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Cultivate fans, not customers.

During the last Wine Future Conference in Coimbra there was a session held by Bruce Dickinson, frontman of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, commercial airline pilot, writer, screenwriter and beer entrepreneur with the Trooper brand.

During his speech Dickinson expressed the recommendation “You don’t have to want customers, you have to want fans”, a concept then taken up by Robert Joseph in his closing presentation at wine2wine a few days later.

It is a strong concept, as simple to enunciate as it is complex to implement. It is therefore worth understanding more about its strategical and operational implications.

According to Dickinson’s definition, “customers” are people who come into the store, wander around and then can buy or not. “Fans” on the other hand are people who love your brand.

Dickinson also said that he is a fan of the very concept of being a fan, that is, “I am a fan of my fans.” Having fans therefore implies having a deeper relationship with people than the one you have with customers. I borrow Dumbar’s definition of friendship as a fan: friends are people with whom you form a mutual relationship that includes obligations, trust and good faith.

And in fact Dickinson also said that we must be fair towards our fans, admitting mistakes and taking action to correct them.

Another important thing: you must not take advantage of your fans, for example by asking excessive prices for what you offer them.

He cited for example that the decision to use an Iron Maiden-branded Boing 747 for the 2016 world tour arose from the need to find a way to reach their fans in the southern hemisphere, who otherwise would have been excluded from the tour for reasons of logistics costs.

The plane therefore became a very powerful promotional and positioning tool for the band towards its fans, strengthened even more by the fact that Dickinson himself was piloting it.

Loyalty to oneself and therefore to one’s fans.

Same logic also followed in the Trooper beer project. Dickinson said that Iron Maiden had been proposed to associate themselves with a wine, but they had refused because they considered it, “felt”, something artificial, divorced from the identity and world of Iron Maiden. Something that would simply have exploited the band’s appeal to their fans.

From there, however, the idea of creating their own beer was born, a British drink like Iron Maiden (as well as closer to the world of heavy metal) and therefore they began to look for a craft brewery capable of creating the special beer that they had in mind for their fans. They consulted several before finding the one that combined the technical skills and availability to work for third parties, Dickinson in fact said that many breweries did not want “distractions” from production for their own brand, and he understand their position as it means loyalty to their fans.

Consequently, the choice not to grant the license of the Trooper brand to any other producer, meaning that fans of Trooper beer all over the world know that it always comes only from the Robinson Brewery in Stockport, near Manchester.

Told like this, everything seems linear, but cultivating fans involves a series of elements that are anything but obvious in the world of companies in general and in the wine business in particular.

First and foremost, it requires a clear brand identity that people can build a connection with. Identity that must be based on original and relevant content. It will be the reference against which fans will evaluate our authenticity. Note: passion, grape variety and territory are hardly enough to define a specific and differentiated identity.

This identity, and therefore the bond with the fans, must be strengthened with consistent behavior over time on all aspects of our proposal (image, style of wines, assortment, prices, etc.) because the fans must not be betrayed. And this must be demonstrated with facts, words are not enough (storytelling) if the contents are weak or, worse, contradictory.

Fans should be admired even more than considered. So the fans never disturb our work, because they are the raison d’être from an emotional point of view even before an economic one. Consequently fans should NOT be educated.

If it were easy, all the kids who play a guitar would become rockstars and instead only a few have the talent, charisma, conviction, coherence and commitment to become the Iron Maiden.

It’s still worth a try, at worst you’ll end being a cover band.

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