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Interview: David Meerman Scott on how being a geek led to Fanocracy

Marketing guru's new book says fandom can be applied to business

david-meerman-scott fanocracy

About 5 years ago, marketing expert David Meerman Scott mused out loud to his daughter in the passenger seat beside him "I'm such a massive geek of the things that I love."

He'd counted 790 live music concerts he'd been to, including 75 just featuring The Grateful Dead.

Fans love The Grateful Dead

(The Grateful Dead Image: Wikipedia)

Daughter and neuroscientist Reiko Scott admitted to her dad she also was a geek. A Harry Potter geek.

"I've read every book multiple times, seen every movie multiple times," she said.  

David said he wondered aloud if fandom could be applied to business.

Thus, the seed of an idea that became their bestselling co-written book Fanocracy was germinated. 

David's led a Time for Transformation masterclass on his research for The Growth Faculty, and here he shares his thoughts on tribes, fans, and the appeal of a skateboarding dentist. 

Building physical tribes to grow your fanocracy:

  • Neuroscience shows our brain's hardwired to want to be part of a tribe. How can you bring this concept of being close to people, physically close to people into your business? Because when you do and they begin to feel safe, then that's one of the most powerful connections there are.
  • There are different levels of proximity. 3.7 metres (12 feet) or further is called public space. Our brains don't track people in public space.
  • 3.7 m (12 feet) to 1.2 m (4 feet) is called social space, and our ancient brains kick in. We have to know those people who are close to us. Are they friends or are they enemies?
  • Inside of 1.2 m (4 feet) is personal space. That's where the most powerful connections happen.

Building virtual tribes to grow your fanocracy

  • Mirror neurons are the part of our brains that fire when we see people do something and our brain is firing as if we're doing it ourselves.
  • Being physically close to our customers, in a virtual way with the video cropped as if we're in the personal space of each other, leads our brains to tell us we're actually right next to each other.
  • Intellectually you know that you're not in the same room, but your ancient brain kicks in. Subconscious kicks in and says, I know these people. They're in my personal space. I'm getting to know them. They're part of my tribe.
  • So using videos, YouTube channels, doing what we're doing now, creating a livestream, even the humble selfie that people dismiss as frivolous and for children, are very, very, very powerful stuff. It's rooted in neuroscience and it all has applicability in growing fans of a business.

See also How TED Talk's Remarkable Seth Godin Turns Customers into Fans

Gift giving to grow your fanocracy

  •  It's incredibly powerful to give something with no expectation of anything in return. For example, every time I travel, every single night that I travel, I leave the equivalent of $5 on the pillow for the people who clean the room. 
  • So in the case of business, we can figure out what it is that we can give away completely for free with no expectation of anything in return that can help us to grow fans. Is it a series of live streams like we're doing right now? Is it YouTube videos? Is it a white paper or an ebook or some other piece of online content?
  • The key here is with no expectation of anything in return. And I've noticed that most companies, especially B2B companies, don't do this. What they do is they say, "Okay, I'm going to give away a free white paper, but I'm going to require that you register for that white paper by giving us your email address first." And that idea is not what I'm talking about because that actually sets up an adversarial relationship with your potential customers and does not turn them into fans. Instead make it completely free. Grow your fan base and your fan base will then turn into your customers over time.


Share your passions to grow your fanocracy

  • We spoke with hundreds of business leaders about who have grown fans in their business. And a consistent theme we heard again and again and again is the idea of passion. Passion for what you do, passion for what you do in your business life, passion for what you do in your private life, and those passions coming together is incredibly powerful.
  • I'm going to quote my daughter - "Passion is infectious." So when you share what you love, anything outside of work, do you love to play golf? Do you love to go surfing? Do you love a particular sports team? Do you love to go bird watching? Whatever it might be, when you share that passion with the world, people are drawn to you because they see you're a person of passion and that passion then rubs off in your business.
  • And what I've seen so many people do is the opposite. They have a LinkedIn profile, which is just business, and then they have another profile perhaps on Facebook or Instagram that just personal and they never let those two things come together.

