Authors, actors, publishers and studios once served as the gatekeepers and influencers of entire generations of viewers, or consumers. With the ability to rate, or share feedback directly with creators, there’s been a tilt. The fans can influence the creation as much as the creation influences the fans. There are entire Q-sized conspiracy theories dedicated to how a movie was ruined during production, designed by fans to protects favored talent or the integrity of the IP in general. The long rumored Snyder cut of the terrible (sorry, you know it’s true) Justice League film was discussed so vocally by fans (adherents?) of the original director, Zack Snyder, that Warner ultimately approved the production of the legendary edit. Here’s hoping Disney authorizes the Phantom Edit as canon.
People creating anything now have a duty to bring a vision to life, but also to respond respectfully to those who love it. This creates an awkward dynamic. Not only are artists asked to share their creations, but entire populations can influence the direction of a fictional franchise or brand, but not share in the potential rewards. In a way, the creator serves fans as a collective patron. So far, this has been okay with fans as it relates to fictional properties as long as their dreams of future narratives or extensions are fulfilled.
I read this presentation by Zoe Scaman, founder of Bodacious, and asked to discuss her thinking on the changing nature of fandoms and how that drives brand and businesses forward. She’s presented this at high profile events, like Zee Melt, so it was fantastic to talk to Zoe in depth about how she’s seeing this applied in the world of consumer brands.
Enjoy this transcript of our conversation.
Adam Pierno: Alright, welcome back to another episode of the strategy inside everything. I am looking forward to the stock, you might say that I’m a big fan of today’s guest. I’m joined by the founder of bodacious so escapement, thank you very much for joining us today Zoe.
Zoe Scaman: Thank you very much for having me.
Adam: I have been reading a lot of your stuff. But recently, you have been shining a light on a topic that I found very interesting and aligns with things I’ve just been thinking about in the background around fandom so we’re going to dive into an overview of how you’re viewing that and then talk about some applications for how that how that lives out in the world today and what is possible in some places people or maybe overlooking opportunity. Right, excited to get into that wonderful before we do get going. I know you are, you’re currently leading Bodacious Do you want to give people a sense of who you are and what you’ve done leading up to that.
Zoe: Yes, I can do my nutshell version, otherwise it’s a very long story.
I started working in ad agencies when I was 18. And I went to London for a while, and I moved to Sydney and moved into strategy and what a couple of different agencies over there, most notably naked on Coca Cola.
Then I moved back to London, got more into management consultancy moved to New York and watching management consultancy for a bit over there, came back again.
And then I sort of found myself in a bit of a mix. So I did a mix of working in ad agencies such as dragon five but I wasn’t full time. And I also did some international development work with Nike foundation so I went to Ethiopia, and just, I guess, It’s a kind of magpie-esque approach to my career where I just follow what shiny and interesting and what time is my brain on, which means that I’ve kind of been allergic to you, you know, the idea of staying put for too long or having a full time job or anything like that. So I started sort of working on my own, and doing my own thing and I solidified that almost two years ago into bodacious, and then I got headhunted for Ridley Scott, so I did a 5050 sets up so I was great. We had a strategy for Ridley Scott creative group half my time, and then bodacious half my time and now I am fully back in bodacious. So that is a kind of whistle stop tour of my insane goings on I guess in my career.
Adam: So, we are talking about fandom so let’s talk about Ridley Scott, just in this fact that if, because I am a fan. That must have been very hard for you to say, “Oh, that’s interesting. I will do that, I’ll commit to 50% of my time on that” versus, you know, jumping all in with both feet as a lot of people probably would have I would have been hard pressed to say, have the discipline to say well that’s not the plan that I’d made for myself, how did you –
Zoe: Yeah, it wasn’t easy because it’s so flattering, and it’s so exciting as an industry, but I sat with it for a day before I committed to anything and I just thought, I put so much energy into building Bodacious, and it took such a huge amount of motivation and trusting myself to take the leap and actually put something like that out there and it felt like I was almost kind of accepting failure if I was to then go back to a job, the entire time. And I also know myself really well. At this stage and I know that a full time job rose doing the same thing, day in, day out, no matter how exciting it is in the film industry, I would get bored, and I would leave. And so the best setup for me is to always have a mix and a different variety of things because if my brain is jumping off a number of different ideas and projects and sort of sources of information from a scale up retail company in East Africa to a, you Africa to a, you know, huge luxury fashion brand New York and back again. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me interested, but makes a lot of sense i don’t think a lot of people have that self awareness to know when you get to that door that,
Adam: Oh, I should I should run through this door, this seems like a big thing but to look forward a year and say you know I’m going to be, I’ll be in the same place, whether it’s an agency or a studio, or you know a production company that I will feel that same way.
