107 - Stephanie Fried, Fandom

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This is a podcast episode titled, 107 - Stephanie Fried, Fandom. The summary for this episode is: <p>In Ep. 107 of Earned, we sit down with Stephanie Fried, CMO of the world’s largest fan wiki platform, Fandom. To start, we dive into Stephanie’s personal favorite fandoms and hear about the content that’s shaped who she is. We learn about Fandom’s mission and vision, and discover what makes it the world’s best resource for fans. Next, Stephanie shares what went into Fandom’s branding process, and explains Fandom’s goal of being the fan’s first choice for community and experience. Switching gears, we unpack how Fandom uses a multitude of social media platforms to maximize the value consumers are receiving. Stephanie emphasizes the importance her team places on creating new features and functionality that can “bring life” to new fans. Additionally, we explore how Fandom celebrates the idea of fan identity via in-person events that create meaningful connections for individual fandoms. Stephanie also reveals how Fandom works with entertainment companies on both data and content to meet users where they’re at. To close the show, Stephanie leaves us with some insightful advice on how to engage and retain audiences in cost-effective ways. </p><p><br></p><p>In this episode, you will learn:&nbsp;</p><ol><li>How Stephanie leveraged her background in research and insights to develop a user-centric approach, optimizing platform design and audience interaction at Fandom.</li><li>The unique challenges of managing multiple brands and competitors across Fandom’s diverse set of offerings.</li><li>How the different social platforms uniquely contribute to Fandom’s marketing strategies, and how the brand engages and retains audiences in cost-effective ways.</li></ol><p><br></p><p><strong>Resources:</strong></p><ul><li>Fandom - <a href="https://www.fandom.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">https://www.fandom.com/</a>&nbsp;</li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Connect with the Guest(s):</strong></p><ul><li>Stephanie’s LinkedIn - <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephaniefried/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephaniefried/</a>&nbsp;</li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Connect with Conor Begley &amp; CreatorIQ:</strong></p><ul><li>Conor’s LinkedIn -<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/conormbegley/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @conormbegley</a></li><li>CreatorIQ LinkedIn -<a href="https://www.linkedin.com/company/creatoriq/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creatoriq</a></li></ul><p><br></p><p><strong>Follow us on social:</strong></p><ul><li>CreatorIQ YouTube -<a href="https://www.youtube.com/@TribeDynamics" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @TribeDynamics</a></li><li>CreatorIQ Instagram -<a href="https://www.instagram.com/creatoriq/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creatoriq</a></li><li>CreatorIQ TikTok -<a href="https://www.tiktok.com/@creator.iq" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @creator.iq</a></li><li>CreatorIQ Twitter -<a href="https://twitter.com/CreatorIQ" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> @CreatorIQ</a></li></ul>

Stephanie Fried: When you find people who love the world that you love showing up as your favorite characters, collecting that unique, hard to find item that's going to delight you every day when you get back home, that's really important and a big part of celebrating that fan identity.

Speaker 2: Explore the minds and marketing strategies behind today's winning brands and businesses. Tap into the power of the creator economy with Earned by Creator IQ. Here's Conor Begley.

Conor Begley: Hi everyone. Welcome to Earned. Today I've got Stephanie Fried, the CMO of Fandom on the show. Welcome to the show, Stephanie.

Stephanie Fried: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Conor Begley: I have some other questions planned, but I think your background, we need to talk about it just for a second because it has caught my attention. And while it might look like family portraits, it is not a set of family portraits. Can you tell us a little bit about what's on your wall?

Stephanie Fried: Sure. Yeah. It's funny because a lot of people ask me if this is a Zoom background or if it's real which is also funny and indicative of the world that we're in now. But you can actually see a little bit of a shadow of outside of my window coming in, shining off of the glass, so you can hopefully tell that it is real. I also had an interesting conversation with NBC Universal who asked if I switched it based on who I was speaking to because there are so many NBCU based shows here, and I do not because that would be a huge undertaking. This was tough to put together. But basically this is a representation of my Fandoms and my identity. So a lot of people have portrait walls of their family and friends, and I do have pictures around the house of them as well. But here in my office, I have basically my fan identity behind me. So hopefully when you get on the phone with me, you can start to get an understanding of who I am as a fan and what my favorite Fandoms and my favorite characters are that I love. I'm pretty specific in terms of the type of content that I like, which you could probably tell. I enjoy comedy as a escaping into other fun positive worlds when I do have free time to watch TV, which is one of my favorite things to do.