Learn from the skateboarding dentist to grow your fanocracy 

  •  When people share in their business life what they love to do on their private time, people are naturally drawn to them, and there's an example I love to share of a dentist.
  • He's a dentist in California. His name is Dr. John Marashi. He's a dentist who loves to skateboard. And two years ago he came to me and said, "David, it's really hard for me to compete with other dentists because we all do the same thing. We clean teeth and we fill the holes in people's teeth and it's so hard to compete." And I said, "Dr. Marashi, what do you love to do?" And he says, "I love this skateboard."

the skateboarding dentist

(The skateboarding dentist. Image: Website of Dr Jon Marashi

  • So he now is the skateboarding dentist and he's not one of 10,000 dentists in Southern California. He's the only skateboarding dentist in Southern California. He now has 13,000 followers on his Instagram. He now has actually played this up so much to these skateboards from one examination room to another. He has pictures of him skateboarding on Instagram, on his website. He has skateboards hanging from the wall in his office.
  • This one simple thing has grown his business by 30% a year because when people are looking for a dentist and they ask their friends, "Hey, can you recommend a dentist?" "You ought to check this guy out. He's this skateboarding dentist." So whenever you can bring your personal passion, even if people don't share that passion, even if you say you love a sports team and they love a rival team, you're still showing that you're somebody who would be fun to do business with.

GREAT EIGHT, 8 getting to know you questions with David:

What's a book you'd recommend: I'm a massive live music fan and one of my favourite business books, although it's not a business book per se, is a book called How Music Works and it's by David Byrne, front man of the Talking Heads. 

What's one of the best decisions you think you've ever made to improve your career? I made a decision about 20 years ago that people laughed at me for. I started to use my middle name professionally. I'm the only David Meerman Scott on the entire planet. And that has been really important for my career because I'm now known around the world. People can mention my name. If they said David Scott. Who's that? That sounds very, very familiar. David Meerman Scott. I know that guy.

If you weren't doing the job that you're doing now, what do you think you'd like to be doing? Well, I would love to be a rock star, but I have absolutely no musical ability. So I've managed to figure out how I can still be an artist on a stage, but just do it in the form of giving presentations. 

What do you think has been your lowest moment and how did you recover from it? My lowest moment was in 2002 and I was fired. I was working for Thomson Reuters, I was a vice president of marketing for one of the divisions of Thomson Reuters and they decided I no longer had a career at Thomson Reuters and they let me go just a couple of months after 911, and I live in Boston. I was only 160 miles away from New York City. And it was a terrible time to try to find a job.

So it was a low moment because not only did I lose my job, lose my income, lose my self esteem, but I couldn't find another job because there are no jobs for vice presidents of marketing to be had because of the uncertainty around 911. But it was the greatest. It turned out to be the greatest gift I've ever been given in my business career because for 18 years I've been unemployed. For 18 years I've been doing my own thing since I was fired by Thomson Reuters. I've been managed to make a career by writing and speaking and coaching and serving on advisory boards

And just how do you push yourself when the going gets tough? I push myself through lots of exercise. If I'm physically fit, which I am now and I have been for about 10 years, then I can be mentally fit and I can push myself through. Fanocracy, that just came out in January of 2020 has been a big project that my daughter and I have been working on and we've been pushing ourselves hard. It made The Wall Street Journal bestseller list a couple of weeks ago and I'm getting every single day email and social media posts about how much people like it. So I'm happy that I'm able to manage to push myself because the rewards for doing so come later.

What frustrates you about business leaders today? I think the thing that frustrates me the most is when businesses focus on their products and services rather than focusing on their existing and potential customers. And I see it in all kinds of business leaders. It's all about me. It's all about my products, it's all about my services, it's all about my ideas, and that generally doesn't work as well as focusing on the needs of the customer. Understanding who are the people you're trying to reach and how do you want to reach them.

What's a prediction you could make for 2025? Donald Trump will no longer be president of the United States.

Finally, from viewer Gabrielle: How do you know if a customer is a fan? What's the difference? Fandom is that people are eager to share that they're a fan of something and it can be anything. It can be a band rock band, it can be a sports team, it can be a technology company, it can be a software company, it can be a consumer product, and people will wear the ball cap with the logo on it, the tee shirt with the logo on it. They'll put a logo on their computer, on the back of their computer.Some people even tattoo a logo of the brand they love onto their body. There's a US government agency, a United States government agency that has over 50 million fans. You can be walking down the street of any city in the world and you can see people wearing a tee shirt or a ball cap with the logo of this US government agency on it. You can be walking down the street of Sydney and you can see somebody wearing a NASA t-shirt. This is the outward manifestation of fandom, because when people are fans of something, they are eager to share that they're a fan with the rest of the world.

David Meerman Scott and Reiko Scott's book Fanocracy is a Wall Street Journal bestseller and available now. Members can see the full interview with David by logging into The Growth Faculty - On Demand and clicking here.  

If you'd like to increase your professional development why not consider becoming a member of The Growth Faculty? One membership, unlimited access to 30 live virtual Time For Transformation masterclasses and the best live virtual events - PLUS year-round leadership content On Demand with videos, podcasts and book summaries. Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. Access $4350+ value for just $398 AUD. See who's up next.


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