Zoe: Yeah, and I think that I was so excited to go and work with him. And in that, in that arena, I’m not really worked in entertainment properly before. But I think also just knowing that I could dip in and dip out was the kind of thing that made made sure that I was still researching the wider goings on and I think sometimes it can be quite dangerous to go into a full time job because you get stuck, you sink into the bureaucracy you sink into their way of doing things and you think into their sort of computer says no mentality, and you stop bringing the outside, in which I think is where so much inspiration and creativity and enthusiasm lies and that was a really really important thing for me.
Adam: Yeah, I think i’ve ever heard “computer says no mentality”. It explains a lot of how how creative people think in the world. When they run into that obstacle. Let’s, let’s talk more directly about fandom Now besides my fandom for Ridley Scott and his various film properties. Yeah, although it does apply. I’ve been reading a lot about your application to brands, and I want to start with. Before that, so in your talk you reference, you know, video games you reference pop culture film influencers and one area, I’ve been reading about is all the weird stuff that happens with major films so DC properties with the Snyder cut or the Star Wars properties where there’s all this revisionist conversation happening and conspiracy theories about who wrote what. And this applies to brands in a weird way which will probably get to the way that fandom almost creates a fear, there’s so much passion, that it makes it must make a creator like Ryan Johnson, almost like you got this offer to participate in this huge property. But there’s so much downside to if it’s not what the fan, if you don’t do the fan service the way they want. It’s not good. And if you do too much fan service the critics tell you it’s not good. How do you think that it’s shaping that that level of passion. How do you think that is shaping the properties and in how do you think that might change.
Zoe: I think it’s, it’s definitely something that is coming to the fore more and more and I think you know when it comes to marvel or when it comes to Star Wars those fans have been around for a really really long time, and they have previously you know maybe they were gathering in basements or meetups or something like that and then with the advent of the internet and all of these kind of social platforms, they were able to find spaces where they could gather together and discuss their ideas and in doing so, there’s a lot of fan lore or fan cannon, that gets solidified, and they are incredibly passionate about where they think the film needs to go next. And I think previously what has started to happen, was that they actually started creating much more fanfiction you know there’s a lot of. There’s a lot of interesting fan lore on Star Trek, for example, where fan fiction actually started turning into fan TV series so fans were actually making their own stories and their own characters, you know, based on Star Trek and Star Trek actually had to send them a cease and desist letter and say please can you stop doing this. And I think that is where the shift started to happen, where people sort of say “Well hang on a minute, who owns the story, and who owns these characters and who owns this lore just because you’re the studio and you make it and you own the copyright to it. We’re the fans and we’re super passionate about it and we want to pass this too because without our support.”
This wouldn’t get made and this wouldn’t necessarily be able to grow in that way. So I think now you’re in this kind of weird No Man’s Land of, you know, who really owns the story and who really owns whether navigation of it’s going to go next. And so I think it needs to be, not necessarily a collaborative way forward but it needs to be something where you are actually getting feedback loops and you are actually getting input from these fandoms to a certain degree, not on the minutia, of you know a scene for example or anything like that but the kind of character, you know origin stories that they want to see all the kind of leaps forward that they want to see in terms of gender representation and film or, you know, really whether I want to understand the motivations of a specific character that could be uncovered a little bit more in the next film. So I think those kinds of those kind of big things can start to be fed into the creation of new movies and new content and that kind of stuff and it’s not to say every single movie should be crowdsource because then it they’d be bloody awful but i think it’s it’s to understand that it cannot, no longer be this gigantic wall between the fandoms and then the creators of the stories that will needs to come down a little bit, and that feedback and those ideas, need to be sourced and potentially integrated and actually one of the most interesting ones that I’ve seen which is not to do with kind of Marvel or Star Wars is actually what Tosca Musk is doing with Passionflix which is how kind of soft core romance Netflix fashion and fashion. When it comes to actually what she’s doing the romance sector is the biggest fiction, what basically the biggest fiction category in the world which I didn’t necessarily realize until I started diving into that.