Conor Begley: Yeah. We have very aligned tastes. I think we'd probably get along. Of the six that you have there, five are amongst my top 10 at a minimum. So whether that's Ted Lasso or 30 Rock, or The Office or Arrested, and Parks and Rec, frankly. I got to check out... What was the other one you said? I'm forgetting the name. The one right above your head.

Stephanie Fried: What We Do In The Shadows. I like to think of myself as the part- time CMO for What We Do In The Shadows. There's the movie and the TV show. I am a huge fan of the show on FX. It is hilarious. Very, very clever and unique. And this is Nadja who I like to think of as sitting above me and protecting me, which you'll get if you watch the show.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I'm definitely going to have to check that one out. I think it's pretty wild what FX has done, the quality of shows they've produced over time. For those that are unfamiliar with Fandom, I'd love you to give just a two- minute intro on what Fandom is. I think it's a top 50 website globally, massive traffic, massive audiences and communities, but I don't think everybody knows who they are, who it is. Can you give a quick two, three minute intro?

Stephanie Fried: Yeah, of course. Fandom is a portfolio company. We have different types of brands and businesses, but overall the Fandom platform is a platform that attracts over 300 million people every month. So it is huge and I think fairly ubiquitous in the world of entertainment and gaming. You might not think you've been to Fandom. I promise you every single person listening to this has been to Fandom and is there often. But the reason you might not know it is because we do a really incredible job of branding the communities against the IPs that they represent. So for example, if you search for Luke Skywalker, I like to say, because everyone knows who Luke Skywalker is, on Google, Fandom will be the first search result because Fandom has more information about Luke Skywalker than any other site, platform, brand in the world. And when you arrive at the Luke Skywalker page, it has every single detail of everything that ever happened to Luke Skywalker. It's unlimited scroll and it's part of the Star Wars Wiki community that's over 250, 000 pages of content.

Conor Begley: What?

Stephanie Fried: Unlimited stuff.

Conor Begley: What?

Stephanie Fried: Yes. So every detail of every imagined world is documented in our wikis across 300, 000 communities, 50 million pages of content that go on forever on every TV show, movie, game, book, anime, comics, et cetera.

Conor Begley: That is a shocking number. 250,000 pages on Luke Skywalker.

Stephanie Fried: That's right. It's the world's best resource for fans. And then we also have incredible brands that supplement that experience across the fan's journey. So for example, GameSpot as an editorial brand, Metacritic, the ratings brand, TV Guide. So that's reviews, ratings, how you discover new shows, new games... You validate whether or not they're right for you based on what other people are saying about them or the reviews that you're reading. You decide to buy them. We have a gaming commerce brand called Fanatical where you can buy PC games directly and then as you're playing those games, Starfield for example, which was huge, it just came out, you can go into Fandom or GameFAQs, which is another wiki platform that we own and really know every single detail of how to really thrive within that game and progress within that game and make sure that you're finding every Easter egg and every fun component that you may want to experience. So we really service fans across their full journey, whether it's in entertainment or gaming across our portfolio.

Conor Begley: It's really cool. Again, it's like you find these really interesting pockets of the internet and the world that a lot of people don't know and it's like, whoa. The scale of this is so much bigger than you'd imagine. Taking a step back, I think when you first joined Fandom... And maybe some heritage on Fandom, it was actually, I believe founded by the same guy who founded Wikipedia, right?

Stephanie Fried: Yep.

Conor Begley: Yeah. Is it Jimmy Wales? Is that the right name?

Stephanie Fried: It is Jimmy Wales. Yeah. And Jimmy's still the chair of our board.

Conor Begley: Oh, cool. So it started out as... I believe it was Wiki Cities I believe. It changed over time. And I think you were right there in 2019 when Fandom really became the brand or had been going through this brand transition, but where it was really leaned into from a branding perspective. Can you tell us a little bit about one, what that was like to go through this, hey, we need to build up this new term, this new brand that maybe not everybody knows about, and any specific learnings or challenges from the time prior to you getting there as well as to the early stages of your time as CMO?

