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May 10, 2005
Case Study

How to Turn Entertainment Fans into Active Evangelists (Responsibly)

SUMMARY: Today, new country music star Dierks Bentley releases his second album. Will sales sink into the dreaded sophomore slump or can Dierks repeat his first platinum? His fate is largely in the hands of the fans. So, for the past nine months, Dierks' marketing team has been quietly building a fan evangelism program behind-the-scenes. Discover the tactical best practices they've relied on and initial results metrics. Plus, useful creative samples including street team instructional emails.
When country musician Dierks Bentley had his first album released in August 2003, he scored three hit singles and a rabid group of fans.

"They'll do anything, and I mean this literally, anything to promote Dierks in any arena," says Bentley's new media marketer Jane Grimes. "One woman I know works in a mall and will ask everyone who comes into the store, 'Have you heard of Dierks?' She'll talk to anybody for hours about Dierks if they let her."

That passion is incredibly valuable to any artist's career -- but as Grimes warns, "It can backfire."

For example, fans might be tempted to do something not quite ethical, such as calling radio stations outside their listening area. Or they could invent bizarre or outlandish promotional ideas that might not match the artist's image.

Dierks' second album was scheduled to come out May 10, 2005. And, as everyone knows, sophomore efforts can make or break a career. Unlike first albums, which can take a while to build, second albums do better when they grab high sales right out of the gate. "If radio and press see he's sold 100,000 units in the first week of release, it's immediately taken more seriously," explains Grimes.

This sales-pop factor is so important that the team began planning strategies back in the fall of 2004 -- nine months out from scheduled D-Day.

The goal -- to harness the power of top fans, channeling evangelistic fervor into useful activities to grow the overall fan base and increase demand for album number two prior to its release.

Luckily, Dierks had a Web site with an opt-in email list offer almost from Day One. So there was an existing list to begin building the evangelism base from.

Step #1. Begin building a "Street Team" of top potential evangelists

Everyone was emailed an invite to join Dierks' new Street Team.

Unlike a typical fan club offer, there was no cost and no promoted giveaways. "You don't physically get anything," explains Grimes. "It's about the opportunity to help Dierks, not about anything you get. We don't entice them with free goodies. You may someday receive a T-shirt for helping, but we don't say so up-front."

Step #2. Build data-rich profiles of Street Team members

Street team members were asked to fill out a database profile of themselves, including their favorite Dierks songs, the radio stations they listened to, magazines read, date of birth (for COPPA compliancy), and their contact info.

Next, this data was supplemented on an ongoing basis with stats on each individual's frequency of site visits, Street Team email open rates, and the amount of posts that member posted on the message boards. (We bet many marketers are jealous of this integrated database!) It all added up to the marketing team getting their arms around the Street Team members who might be perfect for certain tasks or offers.

Step #3. Communicate (personably) with Street Teamers

The next best thing to a personal friendship with a star is a relationship with someone close to that star. In this case, it was Jade, and if you emailed her at, you'd get an answer back from a real person.

Jade sent out fairly regular newsy notes and info about Dierks, including his concert dates and upcoming media appearances. Naturally, instead of using a corporate voice "Capital Records is pleased to announce, blah, blah, blah," Jade's messages had an informal voice, "Hi gang..." (see link below for samples).

Step #4. Give Street Teamers special chances to meet the artist

When Dierks was shooting a music video in Austin, his marketing team jumped on the chance to fill the background with Street Teamers instead of actors or models. It's activities like this that can keep evangelists involved.

They emailed all Street Teamers an invitation. If interested, you would fill out an application, including your cell phone number, to be considered. After reviewing the applications and other database info, the team chose about two dozen for the video.

For security purposes, the actual location of the shoot was text-messaged to winners' cell phones on the actual day of the shoot. ("We had 20 Street Teamers sitting in the Austin airport waiting for that text message," notes Grimes.)

Step #5. Trial run -- use Street Team on the street

Grimes decided to see if the Street Team could be put into play as an evangelism force during Dierks' two-month tour of colleges last October. (See link below for all samples from this campaign.)

In her Jade persona, she emailed all Teamers an invitation to hand out cards at local concerts containing a password-protected entry to a free music downloads Web page featuring two Dierks' songs. Each step in the tightly timed campaign had deadlines: a. Email invite to apply to participate b. Sift applications for best two, plus two backups, per concert. c. Contact best two with instructions, then follow-up with back-ups if no response is received by deadline. d. Fedex out packages containing two 11x17 posters and 100 coded download cards to each Teamer. e. Email additional Q&A prior to event. f. Track results by Teamer based on card redemptions online.

Grimes says, "We instructed Teamers to only pass along the cards to non-Dierks fans. The top 10 Teamers with the most redemptions won a Dierks prize pack, which included a signed tour poster, signed Dierks CDs and a T-shirt. The top overall winner would also receive a personal phone call from Dierks in addition."

Her expectations were that 1% of the cards would be redeemed.

She expected this might take a while because the cards were hopefully being given out to folks weren't already big fans.

These kids might stick the card in their purse, pocket, or wallet and forget about it entirely for a while.

Grimes' expectations for the concert test were way off base. Instead of 1%, 17% of cards were redeemed. However, she was correct about expecting it to take a while. Fewer than half of the redemptions occurred during the concert tour itself. The rest trickled in over the five months since the tour ended.

35% of redeemers were between 21-25, and 80% said they'd be interested in receiving text messages on Dierks.

Overall, about 15% of opt-ins on Dierks' total fan database took the extra step of signing up to become Street Team members. Roughly half of these are very active, consistently opening email, responding to offers, and posting on message boards.

The new fans these evangelists bring into the fold are ready to spend. On average, a new site visitor who signs up for free fan email messages will purchase $.50 cents of merchandise on their first visit.

When the site launched an official paid fan club membership offer a few weeks ago, more than 2,000 fan club members immediately anted up $29 to join. In fact, the offer was so successful that the site's credit card processor temporarily stopped incoming orders due to fraud concerns. (Note: This is a problem the folks behind paid fan club also ran into.)

As Dierks' second album launches today, his Street Team are standing by, ready, willing, and able to help it be successful.

Grimes' advice to other marketers considering street team campaigns, "You wield a lot of power. Ask them to act ethically, in the way you'd expect the artist to behave. Be honest, use their power for good."

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples:

echomusic - the agency who run Bentley's fan club and online marketing for him (Note: Grimes works for echo):

Dierks Bentley's Homepage:

See Also:

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