The secret to making fans
Heya maestro, huge respect to you. We’re both photographers running businesses, I’m on your side and I know how many things you’re juggling. Trust me when I say that I’m not here to add more things to your To Do list, but I am here to drop some ‘entrepreneurial reality’ into the mix. And it goes like this - ‘Brands have Consumers, but Artists have Fans.’
Straight up. While Brands spend time and money convincing you that you need to spend money on things, Artists make work that makes you feel something, and then they give you different ways to fall in love with that feeling again and again until the point where the art stops and your heart takes over is so blurred that they’re one and the same.
Sweet, so the big question to ask yourself is this: are the couples who’re hiring you consumers or are they fans?
Being a fan is a magical experience. You’re a fan of something, or someone, I can guarantee it. There’s a band, or an author, or an artist, or a filmmaker, or an athlete, or even a god-like business leader that you’d crawl over broken glass to get to meet or see play or hear speak. Remember that time you and your friends did an all nighter driving across an entire country to get to a music festival to see that one headliner play who’s album was the soundtrack of your summer? And you bought every single thing at the merch table, and then when you were driving home you saw their tour bus pulled in at a gas station and you hung around and met them and they were super chill and gave you an empty coke can from… yeah, so this is fan-dom. Box ticked.
You also know what it’s like to be a consumer. Buying and using things that seem like a necessity and having advertising targeted at you in a constant 24/7 stream just to get you to spend your money. Consumers are obsessed with price point, value, and what other options might get them a better result.
It’s a massive generalisation I know, but the simplest way to put it is like this: consumers are wallet-based but fans are heart-obsessed.
If you could choose an audience for your craft then I’m pretty sure you’d choose fans over consumers every time. People who’re irrationally sold out for how your work makes them feel, who can’t shut up about what you do, and who’re a walking talking evangelist for the art that you make. That’s fan-dom. Totally. And having people feel like that about what you do simply makes sense. Fans are the kind of people who future-proof your business. If you’ve got a small army of fans who’re devoted to the art that you make, then it doesn’t matter if social media turns against you tomorrow, or the internet shuts down, or your competition increases tenfold over night, those fans are still gonna make sure the word gets out about what you do.
So how do you do it? How do you win people over so thoroughly that they turn into sold-out fans of you, your work, and your business? Well, like most things, let’s start with the beginning, the middle and the end.
In the beginning:
It’s easy to think about the beginning of a client interaction as the moment they came into your life. But that would be bullshit. Your client interaction began when you came into their world, in some roundabout kinda way. They might have seen something of yours online, or watched you beaver away at a shoot from a comfortable distance away, or seen a ruthless rant you posted on twitter, or heard someone talk fondly of you (or not) without using your name, or seen something that you made stuck on a fridge somewhere. This is the beginning. These are the foundations that your working relationship will be built on. So everything you do or say at this stage either confirms what they already though, or gives them a new perspective. And so, on that foundation, you respond quickly to their enquiry, you meet with them, buy them drinks, show your best work (even though they’ve probably seen it already), you win them over to how you think about weddings (which is honestly how most people think about weddings, but cool), and then they book you.
The things that great bands, sports clubs, and other fan factories know how to do is be certain of how you first met them. They control the experience even before they know that you exist so they can be certain of your emotional connection. “But how?” I hear you say. By being on message, by having high quality output all the mite, by ensuring that things they put out into the market won’t expire or fall off trend, but will always be a relevant building block of who they are and what they stand for. By simply being well considered, constantly.
In the middle: You plan and prepare for the shoot - whether it’s three days on a greek island with all of their friends, or 8 hours down the road at a local venue. You’re up close and personal, the life of the party, the listening ear, reassuring, calming nerves, bringing the best out of people. You look sharp, act warm and caring, shoot the shiz out of the day and navigate everything with nonchalance and professionalism. This is ‘best foot forward’ kinda stuff. You ruled it. People cried when they hugged you on the dance-floor at the end of the night and the preview images you sent through the next day got you virtual high-fives and heart eyes emojis all day long.
NOTE: Remember to keep your feet on the ground at this stage of the game. This is the part of the whole process where people are saying things like ‘we couldn’t have imagined our day without you being there…’ (which is actually not that much of a compliment TBH, because you WERE there. Generally people aren’t that good at imagining things that didn’t happen…). Right now is when your personality mojo is the most valued BUT don’t mistake this for winning fans for your brand, or even for having finished the job. Basically ANYONE can show up on a deliriously happy day like a wedding day and, so long as they’re not a dick, they can walk away with people loving them. What a wedding day gets you is momentum, but it wears off fast. That’s why I’m basically here to talk about this next bit - the end bit.