Stephanie Fried: Yeah. Of course. So the Fandom brand name predated me. So when I started, Fandom was already there. But what Fandom meant or what it represented, not even just externally but internally, is something to frame our growth strategies and initiatives against and our culture too didn't exist. So when I undertook the work with the team to determine what Fandom meant, what Fandom represented for all of our stakeholders, external partners, our creator community, our admins and editors, our fans, the studios that we work with on official wikis as well as those who partner with us to help get their message out and fan guardians, our employees, what does Fandom mean to all of those different groups and holistically together? And so we undertook what I called, not a rebrand, but a brand. A branding because it really didn't exist before. And we really thought about where we wanted to go, our vision, our mission, our brand promise and story, and what we were moving towards to be the fan's first choice for community and experience. And so we built that out, certainly shared it, but aligned with that also determined what our visual identity was that was associated with bringing that to life and really refreshing the way that we identified ourselves in the world with new visual identity across all of our platforms and internally. And so we've worked on that, our value props and how we speak to and bring that across to our different audiences as well as what we're building, why we're building it, where we're going as a business, what acquisitions we make and how they fit within that story, within that promise. So we think about it across every decision that we're making across the organization as well as how we communicate consistently across all of our stakeholders and partners.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I think you've got a problem in that you're in charge of branding for a lot of different things right? Or in charge of marketing for a lot of different things. It's like you've got the Fandom brand. And then I think similar to we had the CMO of Reddit on their marketing challenges, their communities are really center stage and to the Luke Skywalker example, clearly the case with you guys as well. And then you also have all of these media entities that you guys have acquired or built or integrated that you also have to have their own separate branding and pillars, et cetera. How do you keep track of all that? How do you manage such a breadth of different properties internally?

Stephanie Fried: We think about all of our brands, and really more than brands, but what do each of our platforms or sites or products, what do they do for fans? So all grounding in what is the value that we bring to fans across different parts of the fan ecosystem, across their journey and across our brands, and how do those things come together? And then how do those pieces come together in different parts of our experience? So where and how does Metacritic live within Fandom? Where does Fanatical live within GameSpot to bring that value? And we also spent a lot of time thinking about the role of brand in each of those places, how important the brand is. The Fandom brand for example, because we have such a large repository of reference content that's so powerful and so powerful that Google, whose mission is to connect people with the best information, recommends us first almost every time. For every imagined world search, people are coming to get that naturally, and they're coming to Wikipedia and they're coming to the Zelda Wiki or the Minecraft Wiki because they care so much about that IP. So the question is how important is the Fandom branding within that experience, or is it important for us to provide a very positive and engaging experience once they're there and how do we do that across our brands? So we think about that and the role of brands and the role of marketing, whether paid or organic across each of our different channels based on the use case and the value for the consumer and the value that brand adds. So we do think about that. A brand like TV Guide is our oldest brand, most heritage brand. What does that brand mean? How do we think about that within the context of the strategies that we develop for that brand, where that brand is integrated across our portfolio, and how it's integrated across our portfolio, and that informs also where we focus and where we do brand refreshes or focus more on creating a larger framework that we're driving against and where that matters across our portfolio. Because I think what's really interesting about Fandom is the fact that we do have lots of different types of businesses that bring people in from different channels for different reasons, and brand as a specific piece has a different level of importance across each aspect of the portfolio.

Conor Begley: I have to tell you, your job sounds very hard. I'm sitting here like, I have a hard enough time with one brand. The balancing act there just seems challenging to say the least.

Stephanie Fried: Yes, it is. It's funny because when we talk about competitors and everyone's looking at their competitors and the competitive set and I think the brands that do the best are the ones that don't think about their competitors similarly. They think about who they're sharing time and space with and consumers minds that don't do exactly what they do, but do something that is somewhat interchangeable in terms of the time they're trying to take. YouTube wasn't just competing with other digital video sites. YouTube's competing with Xbox. They're competing for all of your leisure time. And for our brands, certainly thinking in a larger way about how and where we compete, but we also have brands at play in very different spaces. And so we don't have one overall competitor, which when I was at Condé Nast, it was like, what are your competitors? Hearst, Time and Meredith, right?

Conor Begley: Yeah.

Stephanie Fried: And obviously you're thinking about also Facebook and also-

Conor Begley: I was going to say eventually it became Facebook.

Stephanie Fried: Right. Totally. But I think even just in terms of the core competitive space of what are the brands or businesses that play in the same exact space have similar consumers and similar business models? That's not even very clear cut for most of our brands even at that level, which is certainly a challenge and requires a lot of focus of where we lean in and where we don't much more so I think than when you're able to focus on a more singular audience or business problem.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I'm curious how you think about... Because when you say alternative competitors, in some ways you have this weird... Relationship's the wrong term. But with the social platforms. Because you create content, people spend time on your channels as an alternative to social media, but obviously a lot of the content that probably shows up at Fandom sites or that gets taken from a Fandom site and gets shared onto social is very much collaborative in that way too. There's cross- platform sharing and collaboration. How do you think about your relationship with the social networks? How do you guys work with them and work with creators that are maybe on those social networks as well?

