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Are your customers raving fans or fairweather fans?

Given that it’s the start of the baseball season, it was timely (albeit, intentionally so) that I received details about Brand Keys‘ 23rd annual Sports Fan Loyalty survey results a few days ago.

Brand Keys interviewed 250 self-declared fans in each baseball team’s area; insights from the interviews were designed to enable league and team management to identify improvement areas.

The top five and bottom five teams are as follows, with last year’s ranking in parentheses:

Top 5 Teams – 2015 Rankings

1. St. Louis Cardinals (#1)
2. San Francisco Giants (#5)
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (#6)
4. Detroit Tigers (#6)
5. Washington Nationals (#8)

Bottom 5 Teams – 2015 Rankings30. Houston Astros (#30)
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (#21)
28. Colorado Rockies (#26)
27. New York Mets (#22)
26. Texas Rangers (#19)

Their research gives teams an apples-to-apples comparison of the emotional intensity with which fans support their home team versus corresponding fans of other teams in that market. They note that team win/loss ratios only drive about 20% of fan loyalty. The final score isn’t the only thing that matters to fans; there are four other factors that come into play when they calculate their loyalty score:

  • Pure Entertainment: How exciting is their game?
  • Authenticity: The press release defined it as, how well do they play as a team? Examples given were  a new stadium and new managers. Given that, and the label itself, it might be better to define this as being real or delivering on the brand promise. Do they do right by their fans and their players?
  • Fan Bonding: Are the players respected and admired?
  • History and Tradition: Is the game part of community rituals, institutions, and beliefs?

That’s all really interesting. But it got me thinking about raving fans vs. fairweather fans. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know the things I’ve said repeatedly about raving fans (think about the Seahawks’ 12th Man), with some new additions; they…

  • want to see the brand succeed and grow
  • are happy to provide feedback, good or bad, to ensure that that success happens
  • are less price sensitive
  • require less support because they are more familiar with your products
  • choose your brand over the competition
  • can’t live without your brand and accept no substitutes
  • are advocates or, even stronger, evangelists, spreading the word about your brand
  • wear your brand, and want to show that they are part of something bigger than themselves
  • openly recruit new members to the community
  • are more likely to be using several of your products/services, not just one 
  • care about each other, want to help each other
  • feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves (think “tribe”)
  • wait in line – long lines, early morning lines – to buy your products
  • elevate your brand, affording you favorable placement in stores and more

But what about fairweather fans? What’s their deal? Do brands have fairweather fans, too? Well, let’s start with a definition, as I like to do. According to wiseGEEK, a fairweather fan is…

…someone who is only interested in a sports team when it is doing well. … A fairweather fan tends to root for the team that is doing well, ignoring that team if it starts to fail and sometimes switching loyalties, even to an opponent.

When it comes to the customer experience, how does that translate? Fairweather fans…

  • might be a fan because friends are, but they are not necessarily loyal/committed/devoted
  • are fans because the brand is popular, not because of their own experiences or love for the brand
  • might be a fan – or just buy from the brand – when there are deals or coupons
  • remind me of the Mercenaries segment of the Apostle Model
  • don’t provide feedback or may only do so when things go bad
  • head to the competition at the first sign of anything going wrong/bad
  • continue to buy other brands, as well, since they aren’t committed to only purchasing/using your brand
  • can’t necessarily articulate why they love your brand
  • are excited about “the big game,” e.g., launch of Apple Watch, but aren’t always cheering for them during the regular season, e.g., don’t purchase or use all or many other Apple products
  • take offense if you call them fairweather fans, yet know deep down that that’s what they are
  • brag and talk big about “their team (brand)” when things are going well but are the first to defect when the chips are down (product problems, bad service, etc.)

Brands do have fairweather fans, much more so than raving fans. How do companies feel about them? Sadly, and quite honestly, they love them. If they can re-engage a customer – any customer – by offering coupons and discounts or by gimmicky advertising, then they can perpetuate the focus on acquisition over retention. And we all know that this is the focus of too many companies today – to simply make a buck, regardless of how they achieve it. But eventually, fairweather customers will leave, as all fairweather fans do.

Is there a spectrum of fans, where raving is the extreme? What other fan types are there? Which would you prefer?

Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. -Oprah Winfrey