Fans in times of crisis

With loyal customers through the crisis

“Companies with high fan quotas among their customers will weather a crisis better than others.” predicts Roman Becker, one of the leading experts in the field of “emotional customer loyalty” in Germany. Fans are willing to suffer worse results – not just in sports and music, but also in business, across all industries.

“A true fan would rather die than change his team,” Becker knows after more than 20 years of fan research. This was demonstrated during the covid pandemic, when hundreds of fans waited in front of closed stadiums, just to be close to their idols. But it’s also evident on social networks today, with thousands of fans publicly declaring their loyalty to companies like Trigema or Bosch, praising them for spontaneous offers in times of crisis, and acting as recommendations and ambassadors.

But what makes fans so willing to stay loyal? Best-selling author Roman Becker explains, “A fan relationship is based on an emotional loyalty.” This makes the fan stand by his idol, even in difficult times – and even accept sacrifices and illness for a fan experience. An overwhelming majority of fan (customers) report in surveys, that they cannot imagine a world without their club, without their idol, without their favorite brand – Apple or Coca-Cola for example.

Fan customers will buy more

“We know from our research, that companies with a high fan quota among their customers and employees are more successful than others,” explains Becker. They benefit greatly from their excellent relationships with customers. “Because they buy more, they buy more frequently, they are less price-sensitive, they value conditions more favorably, have the highest contribution margin and are the best brand ambassadors.” But one fan characteristic is particularly important in challenging times: fans remain loyal even in difficult times.

Staying active during crisis

Covid has been a hard test for many companies already. “Even companies that have done well in turning their customers into fans and retaining them in the long term, cannot rest on their laurels now. Because if you’re not close to your customers now and don’t react quickly to changes in relationship quality and customer needs, you’ll gradually lose your base, namely your loyal existing customers.” Companies have to quickly establish new communication routes along the needs of customers – across all channels. After all, the close ties of fan customers are based on repetition, on rituals, over and over again. Not only in soccer, but also in business: “fans need frequent and excellent contacts that make being a fan a tangible experience.”

Fans in times of crisis

Becker is certain: In challenging times, fan customers are the most important partners to have. “Where simply satisfied customers have long since moved on, they not only stand by their ‘idol’ in a crisis, they will even come to their ‘idol’s’ defense in public.” The fan researcher cites an example from social media: Almost simultaneously, he says, there was a breakdown – at Deutsche Bank and at ALDI. The supermarket chain had debited customers for twice the value of their purchase. At Deutsche Bank, debits were simply displayed twice to the customer. The discussion played out heatedly on social networks and was highly interesting: fan customers defended ALDI and thus nipped the developing “shitstorm” in the bud, while Deutsche Bank was exposed to the “shitstorm”, almost “without protection”. For information: Aldi had a fan quota of 31 percent at the time, Deutsche Bank a fan quota of 11 percent.

Fans are willing to forgive…

“Fans are willing to forgive mistakes and poor performances,” says Becker. He cites the ADAC scandal as a prime example. A few years ago, the largest German automobile association had unceremoniously inflated the votes for its renowned “Gelber Engel” (Yellow Angel) award. An outcry went through the media. The trust of ADAC members seemed irreparably shaken. But far from it: More than 80 percent of ADAC members belonged to the group of fans or sympathizers, they felt a high level of satisfaction and a strong emotional attachment – especially to the core discipline of the automobile club: fast roadside assistance. Fans saved ADAC from the scandal.

…but not unconditionally

But fans won’t forgive everything. According to Becker, the decision by Adidas, H& M, Deichmann and others, to withhold the rents for their stores during the peak lockdowns in 2020, with high profits behind them, will do lasting damage to the companies. Tens of thousands of Adidas fans were outraged on social media, burning their favorite brand as a symbol of boycott. “Such management mistakes later have to be straightened out by the employees in the stores – because only they can act as fan makers and continue to turn customers into fans. If they cannot do it, then it’s a sure death sentence for the very stores, for which rent has been saved,” says Roman Becker.