Marketer Seth Godin famously says that the key to success is to find your your 1,000 true fans. It's an insight that has sustained a lot of people, a lot of marketers, and a lot of businesses.
In fact, I there's a straight line from that insight to the metric du jour among many corporate marketers: net promoter score (NPS), which is the quantitative likelihood that customers will recommend you to other potential customers.
But let's talk about people who go beyond "true fans." Let's talk about "super fans."
I'm thinking about this because of the example we've seen recently regarding a Florida elementary school student and the University of Tennessee.
You might have seen the first part of this story after it went viral: the fourth-grader, whose name has been kept private, wore a homemade Tennessee t-shirt to school for "college colors day."
The shirt looked -- well, okay, it looked like a fourth-grader made it. So what?
But he was bullied by classmates over it, and was "DEVASTATED," as described by his teacher in a viral Facebook post.
After that, Tennessee heard about it, took the opportunity, and created an official University of Tennessee t-shirt based on the student's design. They sold thousands and donated the proceeds to an anti-bullying initiative.
Then, on Thursday, they took an amazing, even smarter step that's worth imitating.
They gave the fourth-grader honorary admission to the University of Tennessee class of 2032, and -- most importantly -- granted him a four-year scholarship covering tuition and fees.
Caveat: he has to meet the Tennessee admissions requirements and decide to attend.
We don't know who this fourth-grader is. And, that's fine. Maybe I'm getting old but I think 10 years old is too young to go viral anyway.
We do know this: This young man is a super-fan, and Tennessee just showed how to treat a super-fan.
A "super fan" goes beyond a "true fan." A super fan doesn't just recommend your brand to other people. He or she advocates for you. He or she will stand up for you even beyond what you're willing to do to stand up for yourself.
Let me put it this way. I'm a Northerner, through and through. When it comes to the Southeastern Conference, I admit that I'm a complete outsider.
But a colleague explained this whole "Florida kid wearing a homemade Tennessee jersey" thing to me in terms I'd understand:
Kind of like if I'd shown up in my Massachusetts grade school in a New York Yankees t-shirt, or a Montreal Canadiens jersey.
Hardcore, man. Super-fan.
And if you're lucky enough to find a super-fan -- well, I'm sorry to say that not enough of us know how to treat him or her right.
There's a temptation to think maybe: Why bother? He or she is already doing everything her or she can.
Wrong answer. For one thing, super fans will surprise you. For another, you never know who else is watching.
And for a third: It's simply the right thing to do.
You can't do enough for a super-fan. You can't possibly repay him or her for their advocacy.
If you're smart, you can just be generous, and thankful. And treating them better than they'd ever imagine? Ultimately, you'll do well by doing good.