You can spend all you want on client acquisition and still not make it. The difference lies in how well you build fans for your business by creating experiences that they will go back to again and again. In this episode, host Jesse Cole is joined by Savannah Bananas President Jared Orton. They talk about how the “fans first” idea started and how it applies to not just how you talk about your brand but also on every touchpoint such as packaging and online. Discover how you can produce content that sparks conversations and adopt a culture that is both fun and unforgettable.
Listen to the podcast here:
Creating A Fans First Experience In Your Business With Jared Orton
I am fired up to welcome the first person from the actual Bananas team to be on the show. Jared is the President of the Bananas. I’m excited because you played a huge role on what’s happened with the Bananas and talking about the Fans First Experience and where it is and the sellouts. I want people to get a part of this by seeing your perspective. Not many people know this, but Emily and I wouldn’t have come to Savannah if you didn’t say yes because we were so scared of not having a leader, even at 24 years old, to take over this. I would love for the readers to share your story, becoming the president of the Bananas at 24 years old, your experience beforehand and what’s brought you to this point.
I don’t know if I was much of a leader. I was certainly a body. I was a warm body that got involved. I’ll never forget you, Emily, me and Kelsey sitting there outside the neighborhood in Charlotte and we were talking like, “What would this look like? Could we go down and make this happen?” We had a great relationship and stayed in touch over a couple of seasons that I wasn’t working for Fans First. You always said, “We’re going to get back together.” We didn’t know what that looked like. We keep hearing this idea of this team leaving Savannah, Georgia. “Should we go down there?” and you got to put it on us. Kelsey and I said, “We got to go check it out too. We got to go see what it’s all about.” We came down here to realize that this place needed energy. It needed entertainment. It needed enthusiasm. The fans deserved it.
Kelsey and I both looked at each other and like, “We have to do it.” That led us to be down here. We always tell the story on October 5th we got this wad of keys to Grayson Stadium and we all looked at each other. We drag the picnic table into the office because the office was condemned and there’s no equipment, no phone lines, no internet, no nothing. We start calling people. I’m 24 years old. You’re so proud that you’re starting this new team. You’ve got Jesse and Emily. They believe in you. We’re so excited. We’re going to save baseball at Grayson Stadium. We’re going to save baseball in Savannah and we got crushed. People were laughing at me and saying, “Who are you, the Little League team?” We’re going through these meetings and trying to prove yourself and say like, “We’re going to do it.” For so long, we got no response for those first 4 or 5 months and that was painful.
We eventually turned it around. We got everyone excited. I want to go back a little bit because going into the Fans First Experience and something that Emily and I saw in you that when we’re looking to hire and looking leaders, I’m going to make your head a little bigger right now, Jared. When we first met, you were in college and I didn’t know you had a Chick-fil-A background, maybe a little that came through with your experience. The first time we met, you have no job. Within a day after, we hired you in but there was no job with Gastonia Grizzlies. There was no job, but you came in and you wanted to meet.
You said, “I’d love to be a part of it. We had no opportunities.” You sent a thank you letter, which I found again months ago. I pulled out the thank you letter you sent back in 2012. You keep reaching out and you sent another thank you letter and you provided value first. How did you develop that instinct because teaching people that is huge? When you first started, you wrote thank you letters to the parents of the 22-year-olds that started with us. Give us a little bit of background on that.
That has to come from my parents. It honestly does. I know it’s a very cliché answer, but we were always taught you need to show your appreciation to people. For us, it came through the written form. When we got Christmas gifts or birthdays or even if our grandparents sends us a check for $25 for our birthday or something, we always wrote thank you notes. They always came from us. It wasn’t that our parents wrote the thank you notes for us. That’s where it came from. You’ve got to show your appreciation to people because people want to know that they’re appreciated. Kelsey and I always have this from the office, “I appreciate that you appreciate me.” People want to know that they’re appreciated.
Simply writing a letter, it’s more than an email because emails are so easy. You can type an email out and send it to people. With a thank you call or a thank you note or a thank you gesture and also to create things that can happen shows someone, “I appreciate you for what you did.” What you all did was you took. You sat down with me for 30 minutes or an hour when you didn’t have to. You didn’t have a job. You didn’t have anything to offer me so I was willing to take up your time. I was taking up your knowledge and you were kind to give that to me. It was like, “You got to take one more step and say like, “I do want to be a part of this. I need to show at least one more step. This is why I appreciate it. This is why I want to be a part of it.”
It stood out. We were blown away and we said, “We need you to come here,” because we knew we could trust and we knew that you understood. We’ve got to care more. That’s a long game. Caring is a long game because at first, we were trying to care and people weren’t listening. We kept going. Let’s go on the story. A lot of people know we turned it around, but you became this leader. You had three 22-year-olds, right out of college. You’re only a couple of years out of college. You worked with the Burlington Royals for a year. Tell me about the beginning of your leadership role and what you learned those first years trying to turn around a team.
The biggest thing that I began to learn was when you come into this organization, when you come into launching this new team and launching this new venture is you’ve got to begin to show people that it’s not all talk. We came in and we’re talking about everything we’re going to do. We started to call the newspaper, the TV station and the radio and talk. People are like, “Who are you? You got here.” The professional team left and everyone said that the stadium and the baseball team were going to fail. People didn’t know who we work for. I realized that even as a young person, we ended up getting out there and introduce ourselves to as many people as possible and tell a clear story on here’s who we are and where we’re trying to go.
