How to Ensure Superfans Don’t Become Super Critics

Posted on by Matt Harris

Picture this: You go to your favorite brick-and-mortar retail store and make a huge purchase. The next day, you receive an email from that brand wondering why you haven’t visited in a while. The email, with the subject line, “We want you back,” offers a big discount on your next purchase.

How would you feel? Misunderstood? Under-appreciated? If you’re an average fan, you might just be annoyed, but if you’re a superfan, you might become a super-critic.

superfansSmart brands, from SoulCycle to the Grateful Dead, have demonstrated the benefits of appreciating their superfans. They’re your brand’s best promoters and a major source of positive word of mouth. But there’s a dark side to superfans—if you disappoint them, they can become super critics. In part, it boils down to simple psychology. Loyal fans can feel betrayed if a brand ignores them or fails to recognize them as unique individuals.

The failure to recognize and acknowledge a superfan is often the result of a business’s failure to connect all the data they have around a specific individual. This can lead to irrelevant and sometimes inappropriate communications, such as when marketing is in the dark about that in-store purchase or about a recent interaction with support, or when support provides information that either repeats or contradicts what the customer has just received in a system-triggered notification created by a product team.

The Psychology of a Superfan

Social psychologists who study superfans say their devotion often develops during a transitional moment in life, such as a move to a new city or a job loss. In those moments, with identity in flux and perhaps some time on their hands, they attach meaning to an entity — a sports team, a celebrity, a brand — and their devotion to that entity becomes part of who they are. (Think of that friend from high school who wears Converse, and only Converse, even to this day.)

When that devotion takes the form of ultra-loyalty to a product or service, a superfan can often feel the brand owes them something — their love is conditional. And if they begin to feel their loyalty isn’t reciprocated, they’re apt to turn.

But it really doesn’t take much to make a superfan feel special. All it takes is personalized interactions to demonstrate that:

● You recognize them as a unique individual
● You’re paying attention to how they engage with your brand
● You appreciate their loyalty

You can start with dropping them a line, just to check in, when you don’t hear from them in a while. You can periodically reward their loyalty with exclusive offers that are personally relevant, such as early access to a new or updated product or a discount on something you know they purchase often.


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And—(perhaps the biggest, most-often missed opportunity)—you can continuously reinforce your relationship through personalized information and offers in transactional and triggered email, to make sure that at every touch-point, your most loyal customers feel seen, recognized, and valued.

The Way to a Superfan’s Heart is Through Their Inbox

While social media has its place, there is no more personal medium than email to communicate with a superfan. A 2017 survey found that 61 percent of consumers want to hear from brands via email. Respondents also said they’d prefer that those emails convey information rather than promotions.

Ideally, messages to superfans should be very personalized. From making a basic mistake with their name to demonstrating ignorance by recommending a product they’ve already purchased, getting any detail wrong can quickly alienate a fan and prompt them to turn away. Repeat those mistakes and your superfan becomes a super critic.

That’s why lining up accurate, full-circle data about your customers is so important. If your data is trapped in silos, it’s long past time to change that. A single, central data repository is key to gaining the insight you need to engage your most valuable customers — your superfans.

Some top brands are already leveraging their customer data in truly innovative ways. TripAdvisor, for example, offers customers curated offers based on their search history, via both email and display ads. And Starbucks gives fans a ‘year in review’ email every December, recapping the year’s most memorable interactions, including online, in-store, in-app, and hybrid engagements.

A Little Effort—So Much Reward

Superfans are on your side. They’re your greatest brand advocates. And since word of mouth influences up to 50 percent of purchase decisions, cultivating superfans, and keeping them engaged, has tangible benefits that directly impact your bottom line.

But take them for granted at your peril. If you want to stay on the right side of this equation, get your data house in order so you can show your superfans the personalized appreciation they deserve.

Matt Harris is co-founder and CEO at Sendwithus. He can be reached at matt@sendwithus.com.

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