Stephanie Fried: Yeah. I've worked in a role for a long time where we've thought about social as an important marketing channel. And I think social itself... And it depends on where you sit in an organization. Social is a thing, but to me social is actually a lot of different things. Each social platform is really unique in the way that the value that consumers get out of those platforms and the reasons they go to them. So Instagram and why you're on Instagram and what you're using Instagram for and what resonates on Instagram is very different from TikTok and why people are going to TikTok and why they open that app and what they get from it or Snap. They're clearly all also competing with each other, trying to create all the exact same features, which I find very interesting and strange. And I think it's a symptom of the need to grow, grow, grow as opposed to being really good at what you're good at and being differentiated. Because I think there's a lot of difference between connecting with your community versus connecting with what's trending in the larger community, which is how TikTok started versus an Instagram. Which Instagram was more intentional around what you are interested in, who you're connected with and your community. Whereas TikTok was much more about discovery of people very much outside of your community, along the lines of things that are trending. And people use both of them for different reasons and purposes, and I think they're all trying to create this super space where you can do anything on any one of them. But I definitely think that brands who have social teams and strategies do the best when they think about the audience and the use case of each one of those platforms and what's going to resonate because it's wildly different. We used to initially take a lot of what was happening on Snapchat Discover and putting it on YouTube, for example, in the early days. Or trying to take now TikTok, I put it on Instagram Reels. But I think even when the form factor is the same, I think that the user need and the reason that they're there is different. So what they're willing to watch and how they're willing to watch is different. So we definitely have different strategies. I wouldn't say at all we're tried to compete with social networks. I actually think it's very complimentary to what we do. And I'm actually at this point... And you know never say never. I feel like Netflix leadership is always saying all of the things that they will never do and then they end up doing it. So I never say that. The thing that I love about Fandom, and one of the things that we talk about a lot, number one because it's true, but number two because I actually do think it's really meaningful, is that it's a very safe space. It's a place where you can be yourself and you are respected and you are welcomed just because you're a fan. Because you're a fan of those stories about that world and that world is celebrated and it's enjoyed. It is not a place where you come to complain. It's not a place where you come to say why you hated the most recent episode or even why you loved to the most recent episode. It's where you come to immerse yourself in those episodes and find all those great details and fun facts. And so we do have discussions on some of our communities, but they are not pulling IP apart and they're not the focus of the platform. We do have moderation on them. We make sure that nothing does come up that could be toxic, but it's a much more celebratory in tone. Did you know this? Did you enjoy this? And I like that piece of our platform. Social networks tend to sometimes get a little bit more into the toxic space, negative comments and things that bring some of that celebration down. So I leave that to the social networks to have those discussions in terms of what people like or don't like along with all the other things they love and for Fandom to really celebrate specifically on those immersive worlds and on the celebration of learning and diving in more.

Conor Begley: In a lot of ways it maps very well to Wikipedia where Wikipedia is about facts, not opinions. It's like, here's what you need to know about this particular thing. It's just that this is much more in depth, much more collaborative. It's a different framework in some ways. But yeah, I love that. I'm curious, with regards to those communities, you're in an interesting position in that the communities are a lot of what's driving the company and they want to exist on their own. Like we're the Luke Skywalker community. But you of course want to find ways to accelerate those communities from a marketing perspective. I'm curious, how do you play a role in that without inserting yourself into the conversation or without disrupting the community? How are you a facilitator of those groups?

