Sales & Marketing

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A masterclass on winning fans for your business by Tony Hawk, Trevor Noah and Matthew Weiner

7 Mins

During the 2015 Sage Summit in New Orleans, the trio took to the stage to discuss creating new industries and leveraging the fan bases who support their careers – relating it to the skills needed by business leaders to do just the same.

Weiner created, produced and directed cult TV show Mad Men, a show depicting what the advertising industry was like in 1960s New York. He was also heavily involved with mob drama The Sopranos. Pro skateboarder Tony Hawk rose to fame during the 1990s when he came to dominate vert skating, and has since gone on to have a series of successful video games and establish a foundation to build skate parks in deprived areas.

Noah is a South African comedian who is set to take over the hosting job of The Daily Show from Jon Stewart in September. He described traditional stand-up comedy as the most organic form of being a salesman – peddling wares as you travel.

“The internet came along and changed that as you have a new way to share, whereas historically with stand-up you had to to the people – to towns where nobody knew who you were,” he explained.

“Tools like Twitter came in as tools for marketing. I started doing a little bit on TV shows, hosted awards, and got fans from there. A fan base is people who associate you from different areas, and then you hope to bring them together in one room.”

On the subject of Twitter, and using it to cultivate fans, Hawk revealed he was one of the first skateboarders, and professional athletes, to do so. “The value of this focus group is incredible, they’re immediate and honest,” he said. “You should listen to it, but ignore those who are ridiculous. It has changed the way I do a lot of things.”

Noah also feels Twitter has changed everything, as it gives a direct link. Even though a comment may seem malicious like “I hated your show”, Twitter allows him to find out that that was simply because they couldn’t hear him in the room.

“Social media makes you realise that people do have an insatiable need to be heard. Unfortunately a lot of people think the only way they can be heard is being negative.”

Read more from Sage Summit:

The concept of treating customers as more of a fan base has risen in prevalence during the last years. This has been fuelled by the ability, though mediums such as social media, for customers to be strong advocates, and even ambassadors, for businesses large and small.

Vernon Hill, the American founder of British bank Metro Bank, published a book in 2012 entitled: “Fans not customers: How to create growth companies in a no growth world”. In it he described how for those looking to break the mould, can create customers capable of becoming a company’s “greatest allies in marketing and sales”.

This approach has been demonstrated by Metro Bank’s desire to bring customer service back to British banking, with branches open seven days a week, closing later in the evening and providing little perks such as snacks for dogs bought in.

Noah’s advice for cultivating fans extended to “filtering the noise”. “I developed speed reading for social media. I see all of them and start to learn the patterns – knowing when some people are baiting you,” he said.

“Some are there to really stoke the fire, but you see where the true fan is – the difference between criticism and hating. That is when you can attend to it. For a fan who has paid money, once you do something that fan is not going anywhere.”

Handling opinion from fans is tricky though, according to Weiner. Describing himself as being in the business of surprising people, he suggests listening to the focus group that comes from social media but not necessarily following it. “If you do what the crowd wants they will become miserable,” he added.

Asked to provide one piece of advice for SMEs looking to develop a fan base, each had their own take on things. Weiner wants business owners to first be their own fans, and then take a risk because they will ultimately find you. “If you like it there are others who will too,” he said.

Noah believes the role of the product in the experience is key. “If you are giving a good product, no one can deny that and they will come back to you. Also, don’t try and be friends with customers – just use it as a tool to hear what they’re saying,” he commented.

Hawk finished off proceedings by suggesting entrepreneurs be passionate about what they do and surround themselves with people who you trust and whose opinion is valued. “Sometimes they’ll have to take the helm and do things without you.”

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