Over the past year, I’ve touched on the topic of passionate customers. Anime in general has legion of passionate “fans” – people who follow the medium, watch the latest titles, and maintain active discussions on message boards, social media, and even in everyday conversation. However, the number of passionate customers within this particular sector is incredibly small in comparison.

How small is this group? Well, that’s a difficult topic to tackle, given that it’s one that will surely invite criticisms, fighting, and hate mail that I’d rather not answer. To put it in general terms, though, I’d like to use a comment that producer Tom Wayland told me in an interview last year. Mr. Wayland paraphrased producer Toshi Yoshida, as he stated that “[i]f every attendee at an anime convention were to buy just one DVD at that convention, it would, like, totally turn things around – especially for a lot of the smaller struggling countries, like the dearly departed Central Park Media.” Voice actor Greg Ayres agreed in a later interview, as he said “[i]f everybody just bought one DVD, even if it was on sale, we’d see a difference.”

Now, consider that many larger cons attract anywhere from 20,000 to 55,000 attendees. Even if we combine the populations of this year’s three biggest conventions (Anime Expo, Otakon, Anime Central), that makes 101,531 attendees. in comparison to many types of media, that’s not exactly many people required to turn things around.

As many know, though, this isn’t something magical that’ll happen overnight. There is no combination of pixie dust and angel farts that will make these 101,000 DVDs and/or Blu-rays sell. Instead, this is something that will fall on the customer. Specifically, the power of the customer’s word of mouth.

Word of mouth is, without a doubt, the best form of advertising available. It’s (mostly) free, it comes from a source people trust (who doesn’t trust their friends?), and it gets people excited to buy. People stake their reputations, their integrity, and their friends’ trust on the line with every recommendation, which is exactly why it is so trusted in the world of the consumer. This is where the passionate customer comes in – the passionate customer is someone who is so enamored by a company or product, so impressed that he can’t help but want more. These are the folks who will comment on FUNimation’s Facebook pages, tweet recommendations of favorite shows, or simply force their friends to sit on the couch and watch the damn show they’ve been raving about. They are a market’s most valuable asset, and staunchest defenders.

Passionate customers don’t appear overnight. A solid product simply isn’t enough in this day and age. Instead, passionate customers take time to cultivate, and require at least some attention from those looking to keep them. They like being engaged, which means they prefer to have their questions answered quickly and honestly, they like it when companies listen to what they have to say (and acknowledge doing so), and they see the words “I’m sorry” as proof that they’re working with caring humans. In short, these customers like being acknowledged that they are important. They want to know that they’re not just walking wallets to these corporations.

In short, these companies are, well… Likeable, to borrow a term from marketer Dave Kerpen.

Likeable companies are able to nudge people across that fine line between “buy” and “pass”, and they know how to excite their customers. Likeable companies are able to surprise their customers, and find new ways to deliver value through their products. These companies are able to work on a large number levels to ensure that every customer feels like the king of the company.

And, frankly, we are all kings of the market in some way, aren’t we?

The anime industry is taking steps toward the envied Likeable status, and are making great strides to build bridges in a community that was once filled with distrustful cynics. Not every move is one that I would make in such a position, nor is every title going to be one that sells at Cowboy Bebop levels. However, as companies like FUNimation and Section23 engage their customers, and as they learn just what delights their customers the most, I don’t doubt that we’ll begin to see a shift in the market. There is a good reason as to why Likeable companies attract passionate customers. And, if the industry continues to experiment and engage, I don’t doubt that we’ll see this phenomenon in action.