Stephanie Fried: Yeah. So we think about that a lot for a lot of reasons. And it's a really good question and it's a really big challenge because we want people to go deep into those communities and we know that the admins and editors in that audience in particular, which we spend a lot of time getting to know and getting to understand and making sure that we're creating tools for them as well. Some of them are extremely passionate about one community. The community that they spend all their time on. They're diehard Star Trek fans, let's say, and they're on Memory Alpha, and that's where they dedicate all of their time. And they want audiences who love Star Trek to come in and to celebrate Star Trek. And they don't care if those people discover the next great Star Trek or Star Trek adjacency or another show or game that they might love. They want them to dive into Star Trek. And they want... Here's Star Trek. Are other admins and editors who love gaming. They love first person shooter games and they're in their own time, have a lot of trouble finding the next first person shooter game that they're going to love and they want to enable that discovery for the fans of the wikis that they happen to edit as well as the other wikis that are available to help them discover more. So we have different personas as well within the creator community. And the reason that's important is because when we do get involved, the involvement is really about how do we create new features, new functionality that is either going to bring that wiki to life in a different way or make sure that the fans understand that this is part of a platform where they can get more, where they can explore other IP. And so as we think about that in the balance, we do test a lot of things. We test a lot of things with the creators, the admins and editors, around things like trivia, things like polls, things like maps. Maps that map out different levels or worlds in a game or all the different families in Game of Thrones. What are the ways that we can make this community stronger, more vibrant, as well as what are the ways that you want to explore and expand? If we share Robert Downey Jr as Ironman, Robert Downey Jr is also in Sherlock Holmes, another world that you may enjoy. And so how we do that is a very delicate balance of making sure that our creator or admin editor audience is happy with those tools, feels like they want to contribute and help build all of those different pieces as well, and that our audiences and fans are finding that valuable relative to the content that they directly came for. So we do a lot of research to try to figure out how and where we get involved and how that affects both our contributors and our fans because we are a dual- sided platform.

Conor Begley: Yeah. You said a really interesting couple words near the beginning of that, which is you started talking about essentially what are the changes to the product that we need to make that facilitate these communities and the sharing of these communities? And it's interesting because generally if you were look at say our CMO, it's like take the product we have, go and sell it. That's your job. And your role in a lot of ways it sounds like you're actually having an impact, which makes sense. It's like an old growth hacking tactic, but more complex in this scenario, which is you're thinking about how to change the product itself to help make it grow. Not just how do we take what already exists and market that? Is that correct? Am I reading that right?

Stephanie Fried: Oh, for sure. We didn't talk about this as much, but my background is in research and insights and analytics. And the reason that I went into that is because I was just really interested in what resonates with consumers, with fans, with healthcare purchasers, cereal eaters, whatever the product or service is. And how do we make sure that we're creating products and services that meet the needs of those audiences and then talk about them in the right ways to make sure that it's clear that what we're doing is meeting those needs for those audiences. And so we play a big role in the research and analytics team is part of my team here is understanding who are the segments of our audiences, what are the use cases or reasons that they're coming to us today on Fandom, on GameSpot, on Fanatical? How do we best meet those needs within the features that we're building? What our site or platforms look like. How we help them navigate those experiences. So the design and a flow of the feed if you think about our commerce site and business. What the product page and flow looks like. Do they need to see a video in order to be convinced that this is the right game for them? Do they prefer text? Are they more concerned with the Trustpilot rating that shows that we're a site where they can trust the game key that they're buying? What are the components that are driving the conversion and their interest in buying that product from us? And then how do we make that as easy as possible? So helping to work on shopping cart flow, cross sells and upsells and all of those pieces. So part of my team is also, besides working on insights and user research of product analytics around our tasks is also then product marketing of how that actually is communicated throughout the platform in addition to the external marketing levers and channels as well. But yes, we're definitely involved throughout that whole experience and we partner with every other team within the organization.

Conor Begley: I had missed a whole other angle to this and a whole other constituency, which makes it even more complex, which is like you've got LucasArts or Disney or these gaming companies, you have people that own the IP. If this is their most passionate fan base, this is where they're spending their time and ultimately I would imagine has a big impact on the sales of those companies. How they actually generate revenue. Do you interact with... I have to imagine you interact with them. What does that relationship look like with that group, with the brands and the ones that are actually being talked about?

Stephanie Fried: Yeah. We do have interaction with them in a lot of different ways, which is pretty interesting. Because as you mentioned, we're actually a really important promotional vehicle for them.

Conor Begley: Yeah. It's hugely important. Yeah. They're the most passionate people.

Stephanie Fried: Exactly. And you think about something like The Witcher as an example, Netflix show, where we have an official partnership with Netflix. The Witcher is a show. I'm personally afraid of it, so I do not watch it.

Conor Begley: I watched a season of it. It's pretty intense.