Adam: Yeah, that example that you that you shared is amazing, just to understand the opportunity there and then it’s just been totally ignored.
Zoe: Oh totally and I think that you know these women were seen as a bit silly or a bit you know vacuous because they were reading romance fiction, but they are so unbelievably passionate about it when they read these stories they can visualize the guy they can visualize the scene they put themselves in that picture. So what Tosca mask is then doing is going right okay I need to go and find some hardcore fans or this particular book. “I’m going to bring them on to set and I’m going to get them to say, Is this how you envisioned this scene in your head when these two lovers actually came together for the first time? Is this right? Is she wearing the right kind of dress, Is this the right kind of music? Is this the right kind of backdrop?” And she’s leveraging the fan visualizations to know that actually they probably know best, in terms of what’s going to work on camera, which is so fascinating and such an interesting way of doing it.
Adam It is and it when you say that they were viewed as vacuous or silly the fans, then I think about you know I don’t think there couldn’t be more vacuous are silly than I think I was as a Star Wars fan or as a fan of pro wrestling might be, it’s still, it’s no more or less of mental gymnastics to make yourself, throw yourself into that. The idea of giving them that kind of voice in the creation is what is novel in some ways, but also it’s already happening with fanfiction and other thing you’re just giving them a voice in a more thoroughly thought through and in carefully produced product.
Zoe: Totally and I think it’s about that feedback loop and you know another example that I put in the fandom deck was around Wattpad and what Wattpad studios are doing. So Wattpad is a gigantic self publishing platform for basically amateur writers and amateur offers. And the interesting thing about Wattpad is as an author, you can write a couple of chapters, or an entire book, and then the fandom will flock to it if it’s good enough, they’ll read it, and then they’ll start sharing their feedback on it.And if you’ve only written three or four chapters and the fans are feeding back on it. You’ve then got the opportunity to listen to that fan feedback as an amateur author and start to either choose to integrate it or not in the way that you finish the rest of the book and the way you finished the rest of the chapters, and that has been really shown, I guess when it comes to The Kissing Booth which is now a huge franchise on Netflix, you know, death is might be FF and a number of other different film and TV series that have come out of Wattpad and actually those stories, while they were being written were being co created with the fandoms that were reading them and then now translating onto screen so you’ve got these kinds of hybrid stories which are part author or they’re heavily into author, but also still shaped by the fandom that they’ve been created for which I think is just such an interesting way of generating new stories and new IP.
Adam Yeah, there’s been a few platforms that have tried to do that for physical and digital product creation as well there’s product on which is probably the most successful, where creators get to post their product, beyond an idea stage where it’s some kind of at least a beta or something that can be played with tested and get feedback, build a fan and build a quote unquote community around it, or at least get eyeballs on it, I guess, is the minimum that you’ll get. And those are those have varying levels of success for as a platform itself but also for the products that come out of it. Do you, do you think the success of Wattpad and Passionflix. Have you seen other – let’s talk about, for example CPG products and brands do you, have you seen any platforms where that’s taking root for, you know, the Procter and Gamble’s or the or the M&M Mars of the world, Zoe: Not a huge amount just yeah I think some of the ones that are doing it very small, and they’re really interesting startups which are kind of gathering that feedback I mean obviously probably one of the most successful ones is Glossier, and obviously the famous story of them having their Slack channel where the 200 really true glossier fans you could feedback on you know what kind of lip balm should we release next what’s the next skincare product that we should be focusing on what are your priorities. What do you think of the packaging What do you think of the formulation. And then there’s products that went out were built by, you know, stakeholders and the other example that I’ve got in the deck is ARFA, which is the holding company that’s been set up by the ex head of operations for glossier where he’s taking that and then he’s basically putting it on steroids and saying, we’re going to create a number of different CPG brands, with the stakeholders, which are these kind of hardcore fans of whatever category they’re going into, you know you’ve got Reebok with First Pitch which is now a kind of sustainability initiative, but it’s actually a fandom thing where they’re releasing designs of a shoe and they’re saying unless 500 of you commit to buying