We’re all about entertainment. We’re all about fun. We had our taglines. Whatever you expect at a baseball game is the complete opposite. It was a circus and a baseball game breaks out. It’s the most fun you’ve ever had at a baseball game. We had all those taglines, dancing players, roses and little girls in the crowd. What we started saying in the spring time was, “Come to one game.” What I realized at that point was we can’t keep talking. We’ve got to tell people to come to one game and it’s on us to prove to you that this experience is what we talked about. It’s up to us to prove the experience. If you don’t like it, that’s on us because we haven’t provided that experience. We can come up with a crazy name. We can come up with all these marketing stunts. We can come up with a great ticket package, but if we don’t live up to creating this remarkable experience for them, they’ll never come back. We started asking people to come to one game.
We did that. That stemmed from years ago, every game is someone’s first game, Emily. You’ve embodied that every game is someone’s first game. What happened? This is interesting because I was seeing it from the macro level. Let’s go into it because to get people to come, we talk about these turning customers into fans. Marketing can sometimes get customers, but it’s the experience that gets fans because people are always fascinated. We’re going to talk about your new Fans First Experience podcast, the workshops we’re doing, but let’s talk about the role that marketing played in the beginning because you were a part of everything. You were making the conversations, the newspaper and everything to where marketing has evolved for us.
There’s no doubt that we had to market and advertise. We had newspaper stuff. We had radio stuff. We were writing a copy. We were generating emails and social media. We were doing all that. I would argue pretty successfully, but once we got into the springtime and we had a name, we had people’s attention. In the beginning though, we were marketing, but nobody cared. We were trying to sell these ticket packages and buyer sponsorship packages. We had the Savannah baseball 2016 logo. We didn’t have a name. There was a shift. If you’re marketing something with no soul, with no human behind it, if you’re trying to put stuff out there trying to sell it because you’re competing on, “We’re going to have the best product. I have the best price,” and all this nonsense, then a handful of people like buying it.Marketing can sometimes get customers, but it's the experience that gets fans. Click To Tweet
When we got people’s attention because we didn’t change products, we were still selling the same to get back we’re still promising the same experience. We’re still talking about the same crazy nonsense, but we finally got people’s attention. That’s when the marketing started to work. Marketing without attention is putting money in the slot machine, hitting the button and hoping something comes out. Marketing with the attention that’s gasoline on a fire and everything started heating up after that February, March, April, May and into that season. All of a sudden, opening night sold out, night two sold out and seventeen of those first 25 games sold out. Marketing without attention is absolutely dead. When we market with attention, that’s when it blew up.
You put in three systems that we developed. First, we marketed without attention and sold two tickets. It was terrible. Then we got the attention. The attention was strategic. We named the team the Savannah Bananas, have a senior citizen dance team called the Banana Nanas. All these things that we announced, the Daisy Bat Dog which made it into an announcement, we used everything for attention. We still market. We were spending dollars. Fast forward to now, and you’ve played a big role in this, what does the marketing look like?
What we realized is that we had to get out there and advertise the product but that was because we are now getting all this attention. Slowly but surely the attention kept building. The marketing, the paid traditional true marketing kept decreasing because we were getting the attention of the fans and the fans were the ones out there talking about the experience and doing the marketing. We’ve run a couple of cool campaigns and they were built on generating this waiting list. That’s priority list and those things were very strategic because we had sold out all these packages. We said, “For the next three months, we’re going to campaign so hard. I’m building this amazing waiting list of people and we’re going to give them the opportunity to buy.” The only reason I believe that was so successful is that the fans were talking about, “All the games are sold out. You got to get there early. You got to get your tickets early.”
We again poured gas on the fire and said, “Everyone is talking about sold out games.” They’re talking about getting on the list. They’re talking about getting their tickets early. We’re going to give you an opportunity to join this list. We’re going to put it out there for you and thousands of people did. We gave them the opportunity to be the first ones to buy and everything look like that. In year five, we will spend less than $1,000 on true advertising. We’ll put some money behind some social media posts. Once they get a ton of traction and ton of traffic, we’ll put a little bit behind that. Other than that, nothing outside of those social media things.
When people say, “What the Fans First Experience?” it’s turning your customers into fans and letting your fans do all the marketing for you. Everyone has a marketing budget. Here’s our marketing budget. We have a full-time marketing person. We have this and this. We have a budget. We’ve gone from literally full-time marketing to remote, helping us on social media to everything we’re doing is investing in the experience. You’ve been on this journey of five years where at first, I was working on social media. You took it over and it was less. Now, it’s like we are boosting some posts here and there that are already getting traction. What would be a lesson for business here? It’s like, “We’re spending all this on marketing. We’re doing all this. We’re getting okay results.” What would you tell them? The Fans First Experience and what we’re teaching is a completely different mindset than saying, “Let’s keep marketing.”
I know sometimes I talk details. I want to go macro here a little bit because there’s a difference. What we talk about is turning customers into fans. We both believe and understand that advertising gets customers. If your only goal is to get customers and churn through customer, which we could do and we saw that the first couple of years, our retention rate, our renewal rate of some of our five-game plan and package holders wasn’t as great as we thought it was because we were like, “Get customers.” If you make the shift into building more fans, it is how you begin developing this tribe mentality of people who believe in your product, believe in your business and want to be a part of your business. They are the ones that go out and become your biggest marketers.
