How To Make Your Own Superfans [WAAMN Chapter 3.5]
After cofounding a company that caters to music’s superfans, Brittany Hodak is creating a roadmap to find the most avid audiences in every industry.
This is your weekly installment of my new book, We Are All Musicians Now. To make sure you don’t miss future serializations, subscribe here. Below you’ll find Chapter 3: Rise of the Superfan (Part 5). Enjoy!
Brittany Hodak knew from an early age that she wanted to work in the music business. At 16, while job shadowing at a local radio station, she got her wish—just not in the form she might have expected.
“I said to the station manager, ‘Please hire me, you have to hire me, I’ll take any job,’” she recalls. “And he said, ‘Well, you look like you’re about the right size for our mascot costume.’ … And I was like, ‘Done.’”
It wasn’t long before Hodak had graduated from trotting around in a bee costume (photo evidence here) to writing concert reviews and hanging out with rock stars. The Almost Famous-esque experience left her marveling that anyone would pay her teenaged self to do such things.
In college, Hodak interned at record labels, landing an entertainment marketing gig after graduation. Along the way, she grew fascinated with understanding why some bands took off and others didn’t. The reason soon became clear to her: the ones who exploded were generally working harder to connect with their audience through meet-and-greets, interviews, and the like.
“They’ve got fans out there creating more fans for them,” says Hodak. “There’s a virality to it.”
In other words, the most successful acts find ways to turn fans into superfans—and superfans into brand ambassadors. This concept has underpinned Hodak’s entire career. It prompted her to cofound a company called Zinepak, and now informs her new focus on creating superfans in all sorts of industries.
Last week’s installment of We Are All Musicians Now focused on Zinepak’s rise, featuring some perspective from Hodak’s cofounder, Kim Kaupe. (She described the startup as the Frankenstein baby of a CD jewel case and an issue of People magazine).
In short, within a few years of its 2011 inception, Zinepak was doing $6 million in sales while producing special edition packages for acts from Taylor Swift to Justin Bieber. This earned Hodak and Kaupe a spot on Shark Tank—and an investment offer, which they declined.
The experience was something of a watershed moment for the superfan concept. Heavy hitters like the Shark Tank judges no longer worried that the term only referred to obsessive music fans. They saw how it applied in other industries, which was part of the reason Hodak pushed to change the startup’s name to the Superfan Company.
“That customer centricity is so important,” she says. “And I think where a lot of tech companies go wrong—and a lot of marketers go wrong—is they over-index on product centricity and they under-index on customer centricity. … The customers are right, not the experts. And not always the creators, if they’re not listening to the customers.”
Most recently, Hodak has turned her energies toward helping brands unearth superfans across industries. She’s spent much of her time writing and speaking on the topic; in early 2022, she’ll launch a podcast called “Creating Superfans,” with a book of the same name to follow next fall.
Hodak’s thesis centers on fighting consumer apathy through a strategy embodied by the acronym SUPER (Story, Understanding your customer’s needs, Personalizing your message, Exceeding expectations, and Repeating).
Above all, whether promoting a brand or a band, Hodak believes in fostering one-on-one relationships with customers—the same kind of bonds musicians like Amanda Palmer forge with fans on a regular basis.
“Employing superfans, you can amplify your influence so that you become the category leader—or the category of one—before anybody has ever engaged with you,” she says. “When you tell people you’re great, that’s called marketing. When other people tell people you’re great, that is magic.”
And when that happens, you don’t even need to dress up in a bee costume to get your message across.
The above is a serialized segment of my new book, We Are All Musicians Now. You just read Chapter 3: Rise of the Superfan (Part 5). Subscribe here. For more, read my other books and follow me on Twitter and Instagram.