Stephanie Fried: I've heard it's amazing and also very complex. So something like The Witcher where if you watch two episodes and you still don't really understand what's happening and there's a thousand other shows being recommended to you by friends and family and on your streaming services, you might not keep watching that show. But if you can find a place that easily explains and connects the dots for you of what's going on, you stick with that show. Because you enjoy it more. So the value of Fandom for the studios is incredible. When I worked at NBC, one of the main things that people asked for was storylines and plot lines so that they could follow along or catch up. The last season ended, they don't remember what happened. And our focus was always on video. Letting them actually stream the show and less so on all of the content of what was in each episode. But Fandom plays that role. So we do have official partnerships with studios, gaming studios, television, movie studios to make sure that that content is there and available in advance. So if it's a new show, obviously there's nothing written in advance of people streaming the first episode. So how do we get that content up there, if you will, to make sure that right away there's a reference source for fans who want to get into it. So that's one important way. Another important way that we work with studios is on the data front. So you are, let's say taking a game and developing it into a television show, which is happening now every single day. The new source for television content creation used to be more books and comics, and now it moved into the era of gaming, which is amazing. But we know every character, weapon, level, Easter egg. Every component of that game that people have been interested in for 20 years. And we consider that as well as and understanding of the overlap with Hulu subscribers because we know every show they're watching and what they're interested in. So we have hands down the best data to help inform how they develop that content. So we work with a lot of studios and gaming studios, television studios on what they should even buy, what's the right fit for their portfolio, when they do, how to create content that's going to be appealing to the audience on the game as well as of their existing service and how those things intersect so we can see across everything. And so we provide a ton of valuable insight throughout that process. Then who is the audience? How do you market to them? And then we obviously work with them on, and here's how you can reach them on our platform in the right way at the right time, which is our advertising sales business. So we really work with the studios and brands across all of the pieces of that puzzle, which is super interesting.

Conor Begley: It is going to be fascinating to watch the role that you guys play in the coming years from an AI perspective, given the amount of proprietary information, data, opinions, content, et cetera, just because that's the input. That's the input to a ChatGPT or obviously to the studios as well for their actual content. I'd be shocked if you guys aren't acquired by a Google or a Microsoft in the next five, 10 years. That's so cool. Another area that I think from a marketing perspective that's interesting is this idea of in- person. So obviously communities in Fandom are online, but I think bringing people together in real life forges a different type of connection. Some would argue a more meaningful connection, or at least it closes that loop. It can be very exciting time for people. I know you do a lot of this at Comic- Con and other small regional events. Is at a big area of investment for you? Especially coming out of the pandemic, I have to imagine it's part of it. How do you think about the in- person interactions of these online communities?

Stephanie Fried: Yeah. I'm a huge believer and I guess lover of live events and experiences. I think that there isn't a more impactful way to really get into and verse yourself in and celebrate your Fandoms. Having been at and in a lot of those experience, it's like nothing else and I really don't think you can create that feeling and that connection digitally. When you find people who love the world that you love showing up as your favorite characters, collecting that unique hard to find item that's going to delight you every day when you get back home, that's really important and a big part of celebrating that fan identity. We therefore want to be a part of a lot of those experiences and we show up at a lot fan conventions and experiences. San Diego Comic- Con which you mentioned is a great example of that. We do the opening night party at San Diego Comic- Con every year, and we bring team members, we send community team members. Of our creators, our admins and editors, we have this thing called the Star Program, where some of the benefits of being in the STAR program is getting to go to some of these events and connect in real life with others, admins and editors, meet some of the creators of the shows in person and be part of that experience, which is really fun. And we usually activate and amplify through our partners. So for example, this year at San Diego Comic- Con, we partnered with Paramount and with EA. Number one, obviously they're trying to do the same thing and engage and celebrate fans, but they also bring really fun pieces to the activation where they can bring clothing from shows, they can bring interactive gaming experiences into the actual party. We do themed food and beverage. They bring talent as well to the gold carpet that we call it. So it really brings an authenticity and fun into the experience to bring it to life as opposed to just a party that you can come drink at. It really feels like you're celebrating these worlds together. So that's a really fun component of that. We have a great partnership with DreamHack, which is a gaming convention with gaming competitions and helping to celebrate that energy and excitement as well. Again, showing up with partners there. So it's a very big part of our strategy of connecting in real life with fans, with our partners and being part of those amazing experiences.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I agree. I think that connecting in person in live events is just much more powerful than people realize. At times, it's hard to measure the impact of course. I remember when we first started, I read... It was Benioff's book at Salesforce. I didn't actually like about half the book, but there was some sections in there that were really good. And one of them was they'd done all these different marketing activations and when they really looked at it, they'd run ads in the New York Times and all this stuff. It basically came down to two things. It was either when he was in the press talking about this move to online CRM versus on- prem CRM, or it was when they got their customers and their prospects in the same room and then their customers sold their prospects, and that's an event. So that's what we need to do. And that's where Dreamforce and they've probably the largest in- person on the ground event group, at least in the software industry. So anyways, I'm a huge fan. And actually on that topic, while we're on this topic of customers and prospects, we went through a really interesting... And Brenna suggested this question. I'm really glad she suggested it. So we've made a big revamp to our marketing maybe three or four months ago. The effects are gangbusters. It's wild. It's really good. And the big shift in focus we made was people are like, " Oh, we need to help new business. We need to go out and get new customers." And so they focused all their efforts on new customers. And I was like, " Guys, let's look at this for a second. Number one, if you're to look at our revenue next year, 70% of it's going to come from our existing customers. It's about 70%. And then of the remaining 30%, if you actually look at it, of that 30% that's new, 70% of that is either a direct referral from an existing customer or it's an existing customer bringing us with them to a new company. So that means that 90% of our revenue next year is going to come directly from our customers, and that's what we know. I'm sure that the other 10% is probably had heard about us or whatever. And so the way that you actually get new customers is you do a really good job of driving engagement with your existing customer base." And so I know that seems like an area that you're possibly passionate about, this idea of driving deep customer engagement and loyalty and marketing's role that that plays, and I think this is one of the most misunderstood concepts about marketing as they assume that it's about just going out and getting new people to you. So talk to me a little bit about your perspective on that. I'd love to hear it.