If you shift from, “We’re trying to get more customers,” to, “Let’s create an experience where these people are fans of our business,” we always talk about it. What would it take for someone to say, “I want to wear that t-shirt of that bank. What would it take?” What would the experience be like if people are such big fans of your business that if you create a t-shirt, they would wear it? You might be a bank or a CPA or a lawyer or a convenience store. You share the story of Yeti all the time where there are people all over the world that have never bought a Yeti product, never bought a cooler or a tumbler or anything like that but they’ll wear the Yeti hat or the Yeti shirt or put a Yeti sticker on their car or whatever because they think the brand is so cool. Create fans instead of focusing on creating customers.
Let’s get into the product standpoint. You’re the president of this team. You’re a leader of a business. How do you do it? We’re always talking about the experience. How do you do it?
For us, we took those customers that we have. It’s different for sports and we call it fans already. We have this fan base. We have to identify the people in that fan base who are most likely to go out and be our biggest marketers. We come to them and we have to identify all these touch points along the way where we can start engaging them and building them up as fans. It’s not trying to sell them something else. It’s how do we deliver them amazing free content. Traditionally as a baseball team, we talk about scores, the losses, the wins and the team. It was like, “No. What if we told the story of these fans and made the fans the hero?”
We tell the stories of Mr. Willie. We tell the stories of the Moon family. We tell the stories of the 100,000th fan, this little kid that gets to come to a game. We tell the stories of Reginald. We tell these stories of these fans. We’re not patting ourselves on the back as the business. We’re patting our fans on the back and saying, “Look at these people.” If I could share one thing to start building these people’s fans, it’s to tells the story of the fan. If you’re a small business, find ten customers. If you’re a large business, find 100. Find some of those people who are already close to being some of your biggest fans and say, “What’s their story? How could we tell our story where we’re not the hero?” As Donald Miller says, “Be the guide, not the hero.” We’re not the hero. Allow them to be the hero. You’re the guide as people go along the way. Make the customer the fan. Make the fan the hero.
That’s a way that we can look at it differently. What I’m fascinated about is you’re not a crazy extrovert like me. You’re not crazy yellow tuxedo running around screaming, but you’re an introvert a little bit. Let’s go back to Yeti. What I’ve noticed is you would get in videos, do these bark-in-the-park videos. You became an infomercial. You became a Pilgrim president. There’s something to be said about how do you make your brand fun. Let’s think about this transition. We were still advertising trying to get people to come out. We were still marketing, but we marketed in a fun way. Talk a little bit about your role from whether it’s an owner, a president. You got to be willing to have fun and do it because that worked. People share those videos.
I didn’t think about that as much as we were getting ready to talk about this, but there were moments where we were trying to sell something and we did it in this lens of entertaining the fans. Yes, we’re not trying to sell them. We’re not going to get up there and say, “Buy this t-shirt. Come to this thing.” It was, “Let’s come up with something absolutely ridiculous that they would say, ‘I don’t even know what they’re selling, but I want to watch the video because that was so outrageous and ridiculous.,” We started coming up with these ideas like, “I’m going to go and tie Christmas because I don’t think people respect Thanksgiving as much.” I wear this pilgrim costume and say, “People are anti-Thanksgiving. People are bashing Thanksgiving. I’m here to save Thanksgiving and we’re shutting down our retail store. You can only buy online from us.” What happened? Everyone went online and started buying merchandise from us. It was these ideas of what if we could create things that are entertaining for the fans? We’re not trying to generate customers. We’re trying to build more fans of our business. Through those videos, it led people to say, “I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s fun. It’s entertaining and maybe I will go back.”
Every company has announcements they need to make. You have product launches. We’re announcing free shipping. You go through the process because you created this yourself.
The free shipping idea came from we’re not competing against the Atlanta Braves. They’re not our competition. People always ask, “I know your competition.” Our competition is everyone that sells something on the internet. That’s who our competition is. Ultimately, our competition on an online retail side in this conversation is Amazon or Walmart.com or anybody who can ship something. By the time I order it at the end of this podcast, it’ll be here. We had the conversation, if we’re going to compete in the online retail space, then we should offer free shipping because that is fans first. Fans first are not nickeling and diming people. We don’t do that at our ballpark. We don’t do that for our ticket packages. Fans first probably mean free shipping.
You can’t announce free shipping because that looks self-serving, nasty, all corporate and cold. Let’s bring back the pilgrim costume again and say, “Because of the freedom that the pilgrims sought here in America, we believe that everyone in America should also have these same freedoms. By that, we mean you should get free shipping. I created this this pledge that Bananas fans would no longer be punished by the evil monarchy of the British government to have fees on everybody. The Bananas fans forever and always would get free shipping.” We did ship a lot of merchandise and it’s been very costly, but it’s the right thing to do and it created attention. It was fun and my family thought I was insane. I was at an event. I forget that we do these videos a lot. I forget half the stuff we do. A guy came by and he goes, “The Pilgrim guy.”
The framework of Fans First is what your customers hate, look at those friction points but how do you make it fun?
The normal opposite is you stop the friction points.
No one likes shipping. No one likes those extra fees.
The normal opposite, and we always use normal, but it’s average, fine, standard, boring or any of those things. What would the opposite be? It’s not that difficult to come up with sometimes.
