Fans First

Learn how to turn your customers into fans from author, speaker, and Fans First phenom Jesse Cole, Owner of the Savannah Bananas. When your customers becomes fans, they do your marketing for you. This course is a must for anyone looking for organic business growth built upon a tremendous customer experience.

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Normal Gets Normal Results

The Savannah Bananas are a baseball team – but owner Jesse Cole knows they aren’t in the baseball industry. They’re in the Fans First Experience industry. The game of baseball comes with a slew of challenges – it’s too slow, or too boring, or too long, or too antiquated. But, instead of seeing friction, Cole saw opportunity. By innovating every touchpoint and turning customers into true fans by providing a remarkable experience, the Bananas have created a one-of-a-kind product with fans that have become the organization’s best marketers. What friction points can you turn into opportunities?

First Inning



A lifelong baseball fan, Jesse Cole has seen it all. From potential big-league dreams to a journey toward finding how best to engage with the game after his career came to a close, Cole eventually landed an internship with a small team in South Carolina. Since, he’s held key roles in several organizations and innovated the entire baseball experience and laid the foundation for what he’s now accomplished in Savannah – all by dramatically rethinking what fans found frustrating and putting fans first.


First Pitch: The Savannah Bananas Take the Field

When Cole, his wife and their small team began working to replicate past success in Savannah, they sold two tickets…in three months. The lowest point came shortly after, when the team was informed it had completely overdrawn the organization’s bank account. Instead of folding, Cole and his wife doubled down. They sold their house, going all-in on the Bananas. Then a lightbulb went off. By working from small experiments and building on what worked, small wins began to trickle in.

Second Inning


Creating a Better Experience

It was time to pull out all the stops. From renaming the team to the Bananas to senior-citizen dance teams, male cheerleading squads, dancing players and a mascot named Split, the Bananas now have a waitlist for tickets that numbers in the thousands. To follow that fans-first lead, you’ll need to ask some key questions, including: What are some of your organization’s friction points? How can you ease them? How are you making your customers feel? Is that how you want them to feel? Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.


Stop Doing What Your Customers Hate

The best business model in the world is to stop doing what your customers hate. Sounds simple, right? Each day, your organization does something that frustrates customers and prevents them from becoming the true fans you’re after. Work toward solutions for those frustrations.


What Do You Want to Be Known For?

Think about what you want to be known for and what you’re known for now. Do they align? It’s time to consider every interaction and touchpoint and craft a Perfect Fan Testimonial. Figure out what business you’re really in. If you could have one review perfectly sum up what you want your fans to feel, what would it say?


Create Shareable Moments

As Cole said, the Bananas aren’t in the baseball industry. The organization is in the Fans First Experience industry. When looking to craft your own customer experience, don’t be afraid to look outside your industry and learn from successes elsewhere. What inspires you? How can you leverage that to inspire customers, turn them into fans, and get them to share their experience with others, which has been proven to be the most effective form of marketing?


Learn from Experiences in Other Industries

Cole and the Bananas’ team are constantly looking elsewhere. If you ask Cole who the organization’s competitors are, he won’t tell you the rest of the teams in the Coastal Plain League. He’ll rattle off the likes of Google, Amazon and Starbucks, because he’s not putting on a baseball game – he’s putting on an experience. From resort-inspired cooling towels handed out to fans, “parking penguins” passing out popsicles and more, the Bananas’ “culture of ideas” draws from anywhere inspiration can be found.


Bonus Content: Rethink Your Pricing Model

In identifying ways to stop the hate for the Bananas, Cole singled out ticket prices and traditional fees as a major friction point. The Bananas have adopted an all-inclusive pricing model where, for $15, fans get free access to hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, popcorn, soda, water, cookies, and chips. Do some fans take advantage? Almost certainly. But Cole said the mindset needed to create an experience where fans feel like they’re taking advantage of his organization changed everything and offered a revolutionary path toward a better experience – and more engagement with premium products.

Third Inning


Whatever is Normal, Do the Exact Opposite

It’s a simple relationship – normal gets normal results. Question everything and make two lists – one for the normal and one for the remarkable. Look at what’s normal in your industry and think about what you can do to become remarkable. Further, don’t break the rules. Make the rules. The Bananas have made their voicemail message so remarkable that customers want to be left on hold. Are you doing anything that gets that kind of result?


Challenge your Industry

Simply trying to reach an industry standard is a recipe for failure. Remarkable can’t be created from anything that’s only standard. Challenge the rules of your industry. In today’s world, not many Blockbusters remain, because new models challenging that industry came along. Similarly, baseball attendance is declining, but the Bananas are selling out. It all begins with a question. What can we do to be different?


Listen Carefully, Respond Creatively

Listen to your customers’ questions, concerns and desires. What do they really want out of their experience? What matters most to them? It begins with offhand comments and little moments, but, through a creative response that shows you’re listening, these can balloon into a truly remarkable experience that builds a true relationship, not a transactional exchange.


Whats is the Craziest Thing Your Business has Ever Done?

