BLOG: Create Fans, Not Customers

My girlfriend’s Mum bought me a bottle of Brewdog’s 5AM Saint as a stocking filler for Christmas. I’d never really fancied myself as much as a craft beer drinker, often preferring my more ‘safe’ (or bland if you like) larger, however I soon realised I’d been missing out.

A couple of days after losing my Brewdog virginity, I was out book shopping with my Dad when I came across ‘Business for Punks’, written by James Watt, co-founder of Brewdog. I’d heard about some of their stunts and took the book as an opportunity to find out a bit more about their story, ethos and approach to business.

I quickly realised this was not your average ‘Business Management’ book – but a much bolder statement about how you should approach your business. Although packed with interesting insights into all aspects of management, the line that still stands out for me was ‘Create Fans, Not Customers’. It’s something I’ve been dwelling upon ever since.

If you just want to sell a product, you’ll offer promotions and incentives to lure customers in. It might work once or twice, but unless you’ve really sold the customer on you and why you exist within those exchanges, they won’t care about going back to you. And that’s fine for one off purchases, but if you’re in a sector where you’ll rely upon repeat business – your time and effort will be better spent in telling people what it is about your organisation that is better, or rather, why they should care about you – speaking to people on a deeper level.

If you’re looking to start a business to make money, the chances are, your business has already failed. So start a mission (or a revolution!), not a business.  Even if you’ve got a great product, or a good price – someone will come along and do it better than you, and they’ll do it sooner rather than later. Instead, the most successful companies will focus upon ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ they’re doing. Perhaps the best example of this is the Apple iPod. Although it arrived just under 2 years later than the first MP3 player, it’s tagline was ‘1000 songs in your pocket’, instantly more relatable than the Creative Zen’s (remember them?!) ‘5GB MP3 Player’ (I had zero understanding of much 5GB was at the time of release). Apple have successfully sold on their ‘mission’ (to think differently) and with it developed a raft of fans that are prepared to physically queue up and wait for the release of new products and pay extra for the privilege. Not only this, fans will actively promote your product and will be ambassador for your organisation.

Focus on what it is about your business that makes you different (and ideally, better). You need to sell a customer on your mission, rather than your product. The same ethos applies to clubs – although it’s a slightly harder sell for professional clubs – as we all know you often don’t ‘pick’ a club and it’s for life rather than just for a ‘one-off purchase’. Let’s be honest though, most (not all) clubs are just companies that use supporters’ loyalty to their financial advantage – rather than considering what is it that separates them from the pack and how to gain new fans.

Perhaps the best examples of how clubs have successfully approached this is by really selling (and committing to) what they’re preaching. FC United have told the story of how they’re member owned and operate on a democratic basis. People know about the commitment of Dulwich Hamlet to use football and the clubs’ fan base as a vehicle to help less fortunate people. If you’re reading this and wondering what your mission is – you started in the wrong place!

Successful business have put values at the core of your business/organisation and whatever your club, you should too. You can use the hedgehog concept to do it (see below or Jim Collin’s ‘Good to Great’ for more information on this – it all applies to sport clubs). Of course, you should be flexible and examine opportunities as and when they arise, but make your mission wide enough that you can pursue these opportunities without straying from your mission.


I always used to think of team strategy days that examined values and missions as fluffy stuff that didn’t really matter (and were generally a waste of time), however I’ve now learned to appreciate the value in having a team of people committed to (and understanding) the mission. If your colleagues don’t subscribe to your mission and values  – you need to get them ‘off the bus’ and get the right people ‘on the bus’ before you’ll start to make headway with what you’re aspiring to do.

With Club Development, our mission is to support sport clubs clubs at all levels in fulfilling their social and community value and that win for everyone – not just a few. Our aim is that people will want to use our services because we deliver a quality niche service and they believe in Supporters Direct and what we stand for.

The reason I now am willing to pay extra for a bottle of Punk IPA over a Stella or San Miguel, is because I’ve become a fan of Brewdog and their approach to business and their commitment to tasty beer. I’ve become a fan, not just a customer.


Written by Andrew Jenkin, Head of Supporters Direct Scotland. Visit Club Development Scotland for more information on Club Development’s services.