The Fans First Experience in the past years, is there a story that maybe stands out for you that happened at the ballpark? If someone goes like, “What does this look like?” We have young people. We have part-time staff and they’re delivering. It is a story that stands up for you because we understanding what this fans first experience is, you got to stop doing what people hate and you have to turn to a great experience. You had to make your customers your marketers and turn them into your biggest fans. What does that look like? You’ve been leading this team. You’ve got young people. You’ve got part-time staff. What are some stories that you’ve seen that someone says, “I’m going to go all in on Fans First and create a great experience?”
A lot of people ask, “How do I share this with my staff?” I try to explain to them and what we try to boil it down to is that Fans First and what Fans First means is we’re using this lens of entertainment. Everything is entertaining. It’s fun. The best example was when Nicole, who was one of our interns and is a super talented vocalist, tried out for The Voice. All these crazy things come to us and say, “The most boring part of this game is the announcements.” We looked at each other like, “They are. They suck.” The pregame announcements, “If you’re hurt, go to the first aid. The restrooms are to the left. Please don’t smoke. Don’t get hit by a batter ball.” She says, “I’m going to sing the pregame announcements.” There she goes and she’s singing.
I look and everyone’s phone is out for the pregame announcements. I’m thinking, “That’s entertainment.” That’s Fans First because she was able to understand that my role here is to entertain the fans. My role here is to take normal, boring things and figure out how I can twist, tweak and change them. She made a simple adjustment. People always ask, “This sounds so expensive, all the things that you got.” “No, this didn’t cost us anything.” This was an intern who said, “I understand what this is about. Entertain the fans. Fans First means do things differently, take boring things, make them fun.” She said, “I’m going to take the premium announcements. I’m going to sing to them.” Again, I swear to you, everyone’s phone in a ballpark filmed the pregame announcements.
What are those required things you make remarkable? What are those normal things you can make special? That was such a good example because I know we all have our game day staff like dressing up in full tutus and costumes. Sometimes it goes wrong. Maybe they shouldn’t be wearing that, but it’s about looking at and making it fun. That’s a great segue to our first game. It is truth and dare, which would you like first?
Dare.Marketing without attention is absolutely dead. Click To Tweet
Speaking of singing, we’re going to do a sing off. We do this at our stadium. You’re well aware of it. Promotions evolve, but you learn by doing. The first time we did sing offs, it was two people on the field, a guy versus a guy. We do like a love song, When A Man Loves A Woman or Always, but we decided to shift and have 2,000 fans versus 2,000 fans. It’s one of the best promotions we do. I do it on stage for my speeches. Now, you’re going to do it. When the song finishes, you’ve got to finish that song. Are you ready?
You love Taylor Swift. The players are going to play, play, play. The haters are going to hate, hate, hate. You’ve been to Taylor Swift concerts. I did this specifically for you, Jared. Taylor Swift is probably one of the most successful performers right now.
She only did NFL stadiums. That was the tour.
What else stood out from that performance?
It’s not the performance itself, but you were talking about having fans. People have fans. Performers have fans. If you ever see the behind the scenes secret sessions videos that she does, they are epic. She invites fans to her home. She does secret sessions, films it and puts it out. Do you want to talk about building fans? She does a pretty good job of building fans.
That’s one of the great things. You learn for people outside your industry. She sees what people are putting on Twitter like, “I wish I could have college debt paid off.” She’s done it. She builds fans because she does those certain things. Are you ready for the truth? What’s something that has been goofy, wild or silly over the last few years that maybe not many people know that you’ve gone through at the ballpark?
Probably the goofiest or weirdest thing that I’ve had to do is come up with some of these videos that I get to feel uncomfortable with. Maybe it’s not me, but we did this video where we were all standing in our underwear. We don’t need pants. Here I am thinking, “This can’t be right that we’re all filming this video of our coworkers and we’re wearing our Dolce & Banana underwear.” Patrick, who you always asked to do ridiculous things, shows up wearing the Dolce & Banana, large banana underwear to the video. That had to be one of the most uncomfortable things in my life. He was maybe wearing a shirt and he pulled it up and did this shimmy thing. You can see it on the internet. It was awkward for all of us.
What did those videos do for our culture? We’ve talked about this and again in creating Fans First Experience, you need to be fun in the office. You need to make sure your people are having fun. You’ve done a lot of weird videos over the years. What have you seen as far as what it does for the culture?
It allows us to laugh at ourselves. Business is very serious. People take business probably too seriously. We all want to have fun. We’ve made this mission of making baseball fun. There’s also an element of, “Can we make business fun?” There’s something to be said about people that are having fun in the office. People talk about the Millennials and these open office cultures. We don’t have ping pong tables and we don’t have people running around on miniature ponies. We don’t have crazy stuff but there can be an element of we laugh at ourselves. We have fun. We probably joke sometimes too much, but there’s an element of laughing at yourself and have fun. That is what allowed these videos to do for us as we film them. We are not professional actors. We look back and we were like, “We did that?” We filmed it and we put it out. It’s hysterical.
It’s part of everything. When people start with us, they get silly streamers. There’s a video going where we’re throwing things at them. It’s a party, a celebration.
Marie and Katie are filming themselves with weird back and forth things and sending those to potential interns that we’re trying to hire. They’re getting their phone out and saying, “John, thank you,” all of these back and forth things. They’re doing that themselves and sending it out to people. They’re having fun. It takes them five takes to do it and that’s what it’s about.
Let’s go on your Fans First Experience Podcast, the first podcast from us. We’ve been teaching and talking about this Fans First Experience for many years now. Tell me about this Fans First Experience Podcasts. How many episodes have we recorded now?