Ask yourself this, and be honest – what’s the craziest, wildest thing that you’ve done in your business that people are going to be talking about for years to come? Do you have one? At the Bananas, they didn’t stop at green beer and uniforms to celebrate the city’s love of St. Patrick’s Day. They played in kilts. Think that one is going away anytime soon? Probably not. Are you being crazy enough?

Fourth Inning


Be the O.N.L.Y

Instead of settling for being a little better or a little different, settle for nothing less than being the only. To get there, be the O.N.L.Y.: O: Own the Problems in Your Industry. Truly own and accept your industry’s problems. N: Create Noise. How can you turn up the volume and be noticed? L: Spread the Love. Love your customers, employees, team members and yourself. Y: Why Do You Do It?.What’s your greater purpose?

Fifth Inning


Focus on The Customer

Advertising is a billion-dollar industry, but the Bananas believe it’s dead. Why? When you watch a YouTube video, you skip the ads. Customers don’t want to be advertised to. The game has changed. At the Bananas, this has manifested in the removal of ads at the ballpark. Did a customer ask for them to go away? No. But the choice to be revolutionary has paid dividends. Don’t ask how to create more sales. Ask how to create more fans, and let that focus drive the bottom line.


Perfect Fan Experience

To craft the perfect experience, you have to define it. For the Bananas, it began with ticket sales. Select seats, pay, get confirmation – that’s the normal experience. Now, at the Bananas, ticket purchases are met with an outrageously over-the-top video that immediately sets the expectation for a unique and different experience.Map the moments in your customer experience, from first impression to thanking your fans, taking it to the next level and more, crafting the ideal experience from that initial introduction to the very last impression. Then make it happen.


Bonus Content: Customer Giveaways

Would you rather receive a gift with someone else’s logo on it or your own? Move on from the traditional giveaway items that don’t create a lasting impression and focus on appealing to what actually matters to your customers. It’s one more way to truly stand out.

Sixth Inning


What are the Stages Where Your Business Takes Place?

No business has a single stage where it does business. At the Bananas, the action isn’t solely confined to the field of play. The ballpark has several “stages” that present opportunities to make a lasting impression and create true fans. The stadium’s entrance, the concourse, the grandstands, the bathrooms – they all present opportunities to work toward that ideal experience. Think of all of the places your customers view you. Those are your stages. Are you paying enough attention to every single one of them?


The Office as a Stage

Are you making the most of the space where your team works and collaborates? Is that collaboration occurring?It’s time to rethink how you leverage your office space. Reflect on your company’s history and how it can inform your culture and the things you do to create a productive, fun and engaging energy in the office.


Your Front Door is a Stage

It’s critically important to realize the impact of what you’re doing. When’s the last time you paused to see the effect you’ve had on customers? If you have, is it the one you wanted?


A Stage for Loyal Fans

Fans First is a mindset. Stop thinking about your customers as customers. Change the language. When you view them as fans, you’ll make an effort to treat them that way and go above and beyond, and your relationships will move from transactional to lasting and authentic.

Seventh Inning


Conquering Digital

The digital experience can’t be standard. It should be magical. Much like the “live” experience, you have to map out all of your digital touchpoints in an effort to create a special experience that delivers. Your digital presence should tell your story in a way that’s worth sharing. Start with the unscalable, establish a human, personal connection, and build from there.


Build Your Own Media Channels

It’s time to become your own media company. How are you sharing your experience online? By owning your channels – video, podcasts, and more – you own your brand. Create your own content that shapes your story and gets your message out. Every business is in the entertainment business. Engage your fans and develop your core experience in everything you produce.

Eight Inning


Building an Idea Culture

Every company should value the importance of ideas. Create an idea box and set aside a location in your business where you can hold an idea session. Start by questioning the small details. Consider every idea and execute where you can, and don’t be afraid to fail. Ideas are where you start, but it’s implementation and elevation that take you to the next step and helps create a true Fans First experience. In Savannah, banana-shaped tickets were a great start – but scratch-and-sniff banana-shaped tickets took it to the next level. How can you follow suit?


Moving Forward with Fans First

It’s not about change for change’s sake – it’s about a company-wide mindset of continuous improvement and a desire to get better. If you want to grow, you have to implement new ideas and keep changing the way you do things. Iterate along the way. Always ask yourself, “How can we make that work?” If you can go to your team and engineer a culture where everyone strives to get just a little bit better every day, you’re on the right path.


Hiring Fans First Employees

If you want your team members to create an amazing experience for your customers, you have to create an amazing experience for them. In the same way you mapped the fans’ journey, map the journey for team members. Tailor your process to what you want and to your culture. At the Bananas, employees send video cover letters, “Fans First” essays and “future resumes” to ensure they’re a good fit. Your employees are your most important fans. Your customers’ experiences begin with them.


Ninth Inning

If bosses, teammates and others question why a Fans First approach is right for your business, maybe that’s exactly why it’s a perfect fit – because it’s not normal. Safe doesn’t drive success, and it shouldn’t get you excited or get you ready to attack your day. Every day is an opportunity to do something uncomfortable and to test something that just might elevate more customers to lifelong fans of your brand. It’s time to make the rules and show your fans, employees and yourself that you care. It’s time to be Fans First.