Fan Loop: How To Create Loyalty Without Customers

by Jason Keath on Jun 14, 2011
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Whenever I hear someone talk about a sales funnel, I picture the large coin donation funnels at the mall.

I use to beg my parents for a quarter to drop into them. I would be fascinated for a good 3 or 4 minutes watching it spiral down the contraption before it ultimately dived into the pile of change underneath.

If only it were that easy. Put a consumer into the pipeline and just wait for them to travel down to become a customer. Easy. “Another quarter err… consumer mom?”

Today’s sales funnel seems a bit more complicated than the steady spiraling path my quarter use to take.

People like you and me are supposed to squeeze through this sales funnel as “consumers,” getting closer and closer to a sale.

We are suppose to progress as a consumer from awareness of a company, to education about the company or product, and ultimately a purchase. It rarely seems to be that simple.

The Sales Funnel Is Half The Equation

Sales Funnel Consumer Cycle

Repeat Customers Can Be Even More Important

Then we try to get the customer to become a repeat customer. Usually without having them go back through the process of awareness, education, engagement, etc. They did that already, now you just have to keep them interested. Stay top of mind.

Repeat customers SHOULD take less work and resources than new customers, making it a more worthwhile pursuit.

Consumer Engagement Cycle

The Loyalty Loop

When customers skip the sales funnel and become repeat customers, they are in the loyalty loop. Marketers keep people in the loyalty loop with many tools. We use customer loyalty games and promotions, strong customer service, low pricing, direct mail, email marketing, and more.

The goal is to keep the customer coming back to a purchase while avoiding the time and resources it usually takes to go through the sales funnel. To do this, the customer must build some level of trust in the product or service.

Consumer Loyalty Loop

Inspired By: David Edelman — Branding in a Digital Age – HBR

The Fan Loop

But what about all those potential customers you have interested, aware, engaged that don’t take action for one reason or another. The ones that don’t buy your product right away? Are they in the same loyalty loop?

Can there even be a loyalty loop for someone that has never purchased a product or service from you?

The answer is yes. Relationship marketing, permission based marketing, and content marketing all subscribe to this premise. A company can build brand affinity. We can build that bond and trust by giving the potential customer value. By giving them a free benefit. Whether it be a free product, content, or entertainment.

The value exchange does not have to start with commerce to end with commerce.

I call it the Fan Loop.

Consumer Fan Loop

And just as it’s name implies, the Fan Loop works well within Facebook. It works with blogs. And it works in email marketing. The goal here is to keep your pool of potential customers so engaged, so invested, gaining so much value from your company, that they stick around.

They get value from you. And they become invested in your company’s success, if for no other reason to make sure your company can continue to offer them value. But it can be much more than that. It can become a tribe, a movement, an army of proud advocates.

The more they come back, the richer your brand’s storyline grows.

It is one of the simplest elements of content marketing:

“The longer you keep Fans engaged the more likely they will buy something when the time is right.”

Let’s look at 3 examples:

1. HubSpot’s Webinar/Email List Cycle

HubSpot Webinar Invites

Hubspot spends a lot of time and effort on their content marketing machine. Blog posts, ebooks, infographics, webinars, they do it all. All to get potential customers to fill out their lead generation forms. And ultimately to becoming paying customers.

HubSpot sends out webinar invites every week to hundreds of thousands of emails that they have gathered over time. Each time a customer comes back to a webinar, they hear more and more about HubSpot and learn more from HubSpot. Each time the customer builds a tighter bond.

2. Gordmans’ Facebook Ads and Tabs

Gordmans Facebook

Gordmans partnered with the Facebook experts at Webtrends to send out optimized Facebook ads to attract new fans for the apparel and home fashions retailer. It worked. They had thousands of Facebook fans. But now what?

Gordmans then sent Facebook ads to their fans to bring them back to customized tab experiences (not a sales page). Including the one previewed above where fans click to vote on which outfit is better. They target a narrow demographic for new fans and them bring them back to interact with their products in unique and entertaining ways. This builds a relationship.

3. Kissmetrics Blog and Infographics

Kissmetrics Infographics

Kissmetrics is a web analytics company that spends a lot of time producing very high quality data content for their blog. Including a large number of popular infographics. In fact, I would say they are one of the best examples to follow if you want to do infographics.

Their infographics are usually their most popular blog posts and bring a ton of visitors to their site. From there they ask visitors to subscribe to their content AND test out their product, in that order. The more they get visitors to return the more likely they are to get them to test and potentially buy their product.


Is your business using the Fan Loop?

Post Author

CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...

  • thank you for your sharing! learned a lot from your website!

  • Love this, Jason: “The goal here is to keep your pool of potential customers so engaged, so invested, gaining so much value from your company, that they stick around.” 
    At Blue Sky Factory, we’ve (anecdotally) found that that we have a fairly large “Fan Loop.” I think part of the role of a good Community Manager is to to do exactly as you say – “…keep [them] so engaged, so invested…”

    Wow. The more I think about this, the more you have me wondering if this is not THE area for Community Managers to focus their time. Yes, we should help with sales and customer service/support, but moving potential customers to the action stage would be a great move.


  • Anonymous

    Love the ‘hypothesis’ and understanding of the different loops.

    Good job.

  • Ryan Gerardi

    Jason not to discount what you have done here bc I think what you have here is great, but I do think that a lot of what you spell out here is fairly known or obvious to most astute marketers. The real challenge is making this process work effectively enough to generate leads. I personally have not been as effective in this area as I would like, but by the same token I am always struggling to keep up with the amount of business I have on my plate. Makes me think I should triple my rates to acquire less business and more revenue, but then I won’t feel as competitive.  

  • Trudy

    Love that you have the education stage in there — and people often confuse education with information only — just a web site and it is so much more.

  • This is one of those rare times I wished I owned a produce company, just so I could have a Fruit Loop.  :0

    Seriously, though, I agree with the Fan Loop in principle but it seems very difficult to generate such if you’re not a major brand.  Content content content, of course,  but even for a company like HubSpot (whose free Website Grader I have used) it’s got to be tough.  Most leads must be hit-and-runs like me.  I’m not their fan and I’ve never considered purchasing.

  • Cute re:fruit loop. +1

    Of course most traffic bounces, but that is true for everything. Most foot traffic on the street walks by your brick and mortar store as well. 

    Those that return are your fans and the goal is to get a higher percentage to return. Anyone can do this. We do it at Social Fresh. You setup subscription options and ways for fans to find you again and you work to optimize those options to work better.

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