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Connecting through Fandom with David Meerman Scott

On this week’s Ignition Point, David Meerman Scott joins the show to give you an inside look what it means to build a Fanocracy and why connecting through Fandom can be rocket fuel for any individual, business, or nonprofit that chooses to focus on inspiring and nurturing true fans.

David has built businesses, advised emerging companies, and even spent some time as a model in Japan; but today he’s sharing his marketing expertise and global perspective with individuals and businesses around the world. He’s spoken in over 40 countries across all seven continents, and authored ten books including The New Rules of Marketing & PR and Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.

In David’s new book – Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into FansDavid and his daughter Reiko team up to explore why some of our favorite brands are able to build fandom and how you can attract fans of your own. It’s essentially a masterclass on fandom, sharing deep insights from the brands that have done it and the neurologists who have studied the science behind it.

So, how can you build yours? Let’s get after it to find out! Check out David Meerman Scott on the full episode right now!

You’re always welcome to send your thoughts and feedback to me directly by emailing, but now you can also leave a review for the show by going to All of your thoughts, feedback and suggestions are appreciated, but please be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcasts to be notified every Monday when new episodes drop.


Hey! What’s going on? I’m Steven Miller – and this is Ignition Point.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020, but I’m excited to let you know that starting next week, my guests and I will be focusing on topics that relate to setting better goals and following through to achieve them. So, if you’re ready to get after it this year, be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcasts to be notified when new episodes drop.

We’ve got a great episode on deck today, but this week I’m shaking things up and taking a step away from the monthly theme. Instead, we’re taking a look at the way you make personal and professional connections with the help of today’s guest, David Meerman Scott.

David’s got a Rockstar resume overflowing with success. He’s built businesses, run sales and marketing teams, advised emerging companies, and even spent some time as a model in Japan; but today he’s using his marketing expertise and global perspective to advise individuals and businesses on how to spread ideas and build businesses of their own.

He’s spoken in over 40 countries across all seven continents, and authored ten books including The New Rules of Marketing & PR, Real-Time Marketing & PR, and Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead which have all spent time on the bestseller lists of the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Bloomberg News.

You’ll be able to find David’s new book – Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans – online and in stores on January 7th, but in Fanocracy, David and his daughter Reiko team up to explore why some of our favorite brands are able to build fandom and how you can attract fans of your own.

You might recall that Mari Tautimes and I discussed the basics of what it takes to create raving fans and next level relationships last season. You can think of that episode as Fandom 101, but today David is teaching the Fandom Masterclass, giving you an exclusive preview of what it means to build a Fanocracy and why you need to harness the power of true human connections.

So, let’s get after it! Here to share his perspective on connecting through fandom, this is David Meerman Scott.


The pendulum is swinging too far into the direction of superficial online communications at a time when people are hungry for true human connection.

And I was talking about this with my daughter Reiko. She’s 26 years old now, at the time we started talking about this idea she was 21 years old, and we were talking about the things that we’re fans of. And I said, “what is it with the fact that I’ve been to 780 live music shows, and I’ve seen the Grateful Dead 75 times?” And Reiko said, “I know daddy! What is it with the fact that I’ve not only read every single Harry Potter book multiple times, and seen the movies multiple times, and gone to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Theme Park in Orlando, Florida several times… But I just finished a 90,000-word novel – an alternative ending to the Harry Potter series – where Draco Malfoy is a spy for the Order of the Phoenix and it’s been downloaded thousands of times, commented on hundreds of times.”

Reiko and I agreed that we are massive fans of the things that we love, and we both decided that the pendulum swinging back to true human connection, is swinging to fandom. The idea that people connect with the things that they love and the people that they love doing it with.

So, we’ve spoken with hundreds of people since we decided to write this book – Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans – and it turns out it’s unbelievable how many organizations can cultivate fandom, including yours!

Fandom is for everybody. So, I’ll give you an example.

Sometimes I ask people, “do you love auto insurance?” The answer is always, “no! I hate auto insurance. It’s terrible.”

I did speak with McKeel Hagerty, he’s the CEO of Hagerty Insurance, they do auto insurance. And he said to me, “David, everyone hates my business. My business sucks. Nobody wants to buy auto insurance. It’s not fun. And furthermore, no one wants to use the product because it means they crashed their car.”

