Fans, Content, and Brands
MIT's Prof. Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, talks on MITX Fireside Chat about the role of fans in content production (watch video):
"Historically, people imagined fans depreciated things, they wore intellectual property out, they did damage to it by their public activities. Now there's a growing understanding that fans appreciate things, both in the emotional sense -- they like it -- but even more powerfully in economic sense -- they create new value around it."
Dr. Jenkins's C3 research group will be publishing a larger white paper on the subject later this year, and below are a few thoughts that I had a chance to contribute.
The Difference Between Fans and Loyals
There is a subtle but important difference between brand fans and brand loyalists. To sum this difference up, loyalists like the toys, while fans like the stories and play sets that come with the toys.
Brand loyalists are attracted to the product’s unique selling proposition. They value what the product can do for them; the reasons for their affection lie within the product itself, its tangible and perceived features. The high quality of playback of an iPod is a feature; the socially constructed coolness factor is a feature, too. Loyalists’ relationship with iPod may or may not be deep but is largely product-oriented.
People who dress up in iPod costumes for Halloween are after something entirely different.
Some of the fans’ affinity could also be centered on the product itself, but the heart of their relationship with the brand lies in the secondary set of meanings that may or may not have been implied by the brand’s creators but are recognized by and resonate with the fans. Like the fans of the media properties, fans of brands are attracted by the possibilities of transformation and expression offered by the brand narrative. Fans appreciate the brand for what it can do to them and what they can do to the brand. Fans appropriate and internalize the brand, often imbuing it with new sets of meanings derived from personal experiences. This explains why not all loyal customers become fans -- the brand’s narrative may not fit or fully resonate with their own internal world even if the product itself is flawless.