How Your Fans Can Help Tell Your Brand’s Story

March 18, 2015

part of your story

I’ve watched a certain Matt Nathanson concert video several times since first stumbling across it on Facebook. And every time I do, I have the same reaction. I actually feel the synergy between him and his audience. It makes me want to be a part of it. And it left a big enough impression that I not only shared it, but am still talking about it. Let me explain why. 

For some background, go ahead and watch the video (below). Caution: there’s some NSFW language at the end.

Ok. Let’s deconstruct this moment in which a few chords change the course of the story and look at the components that make up this brilliant performance:

1. An Empowered Audience

Nathanson has a story to tell. He has a message he wants to deliver, but as he does so, his audience takes it in another direction. Right here, we realize it’s not Nathanson’s show, it’s theirs — like a gift from him to them. Now it becomes a story they are telling together and Nathanson allows each member of his audience to play a supporting role. Is it the way he planed the story to go? Definitely not. The plot changed a bit, the message did not. Together, they’ll get to the end.

2. Perfect Cadence

This cadence, the synergy, the back and forth — it’s as essential to the story as the rhythm of the music. The audience hears one thing and responds … Nathanson hears … replies. The plot thickens. Energy builds. Instead of taking back control of the story, Nathanson embraces the momentum. The audience is emotionally engaged and not letting go until the end.

3. Trust

This is my favorite part of this story. Right at 2:18 in the video, when Nathanson is maybe wondering how he’s going to pull this off — BAM. His guitarist steps in to execute ACDC’s “Back In Black” solo. Not only did he trust that his band could support this developing story, but in doing so, he discovered potential he hadn’t realized. The talent with which Nathanson has surrounded himself shines through and he hands him the spotlight.

4. Authenticity

I know. I didn’t want to use the buzzword either, but that’s what this is. Truly. Nathanson knows who he is. He knows who he’s not. This is a raw performance. He’s not concerned with the audience seeing exactly who he is. They want “Back In Black”? Sure. Does he remember the chords? Heck, maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. In that moment, he’s not really sure but he knows that he’s going to let the story unfold regardless. He doesn’t hold back for fear of mistake, in fact, he welcomes the possibility for error and knows that his audience, his trusted fans, are going to be ok with that.

Put yourself or your brand in Nathanson’s spot. For most, executing any one of these is difficult, much less all four. Together, the magic happens. It’s what turns a casual observer into a fan for life. It’s what makes a story one to be remembered and retold. This concept is one that Mack Collier discusses in his book, Think Like A Rockstar, and points out examples of music artists who get this concept with which traditional brands struggle.

The Struggle Is Real

I suspect most community managers would nod their heads and think, “Sure, we do these things.” But do you really do them? Watch the video again, and think about it. Most brand-to-fan interactions are far more like a polished pre-recorded show — scripted, predictable, and pre-defined with great distance and no engagement between performers and the audience.

Are you comfortable letting your audience tell the story? Have you mastered the cadence of back-and-forth conversation? Do you trust and empower your team with the ability to step forward and take control? Are you willing to risk a mistake for the opportunity to excel?

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.