At the end: You head home and throw untold hours into dealing with their files, culling, editing, re-touching, re-arranging shiz to tell the story of their day. You finish it. You love it. You craft a slideshow and post and re-post your fav shiz. And then you take all of that work - which is all they’ve got left to look at after spending all of their savings, a years worth of effort and planning, and a crazy amount of emotion on this whole shindig - and you send them… an email with a link in it.
And that’s the point you took a potential fan and ditched them for life. All of that time and emotion and investment and money and planning and ‘once-in-a-lifetime-ness’ that they invested in you turned into a link in an email to click on.
An email in their already overflowing inbox that’s chock full of spam, and work requests, and bills to pay and… you get what I’m saying. An inbox is not a place of joy for most people and it’s not the place where fans are made.
The thing is, it’s always the ‘full-stop at the end of the sentence’ that turns an experience into a memory. It’s the last thing you remember because it’s the last thing that happened before that chapter was closed. Think of it like this: go see Beyonce rip up a stadium and set 50,000 people’s hearts alight for 2 hours of absolute glory, and then get ruffled up by her security for 5 seconds on the way out and I guarantee that you’ll be telling your friends about the very last experience over and over.
Ending well is vital to making fans and the best artists make sure they not only end well, but that they leave you enough raw material for you to remember exactly how they made you feel. That’s why musicians sell merch at shows, that’s why record labels give fans special editions of LP’s to buy, that’s why authors do book signings and sports teams give away flags and banners at matches. Fan building builds your obsession and means that every chance you get you’ll open your mouth and tell the world about it. Fans talk.
So what’s the secret? Craft a final experience of you and your art that’s well considered, that brings everything together, and that somehow kick-starts your couples’ hearts right back into feeling every one of those wild emotions that they felt when it was all goin’ down.
A few years ago at Bayly&Moore global HQ, Soph and I had spent a LONG time trying to understand the best way to craft that experience for our couples. We’d amassed a huge amount of packaging references, thrown a truck-load of money at different designers, and really started paying close attention to the things that we were sold out fans for and how the mechanics of the fan experience worked.
And then one day we got a package from Best Made in NYC. We’d been big fans of Peter Buchanan-Smith since way before he started his lil boutique (we’d even tried to talk him into doing our initial branding for Bayly&Moore) and his aesthetic and understanding of the fan experience stretched back to his time designing Grammy-winning album art. When we’d shoot in New York we’d always try and see if we could visit his workshop (never successfully) and so when we ordered some stuff from his online store and had it shipped to NZ the package arrived a little battered, covered in shipping stickers and sealed up with Best-Made branded tape. We tore into the first layer and discovered multiple levels of carefully crafted things to experience as we unpacked the package. Packing material, booklets, swing-tags, embroidered patches, the smell of leather and wood and steel… and at every stage we’d put the bits and pieces aside very carefully and try and preserve every stage of the while thing until we got to the heart of it all. An axe.
The experience was eye-opening. By the end of opening that damn package we were absolutely sold-out fans. If PBS had walked through the door right then and asked for a kidney we would’ve given him all four.
And then the lights went on and we started to see how this stuff worked.
Flashback to a few months before and buying a pair of Nudie jeans with a lil mini-booklet stapled in the back that was filled with beautiful words and images all about how to care for denim. I carried that damn booklet around for a month and thumbed through it every chance I could get. And I’ve bought a dozen pairs of Nudies ever since.
And that time we were in London, camped out in an Air BnB editing like crazy, and we had to get out of the house, so we hit a tiny venue just down the road and Sharon Van Etten was on tour with her first EP. And we scored a copy on vinyl. And she was at the merch table and super lovely. And we were mesmerised by the whole experience and became rampant fans and bought every record as soon as it came out (and years later she came to see my band play in Brooklyn and stood in the front row in a tiny club and handed gum up onstage), and we told everyone we knew about how great she was, and emailed her management to come to NZ on tour…
All of these experiences led us to create Boxful Co. Which is our effort to craft the best ‘full-stop’ to the whole wedding experience that we can by hitting three little home-runs.