So McKeel Hagerty said to me, “I had to do something different than everyone else to sell auto insurance. I had to develop fans.”

So, Hagerty does classic car insurance. Classic cars are part of a tribe. So Hagerty became part of the fandom around classic cars. They go to over a hundred classic car events a year. They provide educational information and seminars. They provide all kinds of great information for the people onsite at these classic car events and on their YouTube channel, they have something like a million subscribers. They have a bimonthly magazine and they have a Hagerty Drivers Club with 650,000 members.

Hagerty is building fans in a business that everybody hates!

One of the things that we identified with this idea of fandom is that people are attracted to other people who are passionate about the things that they love. And it turns out it’s not just the things that you share. People become engaged with those people who are passionate about anything. You don’t even have to share their fandom.

The bottom line to this concept, is that passion is infectious. The idea that you can share your passion with the world and it’s infectious, is a fabulous way to grow fans and to grow business.

When a lot of people think about fandom, they think of sports teams. They think of companies like Apple or Harley Davidson or Patagonia that have built massive fandoms, and I think that’s fine to think of those things, but we wanted to find fandoms around obscure businesses; around companies that people maybe have never heard of.

I’m a surfer; love to surf – I’m not very good at it, but I love to surf – and I also care about the environment. And traditional surfboards that are made out of foam core are terrible for the environment. And I was reading in one of my magazines about wooden surfboards, so I went into Google and typed in “wooden surfboard” and Grain Surfboards popped up at the very top of the Google listing.

There’s only four people who work in the company. They have a factory in York, Maine, and I checked them out and I was like, “wow, they’re located only an hour from me, and they have a four-day build your own surfboard class!”

So, they’re hitting all my hot buttons, right? It’s, “I love to surf. I love a beautiful surfboard. I love wood. I love something that’s sustainable and good for the environment.”

So, I signed up for their four-day build a wooden surfboard class. I had a chance to work next to these artisans, but something that was really unique and different about this was they use a boat building technique for building surfboards and not only are they sharing all of their trade secrets with me, but they’re showing me how to make the surfboard!

So, the idea around this that’s so interesting to us is that if you open up and let people see more than usual, you have an opportunity to build fans – and that’s what Grain Surfboards did.

So, what I always try to do is find those examples that illustrate things that are different from than the Harley Davidson’s – and the Patagonia’s – and the Apple’s – and the Marvel Comics‘ – and the other very popular fandoms because people say, “that’s untouchable. I can’t be Marvel. I can’t be Disney. I can’t be Apple…”

But anybody can be Grain Surfboards! Anybody can be Hagerty insurance! This idea of a true human connection is available to anybody.

So what we did with this idea of fandom, is we looked at all kinds of different organizations and came up with a prescription for 10 different ways that organizations can build fans, and the more of those prescriptions you deploy, the more you’re likely to develop fans.

So, I’m going to talk about one of those prescriptions. It’s the concept of proximity. And this actually comes from neuroscience.

What’s actually going on in our brain when we’re a fan of something?

This was really important for us to understand. So, we spoke with a number of different neuroscientists to learn about this and here’s what’s going on. Our brains as humans are hardwired to be interested in wanting to be in a tribe of like minded people, a group of likeminded people. We have the strongest emotional connections in our lives with people who we share fandoms with.

It turns out one neuroscientist – his name is Edward T. Hall – identified four different levels of proximity.

The furthest away is 20 feet or further, and in 20 feet or further, our brains know that there’s other humans that are 20 feet or further away from us, but we don’t track them.

Inside of 20 feet, our brains begin to track people. If you walk into a crowded room, you can’t help it. You scan the room because you want to know, “is there somebody there who’s a friend, who’s part of my tribe? Or is there a potential enemy?” That’s our ancient brain kicking in. It’s a survival technique.

