Raving Fans

In a few weeks, I will be interviewing Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chick-fil-A. In their corporate communications, they talk about their “raving fans”. They have even registered the phrase. I was asking a friend of mine who is in marketing at Southwest Airlines whether they have a “raving fans” marketing plan, and she told me she wasn’t familiar with the term. And yet, I am a raving fan of SWA, as many of you know. So what is a raving fan, who has them and why?

When I think of companies with raving fans, I think of companies with customers so loyal they are ambassadors. The customer has formed a bond with the company over their experiences and is not only loyal but usually willing to recommend the company to others. In some cases, being a customer of the company is part of their identity.

Think of Harley Davidson and the unflappable loyalty of so many riders who wear the colors and attend the rallies. How about the Chick-fil-A customers that caravan from store opening to store opening so they can spend the night in the parking lot and notch their belts along with the company’s growth and, of course, be one of the first 100 inside so they can get a free chicken sandwich. Does Apple have raving fans? People who wouldn’t be caught without the latest i-Product? I think so. Or how about Starbucks? At dinner last night I was at a table with a woman who drives through Starbucks every day. They may not know her name, but they know her drink and prepare it for her the moment they see her.

What does it take to create raving fans? More than a great product. It takes a brand that has a distinct personality, and the ability to engage the customer in their community. All of the companies I have mentioned have figured out how to delight their customers by understanding the underlying needs that motivate them in the first place. They cater to their emotional as well as physical needs and give them ways to engage in their community; from Apple and Harley (whose fans want to share the company’s image of cool) or Starbucks and Southwest (who create a community of friendliness)—for Starbucks with expert barristas and a place to gather with friends, and at SWA with friendly, empathetic flight attendants who try to engage you so that the hassles of flying feel less harsh, as well as reward programs that are easier to cash in on.

Does your company have raving fans? Do you have a culture they can belong to? Do you provide experiences and opportunities for them to bond with you? It is harder than it looks and takes real commitment to the plan.

What other companies do you believe creates raving fans? How do they do it? Please share your insights with us so we can learn from you!

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