the shoe we’re not going to make it. So that’s not necessarily designed feedback but it’s basically is this successful enough as a shoe Do you like the design you into it, then you’ve got me do which is a sort of prison skincare brand which are actually actually asking for ideas from their community, then they using a kind of Reddit style up vote or down vote to see what they make next. That kind of stuff so there’s a lot of smaller examples of it happening, but I think I can definitely see it coming more to the fore. And I think one of the things that people don’t really understand at the moment is this difference between fans and feedback. So really kind of engaged, talented interesting people within your community that can really give you valuable contribution and feedback. This is the kind of showcase idea that we had a couple of years ago of crowdfunding crowdsourcing where essentially it was like let’s put this out to the kinds of passive masses. Let’s see what weird ideas come back and if we throw enough shares at a wall let’s see what sticks and the two fundamentally different things. This is not about crowdsourcing feedback. This is about curating and nurturing, a really strong really valuable fandom whose feedback and input are critical to where you want to go next and can really help you to unlock really interesting features or ideas or service levels that potentially you wouldn’t have gotten to yourself because you’re so stuck in the everyday have your own product in your inbox. You see, and this is a different way of really understanding your consumer needs. And so those two things are fundamentally different and often, especially at the moment because this is quite a nascent space they’re often overlapped, and misunderstood.
Adam: You know, as you’re explaining that about comparing comparing something like glossies approach to crowdfunding. It’s all about sample, it comes down to any other kind of research, if you start with a broad terrible sample, you’re going to get results that are not even directional for you, they don’t help. It’s just like oh well this many people pledge so I guess that’s good I’m not sure, versus glossier if you have only 100 people that are really passionate about it and understand what your brand is and what you’re trying to do and you you’re serving them. They all say they don’t want it, it’s not going to fly.
Zoe: Yeah, exactly. And I think it’s, again it’s not about that mass feedback because as you said you know you’re going to dilute the quality and the insights that you’ll get if you spread it out to too many people. That’s not to say that you’re closing off the feedback loops from other subsets of people but it’s just about figuring out how you tear them. And I think what’s been interesting is looking at more sort of creators and influencers who are doing this really really well. So obviously Patreon has just become a unicorn being valued at over a billion. And that’s happened really really fast and what it’s been doing is it’s actually showing different types of behaviors and feedback loops that you can cultivate if you’re a creator. So say for example your beauty blogger, and you’ve now set up your patriot because you want to find other ways of monetizing your content as opposed to just the ad funding that you might get on YouTube, you can create different tiers of fandoms. So the basic tier could be you’re going to get one extra video a week, but you’re going to consume that passively. The next tier up is I’m going to do a weekly live stream of a makeup tutorial which you can tap into if you pay this extra amount, and the very top, one could be, I’m going to do one on one beauty tutorials for you for 20 minutes and you can access me that way. And then what you’re finding is your most avid fans are the ones that are rising to the top and saying putting their hand up and saying, I want to pay for these one two ones because I really want to get to know you and I’m really passionate about this area, you can kind of take that tiered model and apply that to potentially how brands might organize their families and their communities, to make sure that you still got those feedback loops to make people feel like it’s accessible and they’re engaged with you but on a lower level, and then the cream rises to the top when it comes to the people that you really think that their insight and their contribution is going to be critical to what you do next.
Adam: Yeah, when, when we talk about tears and the way that loyalty programs have been constructed, you, you fall right into something like airlines, which are not based at all on passion for the industry or passion for travel necessarily or definitely not passion for the brand it’s more like I have to fly these routes and I’m going to fly this many miles I might as well consolidate it all and if I can sit up front and get an extra drink. Get some special treatment, but I think those people end up being passionate about, Delta or American or whatever they end up being million mile flyers on but then nobody starts that way. Very few people start that way I should say versus smaller creators, building a personal connection with people and that’s what they’re offering is that access to an outlet to have passion.
