In a recent interview with Entrepreneur Magazine, Karren Brady CBE (who will be speaking at #LEAP23, by the way) said something that inspired us to look at the power of an audience in a new way. How can tech companies enhance the value of an audience that likes their products or services?
Brady was talking about West Ham United, the UK football club that she steered to success – making it one of the five fastest growing brands in the football industry. And she noted that although it was already a strong club with a “huge fanbase,” the potential of that fanbase was under-utilised when she first stepped into her West Ham boots.
“The number of supporters wanting to attend matches was bigger than the stadium at Upton Park,” Brady told Entrepreneur. So the club needed to grow in order to match the appetite of its audience. That’s why in 2016 she moved the club from its old home, the Boleyn Ground, to a bigger venue: the iconic London Stadium that was built to host the London 2012 Olympics. Since then, the club has gone from strength to strength – so much so that in 2021 West Ham was granted planning permission to increase the capacity of the London Stadium to 62,500 seats.
Why this isn’t only interesting to football fans
Stick with us for a minute – we know not all of you are interested in football. But you are interested in building and growing businesses. And this recognition of an audience wanting more from a brand is something we don’t talk about enough in tech; the focus is often on how to grow the audience, but what if the audience wants to engage with the brand in ways that aren’t currently possible?
What if instead of making your audience bigger, you need to harness the power of your existing audience first – so that audience can have a bigger impact on the success of your business, your product, or your vision for the future?
The decision that Brady took to find a new home for West Ham, not just to grow the audience but to create new opportunities to engage with the existing audience, is something that all enterprises can learn from. But you don’t always have to go as far as buying a stadium; in fact, the first step for most companies in the digital era is to look at their digital content, and figure out how to involve their audience more proactively in that content. And this is something that businesses of all sizes can do.
Make your users a part of your journey
While many tech companies use their social media presence as a space to post updates and ads, others are leveraging the interactive power of social to really draw their audience in and make them a part of the brand journey. CNBC recently published this article about why tech giants including Apple, Google and Microsoft are spending more time on TikTok; between them, these three companies have almost 3 million TikTok followers and more than 8.5 million likes. It seems counter-intuitive, on the surface, for major tech companies to invest in building an audience on a platform created by a different company (TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance). But it’s all about clout.
Younger consumers in particular might be using devices made by Apple and Microsoft, but they’re not using those devices to hang out in spaces created by Apple and Microsoft. So if tech giants want to harness the power of their younger users, and ensure they become long-term customers, they have to connect with them in the spaces where they do spend their time – like TikTok.
“Brands can’t just exist as brands anymore,” Hanna Kahlert (Analyst at Midia Research) told CNBC. “They have to have an interface, something for audiences to actually engage with. Those big companies need to become more approachable and more personable because audiences are growing very used to being able to interact with the creators they like.”
This applies to all tech product companies, not just the big ones. West Ham Football Club moved to a bigger stadium in order to accommodate its large fanbase and make them feel a part of the club’s journey. And tech companies also need to inhabit spaces that their audiences can comfortably inhabit – for much the same reason.
So we’ll close with a question: what steps could you take to create new opportunities for your existing audience to become more engaged with your brand? How could you help them shift from being users of your tech, to feeling like they’re truly a part of it?