This post is a part of our 10 Elements of an Influential Brand series where we cover the essentials to building a powerful brand. Follow this series to learn how to attract an audience, keep them engaged, and turn them into loyal fans.
Community has always been a fundamental part of the human experience. It creates a sense of belonging as people with common traits or interests come together and interact. We often rely on communities and can struggle without them.
Brands and artists have the power to create a sense of community for their for their fans, and an engaged community can be very powerful for an artist’s brand and their music. These include greater fan loyalty, greater potential for innovation, and stronger brand recognition and influence.
Strong Fan Community = Loyalty
A community can generate a strong sense of loyalty from fans. This is especially the case when fans feel included in the community, are able to engage with the brand itself (you), and can easily connect with other fans of the brand. But most importantly, fans become loyal as they feel that the brand delivers on its promises or, in the case of a musician, continues to create meaningful art.
As a result, these fans will be committed to you throughout thick and thin.
Kendrick Lamar asked his self-proclaimed loyal fans on his 2015 track Mortal Man, “When shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?” You want to have a community of fans who answer yes to this question without hesitation.
Market Research & Feedback
A brand community can deliver exceptional and immediate feedback for you. Your community is the perfect place to receive honest opinions of your work and test ideas. It’s also a great place to do consumer research to learn more about how your fans think and what drives them emotionally. Listen and study what attracts them to your music and why they love your brand.
Exploring feedback from your community can also be highly valuable for product innovation as well. For example, your fans could latch onto a lyric of yours and it can be trending topic amongst the comments on social media or a blog. At this point, you could get creative and build merch off of the concept and idea that they love. Or you could push the envelope a bit and create a game, platform, or some other new way to engage your fans beyond the music. Just make sure it makes sense and aligns with your brand and image.
Even though this is easy to get and fan feedback is free, you can’t rely too heavily on it.
You have to be critical and selective about which feedback you use. Explore and read through what they say, but only take in and apply feedback that you truly find useful and applicable to your brand. Your fans might be passionate but they may not be experts or musicians themselves.
So how do you build a brand community?
Pillars of an Artist Brand Community
We often coach artists on how to turn casual fans into core fans and why building a fan community goes a long way in achieving that. The pillars of a strong brand community are:
When you define and stay true to these pillars, then you’ll be able to create a brand community that attracts people and gives them a sense of belonging.
A good example of this is Harley Davidson, who has one of the strongest brand communities built around a brotherhood. They started this by having events for riders, staffed by employees, so that the employees would personally know and understand the people they were serving. Artists can do the same, attending events in cities that they tour in meeting people, talking to fans after shows, talking to fans online, anything to foster interaction within your fan group. This leads to the first step of building a key community.
Establish Community Values By Understanding Your Fans
As simple as this is, most businesses, not to mention creatives, completely overlook this. And it makes sense. It’s easy to fall into your talents and assume that because your music is a success that you intuitively understand why people choose to listen it. However, your reasoning for this might not always align with your fans, so you should fully understand why.
Many people focus on the rational or logical reasons why fans support them, but what about the emotional part. The artist-fan relationship is undeniably based on a certain love and admiration, which ties back to the values that artists express in their music.
Whatever you think of Kanye West as a musician, he understands his brand, his fans, and how they relate to his values. He doesn’t describe his fans as Kanye West fans, but rather says that they are people who are fans of themselves.
From a psychographic standpoint, Kanye understands the core “Why” of his biggest supporters, so he describes his music as the code to self-esteem; the code to who you are. Artists who understand the “why” of their core fans are usually the most successful over an extended period of time.
Many artists don’t intentionally look for the why; they just chalk their success up to perseverance and being themselves, which isn’t wrong either. Some intuitively know the why, like Kanye, who recognizes it and uses it to take risks in his music.
From my perspective, the “why” that really drives a deep artist-fan relationship and elevates artists to higher levels—even far past their technical skills—is an ability to balance a relatability that fans connect to and a level of admiration that fans look up to and strive to be.
Try to make your why less ambiguous so that you can apply it and drive a deeper connection with your fans. It’s not easy, but if you can take your why from an ethereal idea to a structured idea, then you can have a deeper level of self-awareness that you can add to your music and content in a way that’s consistent and natural.
Now how do you discover why your fans love you?
There are a few ways to go about obtaining the information you need, but what it really comes down to is understanding people and what makes them tick. This is simpler than you think.
Just listen to your fans.
Take a look at your social media feeds. See which posts have the most fan interactions. See which songs your fans are talking about or what lyrics they’re quoting. See if you notice repeated interactions from certain fans. If you do, take a look at their profiles and learn more. Yes, we’re encouraging Facebook and internet stalking here. Look for what concerns them, what moves them, what drives their behavior, what their interests are.
While you’re spending time analyzing your content, posts, and fan’s profiles, take a few minutes to engage with your fans. It will pay dividends.
After all of that, document what you learn and begin creating a database of your fans in a spreadsheet.
As you have shows, interact with your fans. Do more than just perform and go home; stay and talk to your fans. Interview them, especially fans you’ve seen at multiple shows. If necessary, ask flat out what makes them support you. If that’s too direct, have a natural conversation with them. Most fans will offer up the information without much pressing.It not only helps you, but it creates memories for your fans that increases loyalty and lifetime value for them.