We’ve recorded I think eight or so and they’ll be put out every week, two weeks or something like that.
Talk to me about some of the guests you’re having. Again, who is the Fans First Experience podcast for and what have you been learning as part of this journey?
The Fans First Experience podcasts quite simply again is we’re trying to help businesses turn customers into fans and fans into their biggest marketers. This is a two-fold project. You’ve been out there speaking. You’ve put the book out a couple of years ago and that’s what led us on this journey to say, “Can we help businesses with our experience?” We’re not experts in every field, but we believe that there are things that happen with this Savannah Bananas that every business can take to their customers and to their fans. I wanted to go on this journey to find out who else is doing this. What other companies are providing fans first experiences to their customers and what industries are they in. We’re going to have people that are in HVAC, real estate agents and eCommerce and banks.
We’re going to have those type of conversations, but then we’re also going to have conversations with people who are industry experts or people that can also help teach the readers and not have me interviewing people. We’re going to have people who are talking about brand experiences and how you communicate with your customers, with your employees and how that can also help with the fans first experience. There are industry experts that are coming on. There are actual case studies and businesses that are coming on. It’s all in this focus on turning customers into fans, fans into your biggest marketers through remarkable experiences.
I’m always fascinated with things that people are doing. Some of these conversations, what are things that you heard like, “You’re doing that for your customers?” What are some that stood out?
One of the ones that blow my mind was an HVAC company. When you hear the interview, I was intrigued by this. They have an employee. They’re the co-owners, but Julie who is the co-owner, her title is director of lasting impressions. We always talk about first impressions. They didn’t want the last impression. They want a lasting impression. Again, if you’re a customer, you have a first impression, you the last impression and you’re done. For them, you might sell an HVAC unit every 7, 10, 15 years. They wanted to have the lasting impressions from the moment they buy to the moment it’s done all the way through to beyond.
One of the things that they’re working on is sending a birthday present to the HVAC unit and not to the customer. It’s not, “Jesse, thanks for buying from us.” No, they’re going to send a package to the unit and celebrate a happy birthday to the unit with balloons and a cake for it and a card like it’s a person. I was dying laughing. I was like that. That makes no sense. It’s pretty funny. The other thing they’re doing is, and this happened to me because I became a customer of theirs, when you get an HVAC unit installed, they immediately follow up and schedule a mobile massage to come to your house.
You can imagine, especially my wife who was eight months pregnant, when our air conditioning went out, she got called and said that we were going to schedule a free massage for her and she started crying. If an HVAC company can make customers cry, anybody can do this and anybody can do it. We hear stories like that. We’re going to bring on Paducah Bank and they talk about the WOW! experiences and the WOW! Wagon. We’re going to bring on some real estate people who were talking about. You might buy a house one time and they might not hear from you for 6, 7, 8 or 10 years but what are those experiences that are going along the way?
Laura is going to come on and talk about building this tribe of customers, building a tribe of fans that they’re always staying in touch with and providing value through classes, seminars, Meetups and weekly things. She’s going to talk about how you can build this tribe of customers that end up becoming your biggest fan. It’s some fascinating stuff that again, HVAC, real estate, banks and eCommerce, people are doing crazy things and it’s not just the baseball team.
I remember when we started back in Gastonia, we want you to come to the ballpark and say, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to the ballpark. You wouldn’t believe my HVAC just got a gift.” Everything that someone buys, could you send a gift to that? “You found a home, congrats.” They treat it like a puppy being adopted. Literally, you could treat it anything like it’s a special moment.
There are big things like that and there are small things that only you are talking about along the way. Make them stand out from every other traditional industry competitor that’s out there.Whatever you offer, make it look fun for your fans. Click To Tweet
We’ve got those companies and now you’re doing a lot of speaking in YMCAs. Are you a board member of the YMCA now?
Maybe my goal should be to speak in every YMCA in the country.
You’ve been speaking all over the country working with YMCAs. Tell me about that. What are you noticing? What are some things that YMCAs can potentially do to build this fans first experience?
We’ve done the audiology groups. We’re doing the banks. We’re doing the YMCAs. I’ve had a lot of fun meeting with these YMCA groups because they touch so many different people. What’s interesting about the YMCAs is they touch a lot of different demographics, age groups, ranges and all that stuff. We’ve been having this conversation on what’s your perfect fan testimonial? When someone comes through the Y, what do you want them to say to their family when they go home? What’s an experience like that that they’re going to share on social media? If you’re YMCA or if your business only had one Google review and you can only have one Google review, what would you want that Google reviews to say if you would only have one? What would be that perfect fan testimony? We start having these conversations. What’s frustrating, what’s normal and what’s the opposite?
The one that I’m most excited about right now is as we were developing this PFT, Perfect Fan Testimonial. There was a group that’s responsible for youth sports. They said, “Our Perfect Fan Testimonial is our parents. We want them to say, “The YMCA Youth Sports Program makes my child feel like a superstar.” Imagine describing your customers as superstars. Do we start having this conversation? If your goal is for them to say, “My child is like a superstar,” every single touch point along the way, you’ve got to say, “When they call, do you make them feel like a superstar? When they register and they get that confirmation, do they feel like a superstar? When they show up for the first practice, the first game, the last game and this is what got the craziest and they start diving here is after the season. When the season’s over, how can you continue to make them feel like superstars?” We started having that conversation and light bulbs started going off. They were like, “We can do this.” We didn’t solve everything in that first conversation. They had to go and have a team meeting that following week, 30 days later and say, “If our goal is to make all of our kids’ superstars, what are we going to do?”