Zoe: Yeah, exactly. And I think, even the first idea that you reference when it comes to loyalty schemes loyalty schemes are normally based on spend. So the more money that you spend with a particular brand you know the more rewards you but we’re rewarding your financial commitment. We’re not rewarding your creative commitments, and that’s a very different thing. So when it comes to, you know, finding really interesting subsets of brands who can help you tap into what’s happening culturally what’s happening creatively, those people might not have the financial resources to spend you know $15,000 a year on sneakers and therefore grow up to your sort of tears loyalty program, but they could be you know on the pulse of what’s happening in their city and what’s happening at the convergence of arts and music and architecture and gaming and all that kind of stuff so that creative input, could be invaluable to you but you’ve got to find a way to be able to source them and reward them, that is not purely based on Fiat financial mechanics, which is not necessarily something that I think is representative of fandom
Adam: Do brands know this? As you’ve been talking about this today Get that it’s because the capitalist. The easiest thing to do is base it on finances who school spend the most gets the most access or benefits, but there’s so much benefit to be gained from access to that knowledge access to people that are low to the ground that are in the culture that you’re trying to penetrate or trying to understand or trying to trying to celebrate to brands, recognize it?
Zoe: I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of them do not. And I think they may know it consciously or unconsciously but they haven’t necessarily acted on it yet and I think it’s because they don’t know how, because the first thing is, How the hell do I find these people, how do I recruit these people, they just don’t know they don’t know where to start. And that’s really interesting because it’s not necessarily something that we have done before because I think you know there are a long time when it comes to recruiting talent, if you’re a sports brand for example your talent will be athletes that you sponsor and the communities that you know basically gravitate towards them and you can tap into, then you’ve also got influences but those influences are still based on having gigantic communities, the majority of the time. What we’re talking about now are micro influencers, but actually even some people that might not be that big on social platforms, they might be you know off doing other things and we haven’t figured out how to find them yet. So that discovery aspect of finding the right people to go into the fandom is going to be a huge first step and there are a number of different companies that are looking into this at the moment in terms of how they do it so from talent agencies to kind of influence your agencies that are going right down the spectrum and looking at those ones who are actually really really influential but only to a niche of maybe 2000 people, for example, but they’re hugely passionate about what they do and it’s about trying to find those people and sort of pulling them into the right place, but I think the discovery aspect is potentially quite off putting, and then it’s also thinking, you know, once we’ve got them what the hell do we do with them and how do we reward them. And it takes effort to think about how you’re actually going to do this and what you’re going to pull them into and it can’t be, you know, really shallow projects in terms of Do you like the color of this can, or do you like the color of this can you get them to vote, and that’s it. It needs to be a much more involved, creative collaborative process you need to have ongoing conversations and going back to what glossier did with slack. That’s how they won in that sense because those conversations were ongoing, and they actually created a way for those community members to interact with one another so it wasn’t a broadcast from the brand to the community and then community back to brand, it wasn’t a series of votes. Yeah, exactly. It was lots of conversations happening peer to peer, and that’s where the gold was you know that’s where the insights were coming from, and that’s a lot of the time what brands don’t do I mean we call people who follow brands on Instagram, a community, they’re not community. No, they comment, they like they might share but they’re not a community, or they are following up. Yeah, we’re not opening up a way for them to interact with each other and it’s still a one way broadcast from the brand to the followers, and so many brands have never actually built a community properly they don’t know how to do it. And that’s a huge skill and muscle that they’re going to have to grow pretty very quickly, to be honest.
Adam: Is it because you know in the CPG world again we don’t have to stick to that but a lot of industries are so stuck on quiet and pulling research from sample community that they approach community in that same way that. Okay, so we’ll build this community if you’re not glossier oh they use slack okay so we’ll use slack and we’ll get 500 users and then we’ll pull them every week. I mean, is it just a lack of understanding of how to relate to customers on a community person to person level, or is it just being steeped in their ways?
