Fan Favorites

Erin Reilly at Strategy + Business: “…In theory, new technological advances such as big data and machine learning, combined with more direct access to audience sentiment, behaviors, and preferences via social media and over-the-top delivery channels, give the entertainment and media industry unprecedented insight into what the audience actually wants. But as a professional in the television industry put it, “We’re drowning in data and starving for insights.” Just as my data trail didn’t trace an accurate picture of my true interest in soccer, no data set can quantify all that consumers are as humans. At USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, our research has led us to an approach that blends data collection with a deep understanding of the social and cultural context in which the data is created. This can be a powerful practice for helping researchers understand the behavior of fans — fans of sports, brands, celebrities, and shows.

A Model for Understanding Fans

Marketers and creatives often see audiences and customers as passive assemblies of listeners or spectators. But we believe it’s more useful to view them as active participants. The best analogy may be fans. Broadly characterized, fans have a continued connection with the property they are passionate about. Some are willing to declare their affinity through engagement, some have an eagerness to learn more about their passion, and some want to connect with others who share their interests. Fans are emotionally linked to the object of their passion, and experience their passion through their own subjective lenses. We all start out as audience members. But sometimes, when the combination of factors aligns in just the right way, we become engaged as fans.

For businesses, the key to building this engagement and solidifying the relationship is understanding the different types of fan motivations in different contexts, and learning how to turn the data gathered about them into actionable insights. Even if Jane Smith and her best friend are fans of the same show, the same team, or the same brand, they’re likely passionate for different reasons. For example, some viewers may watch the ABC melodrama Scandal because they’re fashionistas and can’t wait to see the newest wardrobe of star Kerry Washington; others may do so because they’re obsessed with politics and want to see how the newly introduced Donald Trump–like character will behave. And those differences mean fans will respond in varied ways to different situations and content.
Though traditional demographics may give us basic information about who fans are and where they’re located, current methods of understanding and measuring engagement are missing the answers to two essential questions: (1) Why is a fan motivated? and (2) What triggers the fan’s behavior? Our Innovation Lab research group is developing a new model called Leveraging Engagement, which can be used as a framework when designing media strategy….(More)”