It reminds me so much of Brian. We had hometown tryouts and he dominated. He could throw 90 miles an hour from the outfield. He did well and there were some kids that tried out, which was hilarious to play, literally six-year-old kids and they finished the trial. He stood out over everyone and the kids went up to him and asked for his autograph. He said, “Only if I can have yours.” These kids were treated like superstars and Brian got their autographs on his hat and our team started doing it. Our whole team started getting it out of their hats and their sleeves. They started the following suit.
How can we get autographs from kids? You think about these YMCAs, but these other places when they come in, “Can we have your picture? Can we get your autograph?” It’s all those moments but think about that. If you’re doing a red carpet treatment for anybody and you think we’re fortunate now as we speak. People treat us well. Why can’t they be treated like everyone else? You think about that. That’s such a powerful fans first experience mindset but it starts with that PFT. What do you want people to say about you? If you want to turn your customers into fans and be your biggest marketers, what are they going to say?
If they’re your biggest marketers, you have to be the one figuring out what are they going to say. The two things I tell people to look for is it’s either got to be emotional because you got to settle on one word like superstar. There are all these sentences, but then it boils down to this one word which is fun or circus. If you think about fun and circus, there’s got to be one more that’s emotional. It’s either got to be emotional or it’s got to be imagery and powerful. You got to be able to see it. We want our people to say that, “They’re the nicest people. They have the best product. We had a great time.” No, something powerful with emotion or powerful imagery. When we say it’s like a circus and a baseball game breaks out, you automatically start picturing, “A baseball field and there are people juggling or fire-breathing or circus lions or tigers or elephant.” “How could a circus be at a baseball game?” and immediately, you’re intrigued. It’s got to have that.
When we go into our workshops, go into the summer, we’re teaching these Fans First Workshops. That’s one of the starting points, the PFT. What are some other cool things that happen in the workshop because you’ve taken control of these? I’ll come in and do a song and dance and get people going, but you’re owning these. We’ve seen companies come from all over. You’re teaching us the fans first experience. What other pieces of the workshop have you found interesting and eye-opening for companies?
One of the other ones is the normal opposite. It’s a simple, easy thing that everyone can do. If you are reading this, take out a piece of paper, draw a line in the middle, write normal on one side and opposite on the other. You start identifying what’s normal in my business or in my industry. Is it boring or stodgy? What are all the normal things that people experience? You can also substitute words like boring and average and fine and traditional and all that. What’s the opposite? I don’t know if everyone, certainly not me, has this wildly creative mindset. This is an effort to get people to start thinking a little bit creatively. At one of the YMCAs, we were talking about the aquatic teams. She goes, “What’s normal? Our lifeguards?” I was like, “Go on.”
She goes, “They sit there.” I was like, “What do you think will be the opposite?” She goes, “A dancing lifeguard.” I was like, “Yeah, a dancing lifeguard. I haven’t even thought of that, but it makes so much sense. Can you imagine what the customers at the YMCA would say?” “You got to go to the Y. Go from 3:00 to 6:00 on Tuesday. You will never know what song’s going to come up and meet the dancing lifeguard.” Industries and businesses can start normal and opposite approach. We have a CPA and normally, they would come in and we have a meeting. They do their taxes and that’s it. The opposite would be they’d come in and we have music playing and we hand them a glass of champagne or wine or when they leave, they have their cars already washed. They were starting to think of normal which boring, average, traditional. The opposite is fun, engaging, remarkable and over the top. It’s having that conversation of what’s normal and what would be the opposite.
I remember the audiologist said, “We’re going to do a Price Is Right entrance.” He literally comes on and he’s like, “You’re in the waiting room.” It’s like “Joanne Summers come on down.” She gets up and everyone starts cheering and high five. How do you make your waiting room experience? Every company has some type of waiting room experience, whether they’re in Y or they walk in. Waiting rooms are boring. How do you make the worst parts that people are most excited about?
If you’re a company that requires people to do paperwork, people hate paperwork. You have to do it. If there are jokes or stories or when they hand the paperwork back in, they get a prize or something. It comes back to are you having that one word of like fun. I feel like a family. I feel like home, whatever that is. You can say, “Does our paperwork make people feel like family?” “No.” “Does our paperwork make people feel loved?” “No.” Do things inside that framework that make people feel the way that you want them to feel, not just doing paperwork.
If you struggle with the emotion or that type of thing, for us, it’s most when we are at a baseball game, but the second part, which is as important, it’s a circus and a baseball game vocab. When people think of the circus, is our entrance a circus? When we have Santa’s out there, our DJ Peels on Wheels, our pet band and our players, it’s a circus when you come into the ballpark.
It’s like an Apple store, but you’re at the doctor’s. It was like a supermarket and you were at the HVAC company or whatever. It’s like, “Can you get that imagery?” It was like a water park, but we’re the accountant. It’s something crazy. It was a rap music video.
We’re going to switch gears, flip the script. You are now the host of this show. You can ask me one question.
Doing this podcast for now, you’re going to Season Three, what’s your biggest take away from meeting all these amazing people that you’ve been able to talk with and have on the show?
It’s 100 plus episodes with people that I’ve looked up to tremendously. The list goes on. When I first got into the business, I read all their books. I looked up to them. What I’ve learned more than anything is what questions are you asking? What are the answers that you’re looking for? I’ve tried to stay very focused on experience, customer and employee experience. I’m hearing the same things over and over again. For me, there are so many takeaways. For me, it’s relationships, a connection.