Zoe: I think it’s a mix. I think it’s not knowing how to start and not knowing who’s skill set it is so you know Do we have the resources and the talent to be actually, to be able to do this. I do think it’s also based on data I think you know with the huge rise of programmatic and social ad spending and that kind of stuff. It’s all about, you know, cost per reach it’s all about ROI, and all of that, obviously has a very a very important role to play because marketing is about commercial returns and commercial advantage, but not being able to put a specific number against the richness of insights that you have from building a community and maintaining that community and putting time and effort into that community, potentially could be quite off putting for them because they’re thinking, What’s the value of this you know how do I carve off budget for example, especially in a time such as this, to build something that doesn’t necessarily have a guaranteed financial return, you know, how do I sell that into the bigger business, and that’s a real issue and I think a lot of the time it’s not that they don’t want to do this it’s that they don’t know how to build a business case around it, and they don’t know how to measure it, you know, over three months, six months 12 months etc and that’s tough because this is this is cool this is relationship building this is insight mining but it is a long game. It’s about nurturing it’s not about transactional. What do you think of this thanks very much now piss off, you know it’s much more about you know you’ve really got to build those relationships over time and that level of trust. And I just don’t think they know what the business case will the commercial returns could be. Adam: Almost- it has to be piloted with a small group of people that believe that it’s worth their extra time, you know they have to use their 20% time which is probably outside of their core hours and then prove it out to bring it back into the organization.
Zoe: Absolutely. And I think it’s also, you know, let’s be honest the, the number of brands that we’ve been working with over the last couple of years. How many of them actually really really want consumer feedback and really listen to it. I mean most of the time it’s a it’s a box to tick yeah the consumers don’t hate it cool yep Let’s move on. Let’s do something else. They don’t really listen because listening is challenging and it’s hard and you might uncover things that mean that the last however many weeks or months you’ve spent working on a project might need to be reversed we might just go in another direction, and nobody wants that there’s a conveyor belt they just want to get the sausages out the sausage factory be done with it. So I think we’ve actually become quite lazy, when it comes to real insight and real listening to the consumer needs we’re just trying stuff out.
Adam: Yeah, well there’s a pressure to keep quote unquote productivity up, and therefore trying new things that you’re not sure how to yield productivity can be dangerous gambit internally if, if, if there’s not an immediate benefit that’s clear. You mentioned earlier –
Zoe: No, I was gonna say I think it’s, it’s about flipping the process. So I think previously what we’ve done is we have built a product, then you build a brand, and then you try and find an audience to sell that brand and product to. And what’s happening at the moment with the creature economy and what we’re seeing in terms of the evolution of influencers and how they’re monetizing and building their fandom is a complete flip of that. So what they’re doing is they’re building their audience first, then they’re building a brand in terms of something that then, known for the sort of cultural nuances that they have, or the reason why people interact with them, and then they’re actually sourcing ideas and insights for products which they can monetize. So the entire process that we’re used to from a brand perspective is being turned on its head in the creator economy, and it’s becoming incredibly successful, and that expectation is going to be either from a consumer perspective because they’re being trained in doing this differently now, and it’s time that you know we look at potentially how brands can tap into that and try it themselves.
Adam: It’s funny I cut you off and then you went to the place I was going to ask you about perfect perfect segue. So brands established brands are tapping into influencers and creators because they want, what they have, but it hasn’t occurred to them yet to replicate what they’re doing or figure out how to do that. Have you seen any brands that have cracked it any, I mean there are startup brands that are and even brands that are the creators themselves or their established brands that you’ve seen do that successfully.
Zoe: No. Not really, no. I think there’s been kind of pockets of, you know, testing and learning in different kind of places. But I don’t think that I could name, established brands that have done exceptionally well I mean there are bits and pieces for example that the likes of Lego have done quite well in terms of, you know, crowdsourcing ideas and obviously the new platform which is world builder as well as really interesting but that’s so new, it’s kind of two weeks old. But no, I don’t think there’s anyone necessarily doing it that much at the moment. And it’s because they don’t put enough time and effort into nurturing these audiences and then listening to them they nurture the audiences because they want to sell the perfectly craft and creative products to them that’s the point of it, but they’re not nurturing these audiences because they really want to hear the feedback and here the needs and then try and meet those.
