Reach vs. Engagement - how to attract super fans

Sue Peden of Thread discusses reach versus engagement and how to make consumers super fans of your brand.

When I started in advertising in the late 80s (yes, straight out of primary school!) you made an ad and then spent as much as you could putting it in front of people. TAPRs were king for TV, ratings ruled radio, circulation determined magazines and press and as for outdoor – well, who knew. We had reached lots and lots of people who’d had the opportunity to see us – both those who were in our target market and likely, even more who weren’t.

But just because something has swept through your peripheral vision, doesn't mean you've registered it, felt it or smelt it. It could merely have passed you by – like most of the other 3,000 or so advertising messages we're exposed to daily.

These days, the Holy Grail is engagement. Why? Because not only has a consumer decided your brand has relevance in their life, they have bothered to take action. Digital has been the primary facilitator of this, especially social media platforms.

Consumers are choosing to opt in and engage with brands they feel a connection with and not only is that extremely powerful in terms of equity, you have the opportunity to develop that relationship to make it good for business. We can now converse directly with consumers one on one - and that is pure gold.

Years ago, the definition of advertising was what you did when you couldn’t just ring all your customers. Social media now means we can talk directly to the ones who are the most influential.

Here at Thread, we manage a few brand communities – websites and social media – and I’m always astounded by how engaged some fans – or super fans as they’re known – are. These people not only love a brand, they evangelise it. If someone posts something negative, they’ll jump in to defend it. They really should be on the payroll!

Even the regular fans that take the time to click your post, like, subscribe, comment, share or watch your video – are having a much richer brand experience than being a passive recipient of a one-way conversation.

And better, these are the exact same people who have an opinion and like to share it. They are the influencers who’ll mention your brand to their network (often online), which has more credibility and impact than any paid advertising.

So how do you get people to engage? Like real people, it’s less about what you say and do and more about how you make them feel. Be funny, be disarmingly honest, dig deep and be brave. Be ruthlessly true to your brand’s values and personality. Be prepared to be polarising. Getting a few people off side while truly connecting with the majority is far lesser risky than producing wallpaper that compels no one.

We still need reach – there’s no argument there. But when looking at your marketing budget, consider the balance. Think about the value to your business of perpetually engaging as many influential fans as you can in a compelling conversation.


Sue Peden 25 years’ experience in big agencies working on big brands before she and Mandy launched Thread. She has extensive FMCG experience with brands you know and love, as well as non-grocery brands. She’s been around!

You can contact Sue on 0419 303 130 or sue@thread.com.au