I kid, but only a little. In my secret identity as a marketing professional, I spend most of my time working with big companies on just these kinds of issues; I even teach a class at the University of Washington on advanced marketing techniques. The stuff that Fandom is trying to do with this survey is potentially really useful, and so I was eager to dig in.
The questionnaire probed attitudes toward a specific, self-selected entertainment or gaming fandom, with a series of questions about how long the respondent had been a fan, how they expressed their fandom, how closely they tracked developments in the news about their fan-jam, and so on. The announcement included a link to an online quiz to “uncover your fan identity,” but that is a subset of the full questionnaire and not the actual survey, according to a Fandom representative.
Fandom did not talk much about the demographic breakdown of its sample, so it’s unclear how well these results speak for fandom in general, or which voices tended to predominate.
Dramatis personae. The main output of the Fandom survey is a fun set of four fan profiles, or "personas" if you’re in the marketing or UX field: cutouts of different customer types who behave in broadly predictable ways based on the data. These are useful if you are designing a product, service or communication campaign, because it’s always better to understand who you are talking to. The personas are the richest part of the Fandom survey and worth a look.
Fandom identifies four primary fan personas:
- The Advocate (24% of sample): "deeply invested and engaged" fans of long standing who actively participate in the brand by creating content or organizing their lives around their fandom.
- The Intentionalist (31%): fans who "lean in to what they’re watching" and follow information about their favorite franchises.
- The Culturalist (21%): fans who are "heavily swayed by buzz and cultural relevance, including meme culture and influencers," motivated at least as much by FOMO as by active interest.
- The Flirt (21%): least engaged audience looking for something fun and diverting, highly influenced by friends and peer group.
Now, it’s not front page news that there is a continuum of fan interest from fanatic to newbie, but Fandom has helped segment out the fandoms by franchise and come to some conclusions about the relative qualities of the fan bases for each property.
News you can use? Fandom extrapolates from its survey to offer some interesting guidance to marketers and content owners. Here are a couple of tidbits.
- 52% of a fanbase is on the fence about watching/playing a new release, meaning even core audiences are not guaranteed at launch. This represents a huge opportunity for marketers, studios and brands to gain even more market share by tapping into all four fan ID segments
- 54% of consumers who are on the fence about watching/playing a new release are Culturalists & Flirts, which creates an opportunity to capture their attention by marketing to them throughout the entire release window.
They also use survey data to throw some numbers at the eternal DC-vs.-Marvel debate.
- 84% of Marvel fans claim they’re overwhelmed with the constant stream of MCU content - but despite these huge franchises becoming a bit unwieldy, fans still flock to the box office with each new release and Fandom’s wiki traffic remains healthy.
- Franchises that are character-led enable each IP to shine - DC fans are 20% more inclined to purchase products that feature their favorite superhero.
- Marvel has a higher concentration of Advocates and Intentionalists, leading to a more leaned-in and "always on" fanbase.
- DC fans skew more toward Culturalists and Flirts, making the fanbase slightly more passive.
And, for videogamers:
- 60% of consumers prefer the traditional game release model despite the industry leaning into the GaaS (games-as-a-service) model.
- But even with this consumer frustration, GaaS game releases still get 8x more consumer engagement than traditional game releases due to the consistent stream of content being released.
- The Zelda fanbase skews towards Advocates and Intentionalists who have likely been lifelong fans of the franchises.
- Due to the consistent release of new content, Genshin Impact grabs the attention of the Culturalist and Flirts
There’s a deeper dive here for those interested.
A glass half full. "Reaching consumers in an impactful way is not a one-size-fits-all formula," said Perkins Miller, CEO of Fandom in the announcement. "Understanding the spectrum of fan identity and how it affects fan behavior has never been more critical across the ever-expanding entertainment landscape,"
Writing for a data-driven site like ICv2, I can emphatically agree with that statement. The fan industry is relatively data-poor, at least in terms of publicly available material, so anything that quantifies some aspect of our business is a welcome development. Unfortunately, when I read over the Fandom survey, my appetite is whetted but not satisfied.
It is great to know the behavioral characteristics and relative distribution of fan subsegments identified by Fandom, and the franchises that do better or worse with each group. More helpful would be some idea of who those fans are, where they live, what they look like, their preferred online platforms, brand affinities, favorite influencers and so on.
A bit more transparency around demographics and geography would have helped Fandom reassure readers that its self-selected sample was properly weighted and not giving outsized influence to an unrepresentative segment of fans. It would also have allowed marketers using more advanced analytic techniques to build a "lookalike audience" in the larger population to glean more actionable intelligence around channel strategy.
Fandom said these considerations were not part of their study, but perhaps they are simply saving them for the paying customers. "Our FanDNA data platform provides invaluable insights to help our partners develop sophisticated, effective campaigns that will resonate with the exact fan segment to drive viewership and play," Miller noted in the statement.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.