Live blogging at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association Annual Summit, yay!!
Join me as I experience the WOMMA panel No Fans, No Brand - WOM lessons from the World of Rock & Roll, featuring Ken Block the lead vocalist for Sister Hazel, Andy Levine Sister Hazel's ex-tour manager and owner of Sixth Man, and Marc Pruitt a "Hazelnut".
When Sister Hazel started, they put a big emphasis on creating unique shows and creating a community of fans. They saw the value in creating concentric circles of people who could carry their band further and further away from the core. The band targeted a few college markets early on - going out and personally inviting (and singing!) for would be attendees. For every cassette they sold, they would give away 2 more - and the band would send CD's to campuses they had never been to - and had huge turn out at shows as a result. Sister Hazel sought to turn 10 fans into 20 at every opportunity - and soon their shows had from 500 - 1,500 people at every stop.
Continuing To Be Accessible To Fans
As Sister Hazel became more popular they stayed true to their roots (though Universal denied them $1,500 to spruce up their web site because they thought that web sites "were a fad" - shocking!). When the band arrived at venues and there were fans lined up in the cold (some of whom had been there for hours) they would order them pizza and go out and sing to them in line. The band developed relationships with fans, coming to know many on a first name basis, sometimes even staying at their homes. Marc, a Hazelnut and one of the panelists, was introduced to the band when he started a thread on a message board about wanting to get on the tour bus to ride to the next show - then tour manager Andy found him and brought him along. (And here he sits in Vegas, years later). To this day, the band comes out after every show and signs until they are "looking around for more people to talk to".
Rock Boat - Walking the Walk
In 2002, fans in message boards started talking about having a convention, where they could meet and spend time with the band. Instead, Sister Hazel started Rock Boat - where fans could go on a cruise with the group. Having a platinum record and a #1 single, the band wanted to do something special for the fans that got them there. The band saw this as a great way to give thanks, and connect with fans whose lives have been enriched by the music and the Hazelnut community. The Rock Boat quickly grew from 400 fans to overtake the entire ship. It runs every year now with over a dozen bands participating.
Fans, Fans, Fans - Hugging Them All
Rock Boat has grown into other events throughout the year as Sister Hazel continues to develop unique experiences for fans to connect with them, and each other. Rock Slope is a similar event at a ski resort each year, and Hazelnut Hang takes places in South Carolina. The Hazel Virgin Program allows existing fans to bring two new fans to Sister Hazel shows - the new fans get free tickets, and an invite a meet and greet with the band afterwards. The band has also engaged their fan base in their philanthropic endeavor, Lyrics for Life. (As you can see, Ken Block actually does hug all his fans - even me and Heather. Yes I am aware I look like a man in this photo...)
Sister Hazel's Business Lesson For You
You should view your fans and customers as guests and friends. In fact, they don't even like the word fan (so I apologize for using it 8000 times in this post.) You need to not only call your customer your friend - but TREAT them like a friend in order to be authentic and genuine. If you're in that mindset you come at situations from a different place.