1. GET PHYSICAL
Write this down - ‘Real Things Win’. It’s such a simple idea and it works everytime. The more digital the world gets, the more connected and interactive, the more we turn off to things on screens. Honestly, I could show you the most insane video of someone walking a tightrope between two Himalayan mountains while balancing thirteen baby goats on one hand and carrying a birthday cake on their head and you’d be like, “Yeah, yawn, seen that shiz.”. The amount of content we have thrown at our optic nerves on daily basis is alarming. If you’re a regular internet user then you’re getting between four thousand and nine thousand advertising messages thrown at you a day. A DAY. A FRICKING DAY. Along with a crazy full inbox, three social media channels of endlessly scrolling stuff, someone’s spotify playlist on high rotate, and SO MUCH STUFF. And it’s all passive - which is marketing speak for saying it’s being force-fed to you, rather than you feeding it to yourself. And it’s all digital.
So it’s not surprising that when you can put something physical into someone’s hands the feeling they get is of the entire world slowing down, of their attention span coming back into their control, and a feeling of focus locking them down. Holding a physical thing means that you’re not about to get any notifications, there’ll be no pop-up ads, nothing to scroll thru, no reminders, no-one trying to sell you anything, and there’ll be no fucking Kardashians. Anywhere.
Real things are comforting, tactile, they feed your senses in a number of ways - visual, touch, smell, sound. The digital world is convenient, but real things whip it’s ass.
2. GET EXPERIENTIAL
Human beings love the journey. Unwrapping, unpacking, opening boxes and parcels and mail, getting gifts, cutting a cake, opening a bag of chips, going on a road trip, checking in for a flight somewhere fun, going home for Christmas, getting a new laptop, having surprises arrive in the mail, getting flowers, opening a strangely shaped surprise gift that was left on the front door on Valentine’s day. All of these things are about a journey, discovering, moving from not knowing to knowing (yes, even the chips… I mean, are they crispy? Are they the right flavour? C’mon). And all of these things are very experiential. We learned early on that the only thing better than unwrapping one parcel is unwrapping three. Unpacking layers of love to discover more layers of excitement is a guaranteed memory-making winner.
3. THINK LIKE A FAN
Great entrepreneurs have empathy. They have a real understanding of what it’s like to be on the other side, to be the client or the customer. SO MANY groundbreaking disrupting business ideas start from someone having a terrible experience with a business who refuses to see things from the customer’s perspective. The opposite of this is thinking like a fan. What get’s your clients excited? What makes life easy for them? WHat’re the things that get their heart racing and make them swoon and fall into your arms with joy. Pretty simple stuff, and yet the majority of businesses spend their time thinking about what’s convenient and cost effective for their business, as opposed to how things work for their clients, for their fans.
A few years ago I was in a band out of NYC, and our manager was a music industry legend who also managed The Strokes. Mr Gentles. A remarkable dude who understood artists and fans like his life depended on it. He illustrated this ‘think like a fan’ mantra perfectly when he’d talk about what was important at a show. “People who just like the Strokes wanna see a great show that’s well put together with all the bells and whistles, cos that’s what they paid for. But fans really don’t give a shit about all that, fans want a memory, fans want a story to tell. A fan would much rather see The Strokes in a backyard where they get up and play half a song on toy instruments and then power cuts out or there’s a rain storm and they can’t finish, so Julian just tells a joke. THAT is ‘OMG I’m a fan for eternity’ stuff right there. Regular people want a show, but fans want a story. Give the people a story to tell all their friends, and you’ll have made a fan.”
Fans want a story, a memory, something that makes them feel special. Basically an experience that’s the opposite of generic cookie-cutter stuff. In short, stop thinking about what works for YOU as a business owner, and start thinking about the kind of stuff you’d love to receive from someone you’re a fan of. I promise you, no-one’s doing that stuff.
So get out there, finish well, use these three tips to make fans and you’ll have guaranteed that the kind of people who love what you do will keep finding you, over and over again. Make fans, always.
about the author: Sophia & Simon
We started shooting together in Auckland, New Zealand back in 2009 with no idea what lay ahead, or even (to be honest) what we really wanted to do. All we knew was that we loved good music, adventure, and making images of fantastically interesting people. Fast forward a handful of years and we’ve been privileged to meet the most remarkable human beings all over the world who’ve opened their doors and let us into their lives to capture their most treasured moments – with many of them becoming our life-long friends in the process.
And that pretty much sums us up. A couple of photographers who’re hell bent on acquiring genuine images, real friends, lots of vinyl and are even open to smuggling wine over borders if required (and it’s often required).
Want to know more about us? Just ask. Although be warned, you may also get 20 new album recommendations and a recipe for slow-cooked pork tacos.
(All images and words by: Bayly & Moore)