Embody and Display a Lifestyle for Your Community
From my great grandmother to my mom to myself, people watching has been a family pastime. However, there is no greater place for me to observe people’s habits and trends than a live show. This is where I see the heart of a particular culture come to life.
Live shows have the power to physically unite people with a shared lifestyle. This is an absolutely beautiful moment, especially if these fans have all been separately buying into the way of living for months, with the goal of one day fully expressing their love for the culture alongside dozens of their peers.
Most importantly, the headlining artist is the leader of this gathering, almost like a pastor of a church. For months, sometimes years, they’ve built momentum and displayed a particular lifestyle that’s inspired others.
With a strong understanding of the values that your fans are emotionally tied to, you can cultivate a lifestyle for them to subscribe to. While the values are emotionally and internally focused, the lifestyle is expressed externally via music videos, fashion, hair styles, slang, and attitude.
Fans will emulate all of this because it gives them a sense of belonging. They can participate and feel welcomed.
This is exceptionally beneficial for artists who have a very niche following and might appeal to a marginalized group of people. Music is powerful enough to give people a voice and channel to express themselves, whether through moments of happiness or moments of frustration and sadness.
Every year, the culture-nerd in me anxiously waits for Dazed, a British culture and style magazine, to release their Dazed 100, which they describe as a list of “the next generation shaping youth culture for the year ahead.” If you don’t read it, I highly encourage you to check it out.
In this year’s list, I came across Princess Nokia and I was blown away. I immediately went down a rabbit hole, exploring her soundcloud and videos. Ironically, THAT day she was in Seattle for a show. So I went.
Nokia has meticulously cultivated a loyal fan community and her show was a full on display of it. Princess Nokia has been gaining recognition for proudly speaking, both in songs and interviews, about spirituality and becoming comfortable with who you are.
In an interview with Dazed, she described her values and mission:
“How I’m seeing myself now is kind of starting a new era of alternagirl, this whole new, epic, brown girl rock, girls with skateboards, moshing topless, girls who do what they want thing,” she told Dazed, undeterred in her mission to empower women of all walks.”
She basically stands as a counterculture leader for a community of young girls of color who are pushing boundaries. Most importantly, she understands her fans, female youth, very well, and because of that she is able to connect with them and show them a way to live and fully be themselves.
The energy at her show was a pure form of everything she described to Daze.
More than anything, she has consistently embraced and celebrated her heritage as an Afro-Latina in her music. In 2015, she released her song Soul Train and described the video as:
“To me, this is a video of Black revolution “In a time of racism, it’s for the Black and Latino communities in America, and it was created to honour the lifestyles that cultivated our culture and the positive and artistic outlets that healed us in hard times.”
Additionally, she often advocates for self-love, strength and independence as a woman of color in a male-dominated industry and genre of music, Hip Hop.
Engage Your Community With Collective Activities
Once you establish values to attract fans and provide them with a lifestyle to connect with, you need to organize activities to help keep them engaged.
The internet, blogs, forums, and social media, can be incredibly powerful tools to foster engagement. Today, artists are leveraging Facebook Live and Instagram Live to host shows, sessions, and Q&As with their fans. This immediately gives you an opportunity to speak directly to your audience, gain feedback and make them feel included.
We encourage you to find ways to get creative with this as well. Maybe you’ll share snippets of a new song to build hype or maybe you’ll have a debate with your fans over a pop culture topic or some recent news. No matter what, remember to stay true to your brand’s values, lifestyle and the culture that you’re leading.
However, if you want to create an even stronger impact, try coordinating a physical, in-person activity to bring the community together offline. Live activities will strengthen your brand community by giving fans a memorable experience.
In the 2010’s, Tyler The Creator and Odd Future have built one of the strongest and most engaged brand communities ever in music. Odd Future fans have stayed loyal to the movement since the early days of the group’s Tumblr filled with obscure and inappropriate content that would make your mom ground you from the internet. Over the years, Tyler and his crew expanded the online community and turned it into a major annual festival called Camp Flog Gnaw.
Tyler successfully transitioned the values and lifestyle that he manifested within his digital fan community into a real-life experience for fans from all over the world. Tyler has always led a life of independence and doing whatever he thinks is cool, despite what anyone else thinks or feel. The festival is completely aligned with this philosophy.
In a 2016 interview with Forbes, Tyler explains the camp’s atmosphere:
“It’s just its own world cause it’s just honest. I’m not using hashtags to bring people in, I don’t have these crazy sponsors that are like, ‘Hey, we need to use this,’ the corny stuff. It’s just, ‘Hey, this’ll be cool, let’s try it.’ And then that’s what it is.”
He goes on to explain,
“This allows people to see another side of me other than me just saying stuff over a beat. This gets me in the rooms with people and companies I really admire their stuff, it’s worked thus far.”
Interactive experiences like Camp Flog Gnaw can create unique opportunities for artists to expand their brands and generate more revenue. Tyler, for example, realized that a successful public display of his fan community would easily allow him to connect with other brands looking to engage with that fan base.
Obviously, a major festival can cost quite a bit, but here’s where you can be innovative enough to be authentic. Get creative with your network and resources and throw a local event. As long as it stays true to the values and you focus on creating an engaged experience for those fans, it will only make them love and promote the brand more.