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What’s the Difference Between Customers, Fans and Community?

December 22, 2022

Customers may buy your product, but fans are an extension of your business. Think about it, do your marketing efforts focus more on attracting fans, or customers? One of the beautiful things about content marketing is that it encourages your business to attract fans, but if you want to make the most out of it then you need to understand the difference, so you can adjust your mindset and then your strategy accordingly.

Delving Deeper into the Mindset of your Customer

When you think about the word customer, you probably picture someone who has cash-in-hand, waiting to purchase your product. If you think about a loyal customer, then you may picture someone who buys from you repeatedly. They may even refer people to your business, which is great. If you want to take things a step further, then you’ll have fans.

When you picture the word “fan”, you’ll probably have a very different mental image. Fans tend to be die-hard fans of your brand, who would be willing to follow your story regardless of the turns you take along the way. They’re willing to buy absolutely anything from you, they talk to their friends and they fiercely defend you from critics, as if they had a personal stake in your business. Fans often see themselves as being an extension of your business, and this is very powerful to say the least.

Do you Focus on Marketing to Fans or Customers?

retail graphic design on demand

The word “customer” came to light in the 1540s. It referred to someone who has dealings, with someone else. The word “fan” on the other hand surfaced much later, in 1889.  It referred to someone who was an ardent admirer, or a devotee. It was used to describe those who were enthusiastic, and was most often used in sports connotations. The word fan, in this day and age now encompasses a huge amount of other industries. Musicians now have fans, and so do movie stars. Thanks to the rise of Facebook, it would seem that businesses now have fans.

Brands and their Star-Studded Celebrity Status

graphic design for retail brand

As the years go by, more and more business people are becoming celebrities. Tom Peters’ seminal work in 1997 included “The Brand Called You”. It referred to the concept of building a personal brand as opposed to a corporate one. Businesses are now embracing this concept more than ever, as they attempt to become more “humanlike”. This has led to some of the biggest brands in the world, changing their marketing strategy so that they can turn their customers into fans, while achieving that star-studded celebrity status.

One famous example of this would be Apple. Apple have a cult-like level of advertisement and they have very clear customer segmentation as well. This has encouraged followers to come in legions, as they identify with the products that Apple provide. This gave rise to the term “fanboy”. The term is used to predominantly describe someone who is a fan of Apple products.

Content Marketing and Creating Fans

retail marketing design

The idea of content marketing is to try and help your audience find the valuable information they need. Content marketing is all about creating value in the form of either information or entertainment. When you look at the bigger picture, you will soon find that this ties in with the concept of creating fans perfectly.

How do you Convert Customers into Fans?

If you want your company to become more like a rock band when it comes to your fans, then simply take a look below to see what changes you need to make.

Be Likeable

People do business with those who they like. The most important characteristic that your business needs to have is likeability. Think from your customer’s pint of view. If they wouldn’t like or share the content you are posting, then simply don’t post it.

Be Approachable

If your fans don’t feel as though they can approach you or have a meaningful exchange, then they will absolutely lose interest. Take the Apple example, they are ranked as being one of the best companies out there and they have an entire group of employees, referred to as “geniuses” who are solely responsible for deepening the relationship that the brand have with the customers.

Be Authentic

Authenticity is a relational behaviour. If you want to be truly authentic then you have to make sure that you are comfortable with yourself. Only then can you connect with others properly. Of course, you need to make sure that you do not copy someone else’s business model, but taking inspiration could help you to make the right changes.

Community VS Audience

Chris Brogan once said that the main difference between a community and an audience is simply the way that the chairs are facing. If you put all of your chairs in a circle then this will make people feel like they are part of a community. Of course, things go way deeper than this, especially if you were to create an online community, but the general concept is the same. An online community can be used to generate more leads, boost customer retention and even add more value to your customer

Your community and your audience will comprise of a group of people who really care about what you are doing, or the problem you solve. In your audience and community, you may find that there are employees, stakeholders, prospects and customers. The key differences arise when you look at how you communicate and how you choose to measure your interactions.

In simpler terms-

You may talk to your audience, but your community talks to you.

Audiences can be bought, but if you want to have a community, you have to earn it. An audience includes people who consume your content, but are entirely independent from one another. When you look at your audience, you may look at the size, the follower volume you have or even the subscriber count.  Building an audience that is large and engaged can be a challenge, but it’s possible to buy it. For example, you could pay to sponsor an event. When you do this, you are paying to get in front of a new audience.

A community goes far beyond this. If your brand has a community, you will bring everyone together for a shared experience. It takes the one-way communication you have with your audience, and turns it into a two-way conversation.

At the end of the day, a community is a breathing, living entity.

In short, you can’t buy a community.

A community needs to be nurtured over time. It’s made of individuals who share a common interest and the people involved get to know each other on their own terms. With an audience, you need to engage them, but with a community, they engage with you on their own accord. An audience is just a group of people who are willing to listen to you. It may be that they are subscribed to your emails, or they may even sit and listen to you while you talk at an event.

The main thing that you need to know about an audience is that they have fleeting interests. Engaging them requires a lot of outreach and advertising. Communities require engagement too, but once it has been developed, you can then leave them to engage amongst themselves without any guidance.

So why does all of this matter?

Audiences are ruthless, but communities are supportive and forgiving.

This loyalty is paramount to your success as a company. Audience members may look for things such as cost, or benefits. Your community will look beyond all of this, and they will pay more just to be connected to your brand.

The Success of Gym Shark

gym shark graphic design

One example of how a company has gone on to experience success through having a community, or fan base as opposed to an audience is Gym Shark. They continually involve their customers in their story, and they work actively to make sure that they focus on user-generated content. The brand often create workout videos for their own YouTube channel, to which users replicate. They will also post the user-generated content as well, which motivates others to do the same. This brings a sense of relatability to the brand, and it also means that people are not deterred by unattainable imagery or physiques that they see on social media. On top of that, Gym Shark also ask for feedback from the community through polls. All of this makes the audience feel valued, which continues a fierce cycle of advocacy. This alone has helped them to experience the success they have right now, and it really hits home the difference between fans and an audience.

Fans, or communities will spur your brand, helping you to become better, more customer-focused and relatable. There are many things you can do to generate fans, but ultimately, it all starts with you becoming a more personal brand that focuses on transparency above all else. If you can make your customers an extension of your brand, you’ll have fans and a loyal community in no time.