Marketers often ask the team at Twitch exactly what it means to be a fan these days, says Victor Lu, the gaming platform's brand partnership studio lead, Americas.
That's a salient question, because fan culture is more vibrant than ever. Brands seeking to connect with such communities—devoted to video games, K-pop, sneakers, pro sports and more—need to understand these consumers to build lasting relationships.
To that end, Twitch Ads and Amazon Ads commissioned Crowd DNA, a cultural insights firm, to produce "Anatomy of Hype," a global qualitative and quantitative study of modern fandom among folks ages 18 to 44. In addition to exploring what makes today's fans tick, the survey identifies opportunities for brands across music, streetwear and sneakers, sci-fi and fantasy, sports and games.
Lu and his colleague Steve Marzocca, Twitch influencer relations lead, unpacked these findings during a session at the 2023 Clio Creative Summit at Powerhouse Arts in Brooklyn on Oct. 16.
A key takeaway—while fandom is about entertainment, escapism and fun, it goes deeper. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said fandom is a defining part of their identify, and 62 percent consider themselves members of a broader community based on their shared interests.
"So, it's serving a fundamental social and emotional need," Lu says. "It helps them feel empowered and forge their own identity. It gives them a sense of belonging."
Modern fandom's openness and inclusivity has given rise to "fluid fans."
"Fluid fans are firm believers that there's no one correct way to be a fan. They find comfort in this autonomy, and in this ability to engage with new content and do things that bring them joy. So, they have fewer expectations when it comes to how they express themselves," Lu explains, noting that fluid fans also participate in multiple fandoms.
Today's fans welcome brand participation—even from marketers without a direct connection to their passion—as long as it is done with integrity and authenticity, Lu stresses.
Marzocca says brands can engage with fandoms casually, actively or creatively.
Engaging creatively serves brands "that really want to get in the weeds," Marzocca says. At this level, they can create original content, offer specialized merch or provide resources to help fans make their own music, videos, messages and more.
However, brands must keep in mind that not every fandom is the same, he says.
While music fans want access to live shows, exclusive BTS content and deeper artisan interactions, sci-fi devotees enjoy fan-created content, Marzocca says.
Streetwear fans appreciate private consultations with tastemakers and insider access to high-profile brands.
Sports enthusiasts crave fan meetups and live custom game commentary. Gamers dig community-based events and social media integrations.
"Each fan expects a different level of engagement and different types of engagement," Marzocca says.
Understanding such nuances can mean the difference between a misfired campaign and establishing ties that help generate positive buzz and brand loyalty.