Adam: Yeah, I’ve written a little bit about Lego and the world builder example is what I wonder there is you know they’ve built their business commercial success by tying into existing IP. And in a way, I think it’s weakened what Lego is because, from my own experience anecdotally with my kids if it doesn’t have Marvel or friends or something else on the box if it’s just a Lego town set. They’re less interested in it. So I’m, I will be interested to see what that world builder yields from Legos commitment to say, okay, there’s no existing IP, but it’s still a good idea it’s been proven out in this community, they, they do have a track record of of nurturing relationships with super fans and super builders.
Zoe: Yeah, and I think, where the world builder concept came from is going back to Wattpad which is the self publishing platform. What they noticed was that the majority of content on Wattpad when it very first onto that was about fanfiction.So, After which is their huge film success that they’ve had was built on a fan fiction, which was kind of half. One Direction boy band and half Twilight and then obviously got time to do the same thing and now it’s a gigantic movie, but people flock to Wattpad to publish their in fan fiction, and it was happening for Lego. So there was a Lego character Lego ninja. and people were racing these kind of insane epic, you know quests that Lego ninja was going on.
And these people were loving it. They were reading it and really really getting into it and Lego kind of scratching their heads going “Hang on a second This is our kind of IP extension, and they’re building these worlds and these stories and these epic adventures on another platform which we don’t own, and then we’re not doing anything with it.”
And that seems like a missed opportunity so that’s why they’ve built well built so they want that fan fiction. And those bigger epic adventures, to be published on a platform where they can control it and they can own it, but also that they also control the algorithm which can see what’s kind of gaining traction from fans and what’s not. And that’s what what can have, which is what they sell to other people as well they’ve got the algorithm that can spot the incredible stories. And I think that’s kind of what they want so if they find a new Lego character so let’s say it’s a Lego mermaid for example, and people are writing fanfiction stories or scripts or something around that they can then turn that into a small piece of content and see if that gains traction with that gains traction they can turn it into a YouTube series. They can turn it into a movie, they can then start to actually monetize that through new product creation that they have, they could create a Lego mermaid world and roadblocks and actually turn that into an extension of the IP as well, that what they’re looking for is that kind of richness and those stories that are out there and they are being published but they’re just in places that Lego don’t have access to them. So that’s what they’re trying to do
Adam: You use the word that I hadn’t heard yet in this conversation of control. It is probably a big part of what stunts, these types of initiatives inside of companies how how scared, do you think brands are to cede control or to open the door that to this kind of fandom like and as we started out there are people that there probably are not that many people that are passionate about soup. But there are a hell of a lot of people that are passionate about Lego and makeup, and if you’re in one of those categories how scary, do you think that is.
Zoe: I think it’s terrifying. I think it’s because, again, it’s that misunderstanding that fundings and opening up contribution and feedback loops, with fandom is the same thing as asking for feedback from the masses so crowdsourcing again. And that misunderstanding is kind of people going “You know, the masses out there are consumers they don’t understand, good design, they don’t understand feedback you know what’s the point?” and it’s always like, they’ve got it launched in their head, that it’s going to be the equivalent of a you know Walker’s crisps Do Us a Flavor so basically you know, Karen down the road is created a chicken Caesar salad crisps everybody want us to make this for a short period of time great we’ll do it.
I think that’s the idea in the minds of what fandom is and it’s absolutely not that so I think it’s an education process to make them realize that this is about uncovering a huge amount of untapped creativity and therefore commercial potential that they wouldn’t have access to, you know, within their own building within their own resources and these are people who are highly engaged in that category, and who are actually talented and who gives a shit about these brands and they want to be a part of that and they want to help navigate it forward. This is not your, you know passive mom of three who buys you know whatever brand toilet roll every couple of weeks, she’s not necessarily going to be the kind of person that would dive in and go, I’ve got a fantastic idea for a recyclable toilet roll I’d love to make it with you I mean she might, but she’s less likely it’s about finding those people who are super passionate and very creative and very talented, and then basically pulling them closer, lowering that drawbridge and saying to them, you know, we want to help you succeed if you help us succeed so the upside is jewel, so you know obviously if if an idea gets off the ground and the brand funds and it does really well. The person that created that within the community is also a benefactor, and when it comes to you know the upside of it as well they get something back for it. I think that’s what we need to start looking at this as this is not novelty Shetty flavor based campaign ideas, this is, this is a totally totally different thing.
