David Meerman Scott
Would it surprise you to find out that 52 percent of all gamers (i.e. people who play video games) are female? That’s what the 2014 research by Internet Advertising Bureau on video game demographics found out when they set out to take a look at who plays video games. Maybe this meant the end of the over-used and cliched stereotype of the unhygienic, misogynistic man-child gamer living in his mother’s basement, not moving from his couch except to shout at his mother to bring more chips. Alas, that was an empty hope. Marketing for video games appears still mostly to be aimed at exactly that stereotypical picture of a gamer.
How many potential customers do you think video game industry is ignoring by only marketing to the traditional customers that they feel like they’ve served for as long as video games have existed (even though contributions of women have been present in video game design all the way from 1970’s)? I’d bet it’s not an insignificant number. While it’s a software firm instead of video game firm, Adobe presents us with a great example of pushing away your users, and more importantly, the fans of their products.
Adobe Photoshop is probably the most well known and the most used photo editing software in the public consciousness. Even the word that is popularly used to refer to photo editing is photoshop! But Adobe, trying to preserve some misguided form of branding, gives some pretty detailed descriptions on how to refer to their products on websites and articles to showcase Photoshop. An example below:
Trademarks are not verbs
Correct: The image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software.
Incorrect: The image was photoshopped.
Which do you think the actual users of the product would use? The “correct” version is so clearly written by a lawyer or a marketing department that has not spoken to anyone alive since 1970s’. Who does this serve? To me it seems like Adobe is trying to push the naturalistic language emerging from their actual fan base, in a futile attempt to control the brand image of their most prominent product.
Some companies, like Adobe above, are so focused on telling their customers how to enjoy their products, that they miss the incredible potential of that fan integration could provide them. Youtube and the rest of the internet are all full of fan made guides and tips and tricks for Photoshop, but Adobe ignores at best and prosecutes them at worst. Is it any wonder that programs like GIMP are eating away at the user base of Adobe?
Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Network (a strategic research and consulting agency for using digital tools to gain competitive advantage) says that you should “Always start with your audience. The who dictated the how, where, when and why.” According to Leader Networks research, an interactive user community can provide an edge over competing companies. DiMauro calls this an unrivaled advantage, as users sharing of their own ideas deepens the knowledge base of the company, and in the modern information age, data is everything.
Building an active community of users, a fandom, can be productive for any company, if even from a data collecting point of view. An active, engaged community is more primed to comment, critique and discuss your products, as well as serve as brand ambassadors or just spread the word around their own social circles. These communities could potentially grow from just your users and customers to actual fandoms. But growing these communities is not without its difficulties.
To quote from the book Fanocracy, by David Meerman Scott and his daughter Reika Scott, the relationships we build with our customers are more important than the products and services we sell them. They put to us that in our continually more digital and remote world (even before the new plague confined us all to our separate exiles) and that what we as social animals crave now more than ever, is human contact and authentic relationships.
While we cannot bring people together physically, companies can attempt to build their customer bases to communities and even to fandoms. There is nothing stopping any firm, even a plumbing company from trying to form fandoms for themselves. We think that fandoms belong to few specific things, like sport teams (KOVA esports for me), bands (Miracle of Sound), video games (Dishonored) or youtubers (FunHaus). But really, any business or company can form a fanbase for themselves.
All in all, creating fandoms for your company only requires you to consciously try to empathize with your users. Modern users can sniff out insincerity and crave for sincere connections with other human beings. Why do you think that so many millennials have plants as pets? Because we crave for any kind of connection. Adolescents and teenagers relate their own worth and identities through brands and products. AirJordans were a status symbol back in the day. Why couldn’t your product or service become a symbol for your own community?
One company that has created a fanbase for underwear through their subscription model is MeUndies. Their subscribers receive a choice of different new underwear each month for a small monthly fee. They have tens of thousands of customers over United States that are excited about buying underwear, one of the most mundane things anyone can do. Their Instagram account has over 340 000 followers. If that’s not a fanbase, then I don’t know what is.
MeUndies founder Jonathan Shokrian believes that their service brings so much more than just underwear to their subscribers. “Although we sell underwear, se stand for so much more than the product. We’re empowering people to live a life of boldness, and what’s really important are the values and lifestyle that we stand for.”
MeUndies tries to form a personal relationship between their customer and service. They are building a fandom. And if underwear can do that, why couldn’t you?