I think as I shared, Jared, we look at what you’re doing right now and what you’re building. You bring someone on and you get to connect with them on a similar interest.
We talk about overall, what is fans first. It’s relationships, connecting, becoming fans of each other’s work. All these people that I’ve become fans of, they’ve heard our story. They want to be a part of it as well. I look at what’s happened over a few years now recording. I went from having a very small network to a much larger network and I think that’s something we all look about. If you want to grow, you’ve got to be around people that are helping you grow. For me, and if you look at all the list of people that have gone on the show that the readers appreciate, these people are magnificent at what they’re doing.
I look up to them tremendously and now that we’re having a relationship and sharing ideas, think about when we have the opportunity to go back 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago. These people, connect with them. Those authors, you write him a letter and hope that you build connections. It’s such an easier way that if we’re not taking advantage of asking questions and I think that’s important. I’m going to put this in your way too. If you want better answers in business, you need to ask better questions. What are the questions you’re asking these days? You meet with the staff a lot too.
The question I’m asking you right now is, am I a good leader? I’m trying to do some self-evaluation on what do people think of me. I know it’s a weird conceited thing, but what it is, is I’m trying to judge myself and I’m trying to understand where my flaws at. I have blind spots because I’m self-absorbed into seeing the way that I operate. I’m anonymously asking our staff to grade me on 1 through 5 categories. It’s super simple. It’s nothing that’s going to throw them off, but it’s like, “1 through 5, how do you feel I spend time with the team? 1 through 5, what are my relationships like with the team? 1 through 5, how do I communicate?” Those soft skills that I’m asking myself, am I living up to where I need to be? What are those things that I should self-reflect on and get better at?
One of the most powerful things about you and you started doing this, you did it the first time.
I did one and it’s super simple. It was five different categories. The three that I thought I was the best at were the three that other people thought I wasn’t the best at. The two that I thought I was the worst at, were the two they thought I was the best at.Your fans are your biggest marketers. Click To Tweet
Can you share what came out of that?
I thought that one of the questions was do I put myself in other people’s shoes? That’s always interesting as a leader to find out, “Do you know what people are going through?” I felt like I did it. I felt like I didn’t know what people were going through as much. The response was, “You know what we’re going through. You know what we’re about. You are empathetic to what we’re going through.” One of the ones that I thought I was better at was I thought that when I had conversations with people, I thought I provided an adequate response. They didn’t think I provided an adequate response. They thought I provide a more shortsighted response. In my mind, I’m providing very direct feedback and saying, “This is where it comes off as shortsighted, quick and not as empathetic sometime.” People think I’m okay with being in other people’s shoes, but when I provide a response to somebody, it comes across as harsh and a little bit short.
It’s so fascinating, Jared, your evolution of a leader from where you were 24 to where you are now. You’re asking those questions. Every leader in the world wants their team to feel better and they’re constantly saying, “You need to do this,” but how many leaders are willing to ask their team, “What can I do better?”
The conversation we had the other day, what if we went through the hiring process to be a game. If you’re a leader of a business, what would get you hired? What you went through in the hiring process of your team, would you hire yourself?
You’re putting yourself in their shoes and you’re seeing what they think like we do with our fans at a ballpark. If you want to deliver a great experience, you got to put yourself in the employee’s shoes, in their customer’s shoes. I think you’re doing that. That’s what I call service. What is the best service experience you’ve had?
I’m not saying that I haven’t had great experiences, but there’s not one that sticks out in my mind that I have raved about. The one that does stick out in my mind the most was a couple of years back. We were in Chicago at a restaurant there. I don’t know how the conversation came up, but we told that we were at a pizza restaurant there. This is how it came up. We told the guy we were from Savannah, Georgia and he started riffing on The Office bit where they talk about there’d been a murder in Savannah. He starts riffing the bit. We riffed it with him. We both realized we were both fans of The Office.
He goes back and prints out this 39-page Buzzfeed article about why Jim is the worst character in The Office. He brings it back. We started debating about it and we were joking. We’re laughing. We’re having fun. Every time he comes back through and he’s like talking about The Office. He’s trying to make points and debate us. We laugh with that guy. He was like the assistant manager or something of the night. We kept laughing at the guy laughing at the guy. The pizza was good, but like it was our first experience in Chicago and I was like, “This place is cool. This place is fun.” This guy randomly made one comment. We had a connection and he kept taking it to the next level. I thought that was interesting.
What’s the most important tool in your business toolbox?
The most important tool in my business toolbox is understanding where we are going. For me, in the initial part of our business, we’re like day-to-day. Now, I’ve been able to take one step back, peel the layers off of myself and say, “This is where we’re trying to get to go. This is where we’re trying to build towards,” and that’s taken five years to get to that point. It was an opportunity where we said, “If we’re only doing day-to-day over and over again, we’re just selling,” then we’re not going to build for the next piece of the business. For me, it was being able to rip that one layer off and it became a builder of the next piece of business.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned in the past years?
