December 5

Fans First: Creating Superfans of Your School

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If you’ve swiped through TikTok more than a few times, you’re probably aware of the Savannah Bananas, a wacky, fun-loving baseball club out of Georgia.

This entertaining bunch of (legitimate) ball players incorporates hilarious antics into each game. And the goofiness doesn’t stop with the men on the field.

The Bananas’ wide range of spectacles stretches from the Man-Nanas, their “dad-bod cheerleading squad,” to base coaches who break into dance in between plays.

The two-hour display is such a sight that ESPN has anointed it as “the greatest show in baseball:”

The Savannah Bananas are the brainchild of Jesse Cole, a colorful character in his own right. Attendees often see Jesse interacting with fans as he doffs his trademark banana-yellow tuxedo and bowler hat.

In May, Jesse published his second book, Fans First: Change the Game, Break the Rules & Create an Unforgettable Experience.

Past the fantastic title, Jesse lays out a fascinating customer-centric mindset that professionals in every industry, especially higher education, would do well to consider.

And that’s because Jesse’s mission – promoting fierce loyalty among fans – should also ring true with colleges and universities.

So, let’s unpack some of the lessons from Fans First that can help your school inspire a fanatical fervor in prospective students!

Eliminate Friction Points

Despite loving baseball growing up, Jesse came to an unsettling conclusion as he sat through more and more games: the baseball fan experience was a drag.

Not only was the game itself often a slog for fans – lesser evils like parking, ticketing, and the concession line also hurt the experience.

As Jesse pointed out as a guest on the Author Hour podcast, he eventually realized that a failure to plan these events around the fans was the issue:

“I believe way too many people are having conversations now [about] how to chase customers. They’re talking about sales and revenue and profits, and they’re not talking about creating fans.” — Jesse Cole

Jesse considered the common friction points that put a damper on the fan experience, not the least of which are extra fees: ticketing, parking, and convenience, just to name a few. Overpriced food and beverages only added to the pain.

Of course, Jesse could have profited from those additional charges. But he was on a mission to create lifelong superfans.

So, rather than pushing excessive charges onto his customers, Jesse did the unthinkable. He charged Banana fans a flat all-inclusive entry fee, freeing them from having to reach for their wallets at every turn.

Having removed a central monetary friction point, Jesse immediately amplified the fan experience the second they reached the front plaza.

Focus on Your School’s Fans First

With this example in mind, take a moment to examine your school’s “front plaza” – your enrollment website. What opportunities to ease friction for prospective students do you see?

For instance, does the content on your school website answer your students’ questions?

A dysfunctional website with poorly mapped content is one of the most common friction points for students and their parents. With an average scan time of eight seconds for Gen Z, you must ensure prospective students can find the answers they need within two clicks of your landing page.

If you’re unsure about potential friction points, ask yourself these three questions when evaluating your school website:

  • Who is our website primarily built to serve?
  • Why are they here?
  • How can we help them?

Creating superfans at any level starts with a first step. And for the vast majority of your students, their first step in finding their future higher ed home is on your school website.

Attention Beats Marketing

I’ve beaten the drum for marketing personalization for several years. So, I loved reading about Jesse’s approach to personalizing experiences when discussing another of his five “E’s”: engage deeply.

When addressing his venue’s friction points, Jesse realized the barrage of sponsored ads around the Bananas’ park was an eyesore to fans. After all, they come for entertainment, not a deluge of marketing.

So, he got rid of them, but not just the ads in their stadium. Instead, Jesse did the unthinkable and parted ways with all their team sponsors across every marketing channel.

He was determined to generate superfans through personalized attention over traditional marketing. And a big part of that strategy is their social media presence.

The Savannah Bananas are second-to-none in spreading brand awareness. Their TikTok account alone has over 3.8 million followers.

@thesavbananas

your new favorite acapella group: The Savannah Bananas 🎤 #savannahbananas #bananaball #baseball #pitchperfect #magicinme #fy #viral #acapella

♬ original sound – thesavbananas

But they don’t spend all their time just posting incredible skits and game clips on social media.

They also browse fan comments, looking for people coming to their games for special occasions. For example, if they discover a group is celebrating a fan’s birthday, the Bananas will go out of their way to give them a unique experience they’ll never forget.

They also follow up with fans through text or email to thank them for coming to a game.

Personalization is Essential

Jesse was echoing through action the words of his pioneering customer experience counterpart, Darren Ross, COO of Magic Castle Hotel: “Listen carefully, respond creatively.”

Your school’s enrollment marketing team should make every effort to use similar tactics with your prospective students.

Plenty of opportunities for personalizing the student prospect experience are on the menu. And trust me: you don’t need a professional social media team, only some data.

For instance, if one of your leads’ schools just won a state championship, send them a congratulatory text message.

Have a prospective student who’s requested information about a specific program? Ask a faculty member from that department to send a personalized video to introduce themselves and encourage that student to apply.

As Mr. Ross said, respond creatively. Personalization not only makes students feel special, but it’s also an opportunity to differentiate your brand.

Optimize the Full Enrollment Experience

The mission statement for Savannah Banana’s ownership group, Fans First Entertainment, speaks volumes: “Fans First, Entertain Always.”

The Bananas evaluate the fan experience during every event in seven stages, beginning the second attendees enter their website:

  • First impression (website, social media, customer contacts)
  • Parking lot
  • Front plaza
  • Concourse
  • Grandstand
  • Field
  • Last impression (including follow-ups after the fans leave)

Of course, colleges and universities are not in the entertainment business. But the Bananas’ curation of their customers’ wall-to-wall experience is a perfect metaphor for your enrollment marketing funnel.

Jesse and his team pay equal attention to each stage of their games. The same should be true when reviewing each component of your enrollment funnel because a breakdown can happen at any level:

  • Awareness – Are your efforts attracting mission-fit students?
  • Inquiry – What are your response rates compared to similar institutions in your region?
  • Application – Are you nurturing leads through personalized follow-ups?

If you think you may have a chink in one of your enrollment marketing funnel stages, then you do. So, it’s important to regularly audit your process from top-to-bottom to ensure you’re walking with your prospective students through their journey.

Conceiving Superfans Will Create Conversations

As Jesse and the Savannah Bananas have proven, extraordinary attention to the fan – or student – experience will generate positive buzz.

By treating your leads like superfans the second they show interest in your school, they will give glowing reviews to anyone showing interest in your institution.

Word-of-mouth can be a powerful accomplice, and a superb reputation in service is worth its weight in marketing gold.

If you’d like some help building a stable of superfans of your college or university, our door is always open!


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