and when they leave the concert, those fans will feel better about being a fan of the rock star and by extension better about themselves.

In essence, the fans are marketing for the rock star.  Those fans are going to go home and tell all their friends about what an amazing experience the concert was and they will encourage their friends and family to attend a concert as well.  So the simple act of connecting fans to each other is incredibly powerful.

And it’s backed by facts and science.  First, there are a plethora of studies that word of mouth is a more effective and trusted form of communication than any type of communication that originates from a brand.  IOW if you want to sell your widget to my friend Tim, the odds are that my telling him to buy your widget will result in a sale long before your commercial will.

Additionally, science backs the power of letting passionate people spread your message.   Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute concluded that it only takes 10 percent of a population holding an unshakable belief in order to convince the majority to adopt that same belief.  In fact, the scientists found that this will always be the case.  This study speaks to the power of letting your most passionate fans spread your message.  It’s no coincidence that two of the most popular business case studies for building fans (Maker’s Mark, The Fiskateers) both have elements built into it that connects fans to each other.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the average brand won’t trust its marketing messages with its most passionate customers even if that brand understands the business value of positive word of mouth.  Because even though most brands understand and appreciate the power of word of mouth, they value and covet having control over the marketing messages they send their customers even more.

So then the answer to why rock stars have fans and brands do not goes back to simple marketing.  But not so much the message itself, but how that message is conveyed to others.

If we accept that the average customer views another customer to be more credible than the average brand, then we also must accept that the average customer views marketing messages from another customer to be more credible than marketing messages from the average brand.

What you gain in control, you lose in credibility.  We talk about how brands need to build ‘relationships’ with their customers, but healthy relationships are built on trust.  If your brand doesn’t trust its customers, you probably won’t keep them very long.

Pic via Kmeron

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone January 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Love this: “Rock stars aren’t doing anything to create and cultivate fans that brands can’t do. Instead, the answer to why rock stars have fans and brands don’t lies in what brands aren’t willing to do.”

And how! Particularly in more traditional fields, like law and education, there’s a distaste for marketing that persists to some extent, and it prevents brands in those industries from having a closer relationship with their fans. It’s difficult to feel passionate about someone who keeps you at arm’s length. Powerful post, Mack! I hope companies are listening.

– Kerry

Mack Collier January 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Exactly, Kerry! When someone trusts and values us, it makes it easier to advocate on their behalf!

Years ago I talked to the former manager of the band The Donnas. Fans had set up a site devoted to archiving every live performance from the band and made it all available free for download. The Donnas knew about the site and were fine with it. Their manager explained that they TRUSTED their fans not to abuse the availability of the music and that trust made for a great RELATIONSHIP.

A lesson many brands miss.

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