Adam: And, you know, I don’t know the Glossier story as well as you do. But is the idea. I could see a brand say okay well we’ll get, we’ll make our own hype House of influencers and call it our community. That’s not probably the right way to go but in the Glossier case, that wasn’t a bunch of influencers, those were super fans of the brand and super category fans.
Zoe: Yeah, that’s a call directly so they knew that they were going to get insights that at least would be valuable one way or the other. Yes. And they did that because they were watching the entire time how the interactions were evolving on you know different social platforms so obviously when it came to how, you know, Emily Vice actually started glossier she had a blog fast and she was going into celebrity makeup and beauty closets and seeing what they had in there and from building her own community, and from getting feedback from the people who were reading into the glass which was her blog. She was starting to understand some of the most important basic products that people love and obviously that’s how the lip balm was born. That was the first kind of put up that came out and then it was, you know, the face wash, for example, and she was listening to feedback the entire time you know what sent Do you want it to have in, we want it to have a kind of jelly feel to it, we want it to be in this kind of pump box rather than a something that you have to squeeze and she was constantly listening to that feedback and so she was always trained on the fact that you know everyone can be a contribute their if you listen properly.
So then they started watching for these women who became super glossier fans and we’re educating their own followers, saying I would recommend you use this Glossier product I would recommend you buy this makeup product, and they were going okay these people have influence they know what they’re talking about. We should bring them closer, and we should find out you know how to utilize them in terms of evolving what we do next month product roadmap perspective. That’s what we’re talking about with fandoms it’s really listening really understanding and then putting that to good use.
Adam: Yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great example of, of how to build a community. Part of what you, what I took away from what you said was, they took it offline they took it out of Mass Comm so that not anybody could just jump into the conversation and skew it or, you know, start throwing in grenades, it was controlled in a Slack channel where they did have an element of control by saying, okay, only these people will be invited, and will monitor it very closely because we know the benefit of what each person is bringing to it and curating that that list.
Zoe: Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the big barriers to brands to date has been a lack of platforms to be able to do this on, I mean I don’t think you can really do it on the existing social platforms and that’s that’s the other kind of pain in the ass things with these Instagrams and Facebook’s is they constantly change the platform algorithms and then you’ve got to pay to reach the fans that you’ve already pulled into your following and you’re not going to see them that way, the rules are constantly changing it’s known as kind of platform risk, and also platform whiplash that they just keep changing these things and you can’t keep up. So one of the best ways to actually nurture communities to take them off of those platforms and put them somewhere else. And today, there hasn’t been a huge amount of options to be able to do that and obviously slack has been the one that’s kind of rose to the fore because you get that constant feedback, but it’s not the best user experience it’s not the best kind of branded space. And so what’s interesting at the moment is there are a number of different startups which are coming out, which allow you to then take your community or fandom communities, pop them somewhere else. Totally brands that space, white label it, and then you have a completely reliable platform that’s not going to change the rules on you every five minutes, and you can use that to kind of nurture and speak to your community so this community, obviously that’s kind of an obvious name for that one. There’s a spire IQ there’s cipher you know there’s a bunch of others as well. And I think it’s really interesting that those ones have now popped up because I think it means that you can really do this if you want to put your mind to it it’s not about using new technologies, it’s about using purpose built ones now.
Adam That’s really smart. Zoe, this was fantastic. Thank you so much for making time, it was great to talk to you. Where can people find you online.
Zoe: I think I’m probably most active on Twitter. So it’s just at various gaming. And that’s where I can share the, I guess the myriad of things that I tend to find on a regular basis I think I’m overly prolific i think i spam people. But if you’re interested on it doesn’t really,
Adam: It doesn’t feel that way.
Zoe Yeah, I think if people are interested in this area then that’s probably the best place to go.
Adam: Perfect. I will obviously link to that and if it’s okay with you, I will link to your deck from your Substack, as well.
Zoe: Yeah, of course. Absolutely. and I’m working on another piece at the moment which hopefully brings us a bit more of this together. When it comes to how brands can actually capitalize on it.