Stephanie Fried: I love everything you said and we'll get along very well. I can tell.

Conor Begley: We got the same shows. Got the same marketing.

Stephanie Fried: I think you're very smart. I love everything you're saying. Yeah, I totally agree with you because I think there's this... And that's one of the things that we talk about even with the ANA CMO Growth Councils of what's a CMO, what's the role of marketing? There was recently a McKinsey study that came out about what do CEOs think marketing is? What does CMOs think marketing is? And the answer is marketing is a lot of things. Marketing is more things than any other function. Marketing is the hardest job. And I don't say just because it's what I happen to do, but I sometimes say in finance... And I love our CFO, we're very, very close. But there is a P& L. We built a budget, you've got two choices of frame. It's LIFO, FIFO, and you basically pick one and you do it, and then you manage the budget and you make sure people are paying and you make sure that you're getting paid. There's accounting. There's-

Conor Begley: Structure, process.

Stephanie Fried: There's a lot of structure. And if you look at any company, the variation in what sits inside of a finance team and how they operate and run good process, there's probably five to 10% variation. With marketing, there's 95% variation.

Conor Begley: You don't want experimental accounting. I don't want an experimental accounting.

Stephanie Fried: Correct. Correct. Exactly. And no one's been like, all right, well EBITDA doesn't... We're going to get rid of depreciation. That's not relevant anymore. It's going to be relevant for the rest of time. So marketing is very challenging because things are changing all the time and because every business is different in terms of how you think about what your opportunities are for audience. And I don't say audience growth, I say audience. Because when I think about a marketer's main job or considerations is you bring people in, you keep them around, you bring them back. Or acquisition, engagement, retention.

Conor Begley: Well, and referral is the one after that right?

Stephanie Fried: What?

Conor Begley: Acquisition, engagement, retention and then referral, right? Because those people that stick around are ultimately what gets you the new acquisition as well. It becomes a circle, right?

