28 Thoughts

The Army Of Fanatics

I remember when my son excitedly told me he had created an army and was desperate to show me.

I duly followed him into the lounge and saw his assembled army, split into two groups – one group on the higher level, apparently made up of the ‘king’ and helpers, and the other group as the ‘troops’.

I find it interesting that such hierarchy seems obvious at an early age – perhaps it starts from looking up to the people who raise you.

A common theme I have been discussing over the last few years has been the need for companies to create armies of fanatics. Groups of people who adore your products and services to such an extent that they will defend and protect the brand reputation.

These groups do this so efficiently that one could argue the assignment of budget to nurture and facilitate such armies is the single best usage of budget in business.

Unlike my son’s army, I perceive the need for these armies to be alongside rather than below any superior power. For the brave, your army of fanatics should be the people you follow rather than the other way round.

However – some companies have armies of fanatics who are certainly not followed and are very much sub-dominant to the holiest of holies. Let’s take Apple for example.

You may remember the photo taken on 5th Avenue on the eve of the first iPad launch. That was the Cult of Mac.

To some it matters little what Apple release, there will always be people who will do almost anything to buy, use, defend, advocate and worship the brand.

Apple fanboys come in different strengths. I was a lightweight fanboy as I considered each product separately rather than blindly follow any release. However, other fanboys queue for four or five days outside a store to buy a $500 piece of kit, regardless of its capability.

Apple cares about their army in terms of ensuring adoption (via retail transaction), but they sure as hell don’t listen to the army, let alone follow them.

I remember finding out that Real Madrid had a strong army of over 100,000 fanatics willing to pay €12/month to subscribe to fan club mobile services. Even without the dozens of extra games, wallpapers and apps, that is €14.5m per year... solely by servicing an army of fanatics with mobile phones.

I’m not talking about a customer base here. This isn’t just about people within your CRM system. Don’t be fooled if you just have an addressable 20 million customers. That’s not necessarily an army of fanatics. How many would defend you, advocate you relentlessly and follow everything you do?

So, how does a company start building such an army?

Here are five pointers to begin with:

  1. Access and assess the level of trust you have within your user base
  2. Determine the levels of value you provide and how that value could be scaled exponentially
  3. Identify key influencers and ensure they are rewarded for what they do – including bringing more people into the army
  4. Tirelessly continue to create more value whilst being guided by your army
  5. Progressively give more of your company benefit to your army. Share the wins yet absorb the losses

I believe the companies that get this right have an extraordinary competitive advantage.

This is a chapter in the book '28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution'. You can find out more about Jonathan's books here.