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Today, our industry has reduced the powers of relationship marketing down to traditional influencer marketing, which is rooted in transactional partnerships between influencers and brands. The problem with this narrow channel is that it doesn’t account for the infinite ways that brands can tap into their own organic fan base, one of the most powerful sources of authentic influence and brand advocacy. In many ways, the fan is the ultimate influencer, and leveraging their power is the best influencer marketing tactic around.
Here’s how it works.
Find your Carter Wilkerson
There’s nothing as valuable as a person who is authentically and passionately in love with your brand. The infectious excitement that a real brand advocate can spread is priceless. The truth is, brand enthusiasts are all around us—we just have to listen.
Last year, Nevada teen, Carter Wilkerson, tweeted at Wendy’s asking how many retweets he would need for a free year of chicken nuggets. He wasn’t an influencer by any standard; he was just a huge Wendy’s fan. But the brand was listening. Wendy’s replied “18 million,” and Carter put out a plea for retweets, causing brands and influencers alike to take notice and start backing his request. Soon enough, #NuggsForCarter was born, and Carter’s tweet became the most retweeted tweet of all time, landing him on Ellen and bringing valuable national publicity to Wendy’s.
Every brand has the opportunity to find its own Carter Wilkerson. Today, social listening tools look beyond hashtags and mentions, allowing companies to identify their brand advocates, and the brands that find creative ways to react to and leverage that dialogue in real-time will come out on top.
Don’t just wait for someone to tweet at your brand and hope people notice. Get proactive about engaging with your fans. Groupon heard Tiffany Haddish talking about buying a Groupon for a swamp tour during an interview and approached her to star in its Super Bowl spot. Similarly, when we heard that Joe Zee was a huge fan of our client Pizza Hut, we threw him an Oscars pizza party.
In both instances, proactivity was key to success. Being proactive means constantly searching for, listening to and approaching fans around you. If hosting an event, for example, don’t sit back and let the event happen. Talk to attendees and gauge their reactions. Be aware of how people are reacting to your brand organically and be on the lookout for those who are passionate about your cause, product or service. They might just be the perfect addition to your brand story or next campaign.
Get to know your fans
Including your extreme fans in a one-time marketing stunt can be powerful, but the relationship shouldn’t end there. Connections with fans should be continuous and ever-growing. Today, brands can leverage all kinds of tactics, including experiential marketing events and brand partnerships, as vehicles for getting to know consumers and brand advocates. Often, the quickest path to building relationships with fans is through dialogue and showing that you care about their needs and desires. Fans are the ultimate consumers, and their input is highly valuable. Making an effort to understand the brand through their eyes and adjusting marketing strategies—and even products—accordingly will go a long way.
For example, we partnered Pizza Hut with Getty Images at SXSW this year to serve pizza in the lounge outside of their photo studio. Pizza Hut’s core value propositions were brand engagement, press and social media, but within that there was also a critical layer of relationship. Pizza Hut conversed directly with attendees onsite, getting to know them and seeing their reactions to the brand in a private, welcoming environment. This experiential event served as a source for building what would become a powerful tribe of dedicated fans. Today, we tap into that tribe for influencer campaigns of all kinds.
In many ways, brands and marketers have been pigeonholed into an influencer marketing bubble that overlooks the power of offline, human connection. By turning away from celebrities and harnessing the power of real-life fans instead, brands can develop impactful dialogue, initiatives and campaigns that are built from genuine enthusiasm and fan-generated content, all of which feel more authentic in the eyes of other consumers. Building extreme fandom can be one of the most exciting aspects of building a brand, and it provides valuable ammunition for the kind of organic and spontaneous human stories that consumers crave.