Stephanie Fried: Totally. Right. Referral is an acquisition strategy to get new people into the funnel. So when you think about those things... And obviously you want to do all of them really, really well. Most organizations aren't focused on all of those pieces. I'll give you an example. You look at the streamers when they all launched right before and at the beginning of COVID, they're in a race to acquire audiences. To get as many subscribers as they could. It doesn't matter how much money they lost. They lost a lot of it, and many of them continue to. But they were like, let's just build this up. So we're going to get credit for having subscriber growth. That's what the market's reacted to. And then all of a sudden the market's like, we'd rather you be profitable. We'd rather you think about how you're actually engaging those audiences and retaining them in cost- effective ways. So how do you manage your portfolio to make sure that you're still engaging your audiences and maybe even doing that better as opposed to just spending lots of money to bring new people into the funnel? Let's focus there. So they've been shifting their attention but as I think about our brands and where the opportunities are, and I'll give you Fandom as an example. Fandom is a brand that does really, really well at acquisition because everyone loves entertainment and gaming and TV shows and What We Do in the Shadows, and they are searching for those things. It's ubiquitous consumer behavior. They have questions. They want to know where to watch, whatever it may be. And we're already showing up first. So we are getting those audiences. It's the reason we have 300 million people every month without them directly knowing about or coming to Fandom. So we're getting all these people, which is great, and we're getting them for free. Free in that obviously we spend a ton of money on maintaining the platform and server costs and all of those things, but that's overhead. But what we then need to do and where we're really focused for Fandom perspective is that engagement. And so you go through phases as brands. I always focus first on engagement and then retention because if the people aren't engaged in what you have to offer when they get to you, the likelihood of them coming back is lower because they haven't seen as much value. So if you can build engagement, a reason to stay, then you're much more likely to make them want to come back and to use the CRM lever or to say, did you love this experience? Sign up for notifications. Sign up for email. Whatever. And so we are really focused on engagement. And a lot of the things you talked about earlier with how and where do we insert ourselves into those communities or change and optimize the platform, we have a real eye towards how do we create a more engaging experience. So they're coming to us automatically because they have a question. How do we turn that question into another question or a different reason that they want to engage or test their knowledge or see a review for the game that was built on that world and on that franchise. And so how do we connect those dots? So I would always rather have an incremental page view from an existing user than a new user. So if I've got one user that consumes five pages or five users that consume one, I want the one that consumes five and I want that six before I want a sixth visitor. Because I've already got that audience. And so the decisions and the resourcing and the areas of focus are very different from Fandom than they would be for a brand that's starting with zero audience. And so those are the considerations and things that we think about across our brands and where we are and how important each of those different parts of the journey are at that moment in time for each brand. And I think it's really important, especially this day and age where there's so much focus on managing cost and efficiency of making sure that you're focused on the parts of your business and fighting for and making sure that the rest of the executive team and company is aligned with how we are driving that growth. And it sounds like you've been having those conversations. I think everyone does. But that it's not just about bringing in new customers. Sometimes more of the value is creating more value from each of those customers. And what you do is very different.

Conor Begley: There's a finite number of people in the world. If you're churning through them, eventually you run out. And I think that, again, getting back to this, 70% of the way that we get new customers is from our existing customers that we know of. It may be even higher. And I think as you get more ubiquitous, as you get bigger, that percentage goes up, not down. How many people sign up for Salesforce without ever having used Salesforce or talking to somebody that's used Salesforce? It's probably 0%, 1%. It's very low. Anyways, I am so glad we got to connect and I'm already running over my time, and so I really want to say thank you for taking the time. I'm so glad we got to meet each other and I think find a kindred spirit in the marketing world, which is amazing. I was going to make you rank your children behind you, but we've run out of time, so I won't make you do that. But thank you so much. I'm so glad we got to chat Stephanie.

Stephanie Fried: Thank you so much. And just so you know, the size of the picture is usually my ranking.

Conor Begley: Okay. All right. There you go. That's it. That answers it. Well, thanks again, Stephanie. I'll talk to you soon.

Stephanie Fried: Thank you.

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DESCRIPTION

In Ep. 107 of Earned, we sit down with Stephanie Fried, CMO of the world’s largest fan wiki platform, Fandom. To start, we dive into Stephanie’s personal favorite fandoms and hear about the content that’s shaped who she is. We learn about Fandom’s mission and vision, and discover what makes it the world’s best resource for fans. Next, Stephanie shares what went into Fandom’s branding process, and explains Fandom’s goal of being the fan’s first choice for community and experience. Switching gears, we unpack how Fandom uses a multitude of social media platforms to maximize the value consumers are receiving. Stephanie emphasizes the importance her team places on creating new features and functionality that can “bring life” to new fans. Additionally, we explore how Fandom celebrates the idea of fan identity via in-person events that create meaningful connections for individual fandoms. Stephanie also reveals how Fandom works with entertainment companies on both data and content to meet users where they’re at. To close the show, Stephanie leaves us with some insightful advice on how to engage and retain audiences in cost-effective ways.


In this episode, you will learn: 

  1. How Stephanie leveraged her background in research and insights to develop a user-centric approach, optimizing platform design and audience interaction at Fandom.
  2. The unique challenges of managing multiple brands and competitors across Fandom’s diverse set of offerings.
  3. How the different social platforms uniquely contribute to Fandom’s marketing strategies, and how the brand engages and retains audiences in cost-effective ways.


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