And closer than four feet is called personal space. That’s even closer. That’s cocktail party distance. So, when you’re in personal space with people that you enjoy, people that you love, people who are part of the same fandom, that’s among the most powerful human connections that we have in our lives. But if you get into a crowded subway car or a crowded elevator, you feel weird because you’re in close physical proximity with people you don’t know, and your ancient brain is kicking in and saying, “Danger! Danger! Do I need to make my fight or flight instinct kick in here?”

So, here’s what this means for developing fandom: The closer you can put people in proximity with one another, the stronger that emotional connection becomes, and you can build fans that way.

So, can you meet your customers in their offices? Can you create a conference to bring your customers together? If you run a store, can you make sure that people are in proximity with one another?

This idea of close physical proximity is incredibly powerful, but some people say to me, “David, I can’t do that because I run a virtual business,” or “I have customers all over the world, I can’t bring them in close physical proximity.”

Well, there’s another form of neuroscience that can help us with that. It’s called mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons are the part of our brains that fire when we see somebody or even hear somebody do something and our brain fires as if we were doing it ourselves. So, I want to demonstrate that for you now by taking a bite of a lemon.

Let me take this bite of a lemon now.

Oh my gosh, my mouth scrunches up because it’s so strong. My eyes instinctively close. My saliva glands are doing their thing because of this powerful taste of a lemon.

I mean, it’s a really strong thing to bite into a lemon!

If you had seen me bite into that lemon, your brain would be firing too, as if you bit into the lemon, and even just hearing me talk about biting into a lemon, I bet many of you are actually feeling a bit of lemon on your tongue.

So, here’s how we can use this to grow fans: You can use photos and videos cropped as if you’re within approximately four feet of the camera, and people’s brains will fire as if you’re actually in the same room with them.

That’s exactly why you feel you know a movie star. You don’t know them, but your mirror neurons kick in and say you know them.

We recognized that people can build fans in all different businesses, and the evidence of this are people who share their fandom by wearing logos of the organizations they love. The hats, the tee shirts, the stickers on the computer; and it’s not just rock bands and authors like Harry Potter and the Grateful Dead. It’s all kinds of businesses.

It’s B2B businesses. It’s consumer brands. We even found a government agency with tens of millions of fans, and you can walk any street in the world, and you can see fans of this government agency who wear the tee shirt with the logo on it.

I was in the Seychelles – just above Madagascar in the Indian Ocean – three weeks ago, and I was walking down the street. Somebody passed me wearing a NASA t-shirt.

It’s a government agency with tens of millions of fans.

Anybody can create fandom. You can create fandom. Fandom is a fabulous way to grow business, and it’s also a fabulous way to live life.

Because if you live life with passion, it’s a life well lived.


I’d like to give a big thank you to David Meerman Scott for contributing to this week’s show.

Before I go any further, I want to echo David’s final point. Anyone in your network has the potential to be a fan. Anyone who your business or organization serves can be a fan. Connecting through Fandom is applicable to any industry, any organization, any type of relationship, and any culture. So, don’t hesitate when it comes to applying some of, if not all of these lessons in your life, because anyone can do these things to improve the way they connect.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked at how I treat my friendships and professional relationships through the same lens I view my actions and involvement as an organizational leader and volunteer. That point of view is shaped by the idea that what you give shouldn’t be determined by what you’ll receive in return.

Now, in terms of building your personal or business driven Fanocracy, that’s probably not the most sustainable way to build fans. However, it can be a good mental preparation to allow you to experiment with different tactics for building fandom and growing your network.

That’s just one of many viewpoints on relationship building, but when you connect the lessons learned in last season’s episode on creating next level relationships with what David shared on creating fandom, I believe you’re on the brink of creating a sustainable process for creating raving fans. So, here’s how I see it.

Step 1. You’ve got to start where all fandoms and relationships are formed, shared experience. You have to answer the question, “what do we have in common?” Or, “what is the bond we share?” That gives you a gateway to share what you’re passionate about, regardless of whether it’s relevant to your initial bond, which opens the door to continued communication.

Step 2. Now we’re starting to communicate in more personal ways. This is where we start to see overlap, but you need to be very aware of your audience’s comfort zones when you’re taking this step. You need to mind your proximity and not overwhelm them.

