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When thinking about who they want to reach and speak to, brands often think of their audience in terms of their current and prospective customers: people who are either buying a brand’s products or using its services or will so in the future.
But at any given time, a brand has a much wider and more complex audience of cultural observers, fans, customers, commentators and collaborators. It needs to build a relationship with all of them:
Observers: A brand reaches observers when it does something that the wider culture pays attention to. Observers are usually reached when a mass brand does a collaboration (e.g. Dunkin x everyone, McDonalds x Travis Scott, Ikea x Byredo, and countless other collabs). In addition to collaborations, observers are also reached through working with celebrities, cultural micro-actions, like a revival of a brand’s archives, a brand refresh (e.g. Brooks Brothers) or an anniversary event (e.g. Ralph Lauren’s 50th and Michael Kors 40th anniversary). If a brand manages to tap into observers’ specific cultural obsession (vintage, affinity towards celebrities), they may become fans and customers. To keep them interested, however, a brand needs to keep constantly feeding the Observer’s cultural interest. This is an unlikely scenario. Still, the main benefit of observers is to widely spread the word about the brand.
Fans. Fans connect with a brand on a social level. They identify with a brand’s values, appreciate its aesthetics, enjoy its tone of voice and/or seek to be part of its community. Fans may strive to, or occasionally buy a brand’s products, but the products aren’t the basis of the connection. Examples are Gucci, Balenciaga.
Customers. Customers are interested in a brand’s products and purchase them either for commercial reasons (price), stylistic reasons (design, fit) or to fulfill a particular need (performance, occasion). Brands of course have customers that purchase it for the social status, and those customers also dub as Fans and Observers.
Commentators. Commentators have the most impartial relationship to a brand, and are most likely interested in it if a brand does something interesting per cultural Observers and Collaborators. Commentators also take interest in the brand if it pushes the boundaries of its category, market or the business model.
Collaborators. Collaborators join forces with a brand often due to it being a creative challenge, an inspiration, artistic exercise, a renewal of relationship with culture or to expand their audience and grow their business. At all times, a brand should keep the audience of potential Collaborators in mind as Collaborators are the way of attracting all other audience groups, outlined above.
A brand that regularly converses with Observes, Fans, Customers, Commentators and Collaborators has relevancy and staying power; a brand that speaks only to its customers does not.
Get yourself a yellow jumpsuit that says Hip Hop Wild.
Everyone other than the customers serve as an *audience* for the customers, particularly for the customers who are buying for status, or to associate the brand’s identity with their own. W/o the fans, observers, commenters, etc, the customers are only buying for the utility of the product. The further up the price and quality stack we go, the more of the purchase value is a signal to self and to others.
This is an awesome taxonomy.