Some businesses could not care less if they have customers or they have fans. In the world of public relations, this can be a dangerously myopic approach to communication. While most business will always have more customers than fans, it is important to have both – and to understand the distinction between the two.

Customers and Fans

Customers are simply those who buy your product or use your service. They may even prefer your product or service to another, but they are not necessarily dedicated to it. Even those who walk by other options to choose yours could not be considered fans. Fans are those who don’t even look at the other choices when they walk by. They are totally sold on ONLY your product and are willing to tell other people all about it.

Pepsi drinkers vs. Coke drinkers

This is an easy analogy of the difference between customer behavior and fan behavior. A customer may want a soft drink, and they will be content to buy whatever is on sale. A fan will not care if they have to pay more. They will choose a Pepsi product every time or a Coke product every time. The same goes for PC or MAC people or Chevy vs. Ford people.

The Us vs. Them dynamic

Notice in that last example, I used the term “vs.” to describe the relationship. Fans not only choose one or the other, they often feel adversarial to the other option. Now, you might be thinking, “Seriously, Torossian, I hate those little peeing Calvin decals. That’s ridiculous.” Maybe. But not to fans. To fans, they are identifying not as customers but as part of a tribe. Which brings us to…

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The social (media) factor

Fan environments are, by nature, tribal. Think about the sense of solidarity you feel at your team’s home games or when you see someone driving “your” car or wearing “your” brand. Immediate connection, right? That tribal feeling extends to every aspect of a fan’s interaction with your brand. Nurture that feeling of connectedness and you will not only gain a customer, you may generate generations of brand loyalty.

Understanding the difference between customers and fans, and how to generate the former while cultivating the latter, can be a difficult and challenging hill to climb. But the team here at 5W Public Relations is here to help you navigate that challenge and succeed better than ever before.

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the top PR Firms in NYC.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.