The best lesson I have learned in the past years is to be a listener and not be a talker. People want to be heard. People want to be understood. I always found myself being so quick to respond to somebody and give my opinion and say, “Here’s what I think.” That bit me in the butt a couple of times. We were having a conversation with the staff. I remember I was having a conversation with Jonathan. We had talked about things and I said, “Jonathan, we’ve already talked about this” He looked at me and he was like, “It’d be nice if you cared about what I was saying.” I realized that that moment like, “I’ve got to start listening as a whole.” It’s okay to say something but I got to start listening and making sure that the other person knows, “I hear you and now here’s my thought.” That takes time because we want to have the best ideas. We want to see that we got it all in control. We want to have the answer. Sometimes you don’t want to be heard.
Final four, this is a new one. I added this one to it. What’s something you’re the proudest of since your time with the Bananas and Fans First?
The thing I’m most proud of is our people are also so proud to work here. We’ve got this group of people, a lot of people it’s their first job and they’ve been here for a few years now. A lot of times these people came in as interns and they grew up and entertain. I believe that these people are so proud to work here. When I go home, we talk to family or friends and you hear about you have these conversations around the dinner table or with your friends and you always talk about how bad work is. The boss is tough and they’re trying to screw me over. I didn’t get a raise this year. Everything is so negative about work and I hope and believe that when our people go home, I believe they talk about how great it is to work with the Savannah Bananas. They feel pride that they’re able to work for a place that is, I believe, doing some great things and is on top of the world and doing things that are so different that they’re proud of.
Are your people fans of your company? Are they actual fans and they built it? If you were to give advice to someone younger to stand out in business and in life, what would you tell them?
We have these conversations a lot when I go speak at Georgia Southern or when I have phone calls with people who were trying to pick our brain. I tell them, “You’re going to get a degree and you’re going to get the same degree that all other 500 people are getting and you’re going to have probably the same GPA.” If you don’t go out and learn from someone two steps ahead of you or three steps ahead of you, similar to what you’re doing now, much further ahead than the people, you’re finding those people who are two and three steps ahead of you. If you’re in college, if you’re in school, you’ve got to be someone who says, “I’m getting my degree. I’m getting my GPA and I’m studying, but who are those people in front of me that I need to latch on to and maybe do an internship with them? Can I have a phone call with you or can I learn? How do you get involved with those people who are two or three steps ahead of you?” Sometimes we see the people who are 40 years ahead of us and we’re like, “I don’t want to have a business of 800 employees and $400 million.” It’s like, “You’re just not in. You got to find that person that’s 2 or 3 steps ahead.” You get on their level and find out what’s your next step to separate yourself from everybody else.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It came from my mom. My mom was a coach. She was a basketball player, but she loved coaching. My mom was always our coach. She coached our soccer team, our basketball team, our baseball team. She was our coach and I always remember that she wanted to make sure that we respected the people who we’d play with. We played against the referees. I’ll never forget a basketball game. I was probably 9 or 10 years old and I got a foul called on me. I shoved the basketball away back to the referee.
You better believe when I got in the car that night, they were not happy because I have shown myself as someone who was not appreciated. I disrespected someone who was in authority of us that that day who is the referee. That’s not how we were told that we were supposed to live life. We need to respect people. We need to love them. Even if they’re different from us, even if they have different beliefs, even if he had a different attitude, we need to love and respect those people because that’s what we expect of ourselves. Mom being my coach growing up was cool and I had some hard conversations, but we learned a lot too.
My best advice is always from my dad too. Final one here, you may not have been asked this one. How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone who loves people and share love with people. That’s what we’ve been called to do as someone who’s a believer. I believe we’ve been called to love people. It’s not make the most money. It’s not have the most success. People need to know that because there are so many people who don’t know where to turn, don’t know what to search for. People come to our games looking for something and maybe looking for love. They’re looking for belonging or they feel it might be left out. Barry had a conversation with a guy who said he felt like coming to a Bananas game was the reason he got involved in Savannah. That’s not our business. I want to be remembered as somebody who people felt has a genuine love for people he comes in contact with.
Love is a word that we started talking about a lot more here in the office. It’s okay to talk about love in the workplace because that’s a powerful word. It’s a powerful emotion. It could be a good PFT if you mean it. I never hear you talk about it much. Jared, where can they find out more about you, the Fans First Podcast, Fans First Workshops and everything because you are a rockstar?
We’ve started a website, FansFirstU.com. We’re posting stuff on LinkedIn, Savannah Bananas. We are posting stuff on Instagram @FansFirstEntertainment, and the podcast is called the Fans First Experience podcast. Email me, text me, call me or whatever. We want to be accessible. What I’ve tried to share with people is we’re not trying to hide behind a computer. I’m not trying to hide behind webinars. We’re not trying to hide behind workshops or podcasts. Our emails and our phone numbers are widely accessible.
I appreciate you, Jared.
- Fans First Experience Podcast
- Savannah Bananas – LinkedIn
- @FansFirstEntertainment – Instagram
About Jared Orton
Jared began working with Fans First Entertainment with Savannah’s sister team in Gastonia, NC. while he completed his degree in Sport Management at Belmont Abbey College. While with the Grizzlies, attendance grew to new heights for the franchise as Jared began to tap into new niches of fans in the marketplace. After the 2013 season in Gastonia, Jared became the Assistant General Manager of his hometown Burlington Royals.
Because of a relentless focus on entertainment and ticket sales, the Royals were fortunate to see tremendous growth in attendance and revenue during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Jared is now taking those experiences, along with the experiences of Fans First Entertainment, to develop a value-packed, non-stop, entertainment experience for Savannah fans. Jared currently lives in Savannah with his wife, Kelsey. Click here to meet Jared!
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