I’m a fan of fans. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing some of our society’s biggest fandoms evolve. (Fandoms, for those not-yet-in-the-know, are communities of viewers, readers, or gamers who share a mutual love of some work of art, literature, media, or pop culture.) I came into the world around the time that Luke found out who his father was. I watched reruns of numerous iterations of Star Trek with my grandma while we debated who was the handsomest captain (Picard, obvs). I waited in line for midnight showings of every Lord of the Rings installment, and I saw first-hand the extraordinary magic Harry Potter sparked across our nation and around the globe.
If you’re thinking, “Wow, what a super-nerd” … well, you’re not wrong. But more than a geek, I was a fan. Dedicated, passionate, and ready to shell out dollars for tickets, books, merchandise, and tie-ins. And any business who loved the things I loved? Slap a loyalty card in my hand, and I’m yours.
The point is, fans are an enormously powerful demographic. They aren’t always affluent, but they spend their discretionary income on the things and the businesses about which they feel most passionate. And they are LOYAL. They are word-of-mouthers, grass-roots-growers, and dedicated sharers. They live for social media and live on their smartphones. In their fandoms, their opinion carries weight, and their enthusiasm is contagious.
Case-in-point: on October 5th, a form of caffeine-fueled lunacy swept coffee shops across the country. Streaming giant, Netflix, partnered with more than 200 local, independent cafes in every state to stage a Stars Hollow takeover. Don’t know what I’m babbling about? Well, then you must not be a fan of perpetually witty, fast-talking mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore from the cult favorite TV show Gilmore Girls. If you were, you’d know that women in the 25+ demographic would give up a kidney for a chance to grab a cup of joe at Luke’s Diner.
So, to celebrate the 16th anniversary of the show and promote the upcoming Gilmore Girls miniseries hitting Netflix this Thanksgiving, the company sent boxes of swag to turn everyday bean slingers into New England coffee meccas. With a few signs, cups, and insulated sleeves, Indy’s own Bee Coffee Roasters converted its two area locations into the show’s beloved hardware-shop-turned-café.
Full disclosure: I didn’t watch the show during its first run, and didn’t fully understand the appeal. As a writer, I can appreciate the witticisms and the cultural references, but c’mon—nobody talks like that. Besides, I was a little too young to be invested in Lorelai’s story, and a little too old for Rory’s. Then, after I had my first child, I spent six months sobbing my way through a Parenthood marathon, starring none other than Lorelai Gilmore herself (or Lauren Graham, the lovely actress who portrays Lorelai and Parenthood’s endearing hot-mess, Sarah Braverman). Long story short, I went back into the Netflix vault and started bingeing Gilmore Girls just in time to be swept up in the Luke’s Diner phenomenon.
I drove 20 minutes out of my way and arrived at Bee Coffee Roasters’ Lafayette Road location at around 9:30 a.m., figuring it might be busy and would take 10-15 minutes to get in and out. That was adorably naïve. Instead, a line of 150 people stretched from one end of the strip mall to the other. Fans clad in flannel and backward baseball caps belted out acapella renditions of Carole King’s, “Where You Lead”—the show’s earworm theme song. Brave women clambered onto metal patio chairs to snap pics with the Luke’s Diner sign. The employees, wearing Netflix-branded hats, dispensed free coffee and clever remarks—impressively in-character. Our local Luke, complete with facial scruff and a mildly exasperated expression, answered the phone by barking out a gruff, “Luke’s!”—somehow managing not to miss a beat in frothing milk for the next customer’s cappuccino.
After two hours of waiting for my morning caffeine jolt, I realized something—customers weren’t just grabbing a free cup and running out. They bought muffins, bottles of water, upgraded to fancier beverages, inquired about breakfast sandwiches, and then stuck around to enjoy the company of their fellow fans. It was a long morning for Bee’s employees, but they managed to attract customers who may not otherwise have ever encountered their business. They had their storefront and their logo shared across every social media platform.
And while other coffee shops across the U.S. shared in the busy morning rush, they too became part of a fan movement that utilized custom hashtags and user contests to generate unprecedented visibility, shareability, and loyalty.
The real winner, though, was Netflix. Fan’s reactions at Bee were generally very positive, with many expressing gratitude for the free coffee, appreciation that Netflix would host such a fun event, and excitement over the upcoming miniseries, which they are sure to watch and share. Because Netflix has a handle on what fans want and how to win their loyalty, the company was able to pull other businesses onboard for a mutually beneficial promotion.
So that begs the question: what are your customers’ obsessions? What do they geek out to? Whether they spent the summer binge-watching Stranger Things, stayed up all night reading the latest Stephen King novel, or sat with their laptop, waiting for tickets to the new Harry Potter stage play to go on sale, your customers are fans of something. And since they often share overlapping demographics, they also share other characteristics, interests, and hobbies. Learn what these are, and think about ways you can leverage what your customers love to your advantage. Take a page out of Netflix’s book and be disruptive. If they can persuade droves of young women to dig into their 90s grunge collection for a flannel shirt, there’s no reason your business can’t inspire the same excitement, loyalty, and unabashed fun in your customers. And if you need some help getting there, give us a call—we can stand out together.