Minnesotans know that motorcycle culture is everything. Or, more accurately, Harley culture. Massive bikes. Brawny types in the sharpest leather jackets you've ever seen. A coolness that told everyone around, we're the most authentic folks in town.
No wonder Harleys have big-time fans—that underlying culture of authenticity and grit fuels every part of their lives. And over time, a kaleidoscope of other brands will reinforce that identity – be it Nike's "Just Do It" philosophy powering an active, "on the go" lifestyle or music brands providing the beat for a long motorcycle ride. Consumers are the manifestation of the inputs of their lives – and brands play a memorable part in that.
So why do most think of sports and entertainment only when they think of "fandom?"
Research from Stagwell's National Research Group illuminates a simple and powerful insight: fandom of brands, products, and services is even bigger than sports and celebrities. Fifty-seven percent of consumers consider themselves a fan of a brand or product – higher than sports (48%), movies (52%), celebrities (54%), or online influencers/personalities (37%).
Brands, and the products and services they deliver, represent the building blocks of our lives. What we love says much about who we are or want to be. Brands and products are our tools of expression. Two in three consumers say the specific brands they are fans of help express their personality. Brands that know how to forge and nurture the expressions of our passions and obsessions are the ones thriving in today's world.
Brand fans are beyond loyal – they're advocates.
Our research shows that the value of brand fandom extends beyond the traditional metrics of loyalty and relevance. Brands become the core to consumer identity. Fans develop a passion for the brand and a desire to advocate on its behalf—85% of fans consider themselves brand advocates. For some, the effects are transactional; for others, it is aspirational, but the result is a collective and amplified brand voice rooted in a brand's core values.
Providing clarity around a brand's personality, transparency, and what it stands for is critical to attract brand fans. People identify as fans of the brands they are passionate about which embody those human characteristics. They feel like the brand “gets them” and that it stands for something that matters to them. That is the strongest connection to brand fandom, regardless of fan demographics or brand categories.
Fandom is not exclusive to any particular generation.
The brands that successfully build fan ecosystems attract passionate consumers of all ages. Gen Z and Millennials, often discounted for their unreliable loyalty, are just as likely to be fans of brands as older generations. And with Gen Zs and millennials’ love of expression, advocacy, community, and connection, their fandom can be exponentially more valuable to brands than anyone. We see that it is our most intimate world that is most influential in sparking fandom—and that we, in turn, amplify fandom to. Creating memories, enabling discovery, and connecting over shared experiences are some of the key ingredients to that special fandom sauce.
Every brand's path to an engaged fandom is a bit different—informed, and formed by different fan types, category considerations, and values that align consumers to the brand. For some brands, fandom is about enabling creative expression, while others will find value in the nostalgic ritual that feels familiar and comforting.
And die-hard fans are clear about the things they resonate the most with:
What’s in it for brands?
Brands that can take a holistic stake in consumers' lives will drive loyalty, affinity, and advocacy–and not just in the moment. Fandom is not a fad or a flash in the pan. Once a consumer is a fan, they are there for the long term. Two in five brand fans have been a fan of their favorite brand for more than 10 years. And three in five (60%) have been fans for 6 years or more.
Brand fandom is about encouraging and giving consumers a chance to create a personality around a brand. Channeling that personality through delivering marketing, events and experiences, and content, is what gives people ways to express that personality.
Doubling down on fandom-fueling brand marketing might be the hedge brands need to stay above the water in an ever-more-crowded brand ecosystem.