For example, let’s say that you’re communicating directly with them 1-on-1 and they look anxious. Maybe engage them in groups before making the connection more personal, but when it gets to that point, consider how they like to be communicated with. At that point it’s not about what you say, it’s how you say it. You have to think about the way the message is going to be received in order to communicate it the right way.

Step 3. Mari recommended that you monitor what she called the “Feel Good Metric”, which is a measure of how good you make the people around you feel. That’s influenced by how present you are in your interactions, which means you need to listen closely and give the people you’re trying to connect with your full and undivided attention.

I’m calling my shot right now, so listen up, because this step is flat out mandatory. I am convinced that by 2030, lack of interpersonal presence will become the number one killer of relationships and fandoms. So, don’t be part of that group. Work on correcting the problem now.

If you’re trying to connect with others, don’t feel the need to check on your Phone every time it dings or vibrates in your pocket. Don’t be checking your smartwatch for ESPN Updates. Put your effort into being present and move on to the next step.

Step 4. Establishing Fandom is one thing, maintaining it is a completely different animal. You’ve got to make deposits, and you have to make them often enough that you stay top of mind. 

You need to keep them wanting more, so while you may utilize massive direct engagement, you should also have a strategy for providing consistent trickle-down deposits. This is where a social media strategy or a content strategy comes into play, but if you’re and individual who manages your own fandom, there’s good news for you. You don’t need to reinvent what a business or organization does; you just need to tweak the approach. Stay consistent in terms of giving your fans opportunities to engage with you, but make sure that they walk away from one on one interactions feeling great about every experience they have with you.

The fifth and final step is what David said about opening yourself up. Your fans want to peak behind the curtain, and you can find ways to do that from time to time without exposing your secret ingredients.

Just look at some of the influencers you follow online. They’re frequently sharing their daily lives, but don’t feel like you need to crank the dial all the way up and share as much as the Kardashians. Just sharing the little things that keep you going, and if you track the analytics and online engagement properly, over time you’ll learn what your fans want to see more of.

If you’re a business, you can post short videos to your social media that share a snippet of what makes your operation special or if you’re big on office culture, show the fans what it’s like to be a part of the team behind the fandom. If you’re a fan of comic books, you’re probably very aware of term, but this is called fan service, and there are hundreds of examples.

Take the example of the women’s shoemaker – Rothy’s. They let their fans vote on new colorways for their shoes.

The brand behind Funko Pop collectibles has made parts of their figurines available so that fans can custom build and modify their own Pops.

Wineries like V. Sattui in Napa and Javalina Leap in Northern Arizona who encourage their fans to visit and help with harvesting grapes.

You can even look at the example of Taylor Guitars. They let their fans tour their SoCal Factory to learn about the process and resources that go into making what many believe are the best guitars in the world – that being said, if you ask me, Martin Guitars are way better.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you are creating fans personally, professionally, for your business or for your organization, it all comes down to connecting in a way that makes others want to stay connected.

The best part is that fandom is no longer reserved for the rich and the famous. It can be rocket fuel for any individual, business, or nonprofit that chooses to focus on inspiring and nurturing true fans.

The key is creating an organization that puts the needs of fans first, which David and his daughter Reiko discuss in their new book, Fanocracy. Applying the strategies in Fanocracy will make you or your company more likely to win business and help you spread more joy and inspiration to the world at large. 

If that sounds like something you want to be a part of, visit and get your copy today.

To learn more about David, you can also check out

For easy access to all those links, extra resources and more, check out this episode’s Show Notes found up at

If you’re fired up about raising the bar for your Personal Brand or you want to develop a comprehensive Brand Strategy for your business in the new year, let’s connect! I help individuals and businesses to make the most of their brands, and I would love to help you with yours. To reach me directly and discuss your next leap forward, just send an email to

You can also use that email to tell me what you think of the show, but now you can also leave a review by going to I appreciate all of your thoughts, feedback and suggestions, but please be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcasts to be notified every Monday when new episodes drop.

Well, that’s going to do it for this episode, so stay motivated and keep moving forward.

If you put in the hard work right now – one day – you could be the one motivating the world with your story.

I’ll look forward to speaking with you next time on another Ignition Point.

Now get on out there and win the week!