March 4, 2016

Advice for startups: Focus on your super-fans

Taylor Swift brought fans to her house, baked them cookies and invited them to her concerts for free, said Jordan Stone, CEO of Huckle.

At Launch Festival, a top marketer discusses the importance of engaging your top brand advocates

Target audience: Startups, entrepreneurs, businesses, brands, digital marketers, advertising agencies, SEO specialists, educators, journalists, Web publishers.

JD LasicaAt the 2016 Launch Festival, which is wrapping up today with an estimated 15,000 attendees, startup founders and teams got some solid, down-to-earth advice from Jordan Stone, the CEO of Huckle.

A lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to please everyone. But you don’t really want to make all your customers happy. You want to focus on the 1 percent most engaged users of your product and make them ecstatic. And then you want to find another 100, 1,000, 10,000 users just like them. Otherwise, your product development will be all over the map before you get to product-market fit.

“Focus on the 1 percent,” Stone said on stage in the Cowell Theatre at San Francisco’s Fort Mason. “Take your customer base and go to the top 1 percent that’s obsessed with your product. Focus on the super users instead of the casuals.”

How to identify them? Find a tool that gives you access to granular customer metrics, he said. There are plenty in the market. Don’t just look at them as demographics. Drill down to see your top customers or users in the top cities using your product, then find out who those people are — and engage them.

Communicate with them through SMS, email, Twitter, FB, push notifications. “Make sure they hear personally from someone on your team,” Stone said.

Jordan Stone, CEO of Huckle, at the Launch Festival this week (Photo by JD Lasica).

Next, publicly identify, empower and reward a select few. One time-honored way to do so is with a points system or leaderboard. “Make those super-fans feel special, give them something to brag about,” he said. “Offer them rewards and experiences that money can’t buy.”

One extreme example he cited was his work with singer Taylor Swift, who has been known for the lengths to which she goes to make her fans happy. “We brought some of them to her house. She baked them cookies. She invited them to her concerts for free.”

Don’t do this in a vacuum. Let the other 99 percent know about it, he suggested. Stoke their FOMO (fear of missing out). Offer something exclusive to the top 100 contributors to your website each month.

Finally, while you should engage and participate in social media, Stone said, make sure you drive them to your site. “Have ownership over your entire community, Own the data. Don’t put all your eggs in the Facebook or Twitter baskets.”

I asked Stone about the approach put forward by Rob Fuggetta in his book Brand Advocates: Turning Enthusiastic Customers Into a Powerful Marketing Force that you should leverage fans’ enthusiasm for your product — but don’t compensate them, or else you’ll tarnish their evangelism.

Stone said startups need to start small and reward their super-fans any way they can — with prizes, T-shirts, giveaways, tickets, access to events, etc. But that once you get to 100 or more super-fans, “then don’t pay them.” Because you’re on your way.

 JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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