• Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson on turning customers into fans 

    The business conference circuit is made up of professional keynote speakers able to turn their hand to any industry and share their wisdom on how that sector and its company leaders could do better. But there are not many on the speaking circuit who are also used to fronting a heavy metal band and playing to tens of thousands of adoring fans. That, though, was the theme that Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, drilled down on in his inspiring talk at last year’s Wine Future event in Portugal. How do you turn your customers into loyal, adoring fans? Without slipping into spandex, or whirling an electric guitar around. 

    The business conference circuit is made up of professional keynote speakers able to turn their hand to any industry and share their wisdom on how that sector and its company leaders could do better. But there are not many on the speaking circuit who are also used to fronting a heavy metal band and playing to tens of thousands of adoring fans. That, though, was the theme that Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, drilled down on in his inspiring talk at last year’s Wine Future event in Portugal. How do you turn your customers into loyal, adoring fans? Without slipping into spandex, or whirling an electric guitar around. 

    mm By January 22, 2024

    Rock star, Olympic medal-winning fencer, airline pilot, business speaker. The list goes on for one of the world’s most engaging, interesting and inspiring figures – Iron Maiden’s lead singer, Bruce Dickinson.

    There is probably not a bookmakers in the country that would have taken a bet on Iron Maiden’s lead singer Bruce Dickinson delivering the most effective and inspiring talk at any drinks industry event in 2023. But for those that were at Wine Future 2023 conference, in the quiet town of Coimbra, Portugal, what started out as a novelty seeing a major rock star on the stage in front of you, quickly turned into admiration and then a realisation you were taking part in a pretty unique moment.

    Instead of having his usual thousands of fans screaming undying love at him, Dickinson seemed to be just (ish) as happy to have a conference room of delegates wrapped in complete silence hanging on every word he said. It’s clearly better for his ear drums too. 

    Bruce Dickinson shows he just as inspiring as a business speaker as he is fronting one of the biggest rock bands in the world

    Hats off to Wine Future founder and chief organiser, Pancho Campo, for having the vision and ambition to get Dickinson to the event in the first place. But, it seems, standing in front of a room full of strangers, with only a microphone and a set of slides of derring do from his Iron Maiden days, is what keeps him happy these days. At least before he gets to ramp up his microphone and entertain his adoring fans that continue to come to Iron Maiden concerts in increasing numbers all over the world.

    It is those fans that Dickinson most wanted to talk about. People who have all emotionally connected with Iron Maiden and their music and who love coming together, as one, to celebrate the band, and each other, at every concert they do. That’s the spark, he says, that creates the magic that rock fans and their bands can create together.

    The nearest equivalent, he claims, any business leader, brand, or wine producer has to an Iron Maiden fan is their customer. What can you do to turn those customers into true, loyal fans? That’s the challenge that Dickinson believes is the ultimate goal for anyone working in business.

    Customers to fans 

    Iron Maiden has worked hard for decades to build up a worldwide fan base says Bruce Dickinson

    But how many get anywhere near achieving true fan status amongst their customer base? Particularly as a customer is just as likely to walk off and become a so-called fan of another brand, or business at the sight of a discount, or money off voucher.

    So how do you make that switch from customer to fan? It all comes down to being straight up and transparent about everyone you do. “Honesty is part of your DNA of turning a customer into a fan,” says Dickinson. “You need to find a way to make a relationship that is sacred in everything you do.”

    The door is wide open for those businesses that get it. “People are a fan of the idea of being a fan. They want to have that relationship.”

    He likens to it to writing a new song music with his band. “What comes first the music, or the lyrics? It doesn’t really matter. What is important is being able to recognise something when it happens. When we ask each other questions. ‘Wouldn’t it be a great idea if we did this…’ It’s what comes out of that normal human connection.”

    But you have to be truly passionate about what you do, he adds. “If you’re a fan of my wine, then I am a fan of you. You have to be passionate about that and genuinely mean it.” 

    How much do you care?

    Rock star turned keynote business speaker – the remarkable Bruce Dickinson

    Too often people in business don’t deep down care about the products and services they are selling. They are doing it just to get paid. “You are selling products to people who also don’t care.”

    Look at the difference it makes when you get people on both sides of that relationship who genuinely care about what they are doing. It makes you want to buy from that person and really get behind what they are selling, he explains. 

    It’s human nature to lose some of that spark the older you get. But you have to do all you can to fight against it. 

    It’s why people who think differently and can think outside the box should be cherished and coveted by business leaders. They still have that all important magic, Dickinson argues.

    Going the extra mile 

    Bruce Dickinson is also a qualified pilot and says there is not better way of getting closer to your fans than personally flying them to your own concert

    Businesses also talk a lot about going the extra mile for their customers. Dickinson can go one step further. You would have thought being the lead singer of a global rock band would keep you busy, but he is also a qualified airline pilot and spent some 15 years working as a commercial flight flying charter flights around the world. 

    When the band was told it was uneconomic for them to be hiring planes to take the band, its crew, equipment and entourage on world tours across the southern hemisphere he came up with the idea of chartering and customising their own jet – which he would then fly. Not only cutting thousands off their expenses bill, but making sure the band could stay loyal to their fans in all corners of the earth. Or as he puts it: “Make sure they don’t end up buying Metalllica records instead.” 

     A move that has seen him fly the band four times around the world on their own jumbo jet. 

    He even chartered a plane just to take some Iron Maiden fans out to one of their own concerts – and then flew them home again making sure he signed every passenger’s memorabilia, tour T-shirt and albums before they get off the plane. That’s how you create true fans the Iron Maiden/ Bruce Dickinson way.

    “You have to be creative and make people happy,” he adds.

    Iron Maiden’s personal jet has allowed them to stay close to their fans all over the world says Bruce Dickinson

    Having a Plan B 

    You also, in business, have to have a Plan B for when things go wrong. Like really badly. What happens when your winery burns down, or your vineyards are ruined? How do you respond to that? 

    He says he was faced with a personal need to come up with a Plan B when he was diagnosed with cancer and had to come out fighting. To do that he created a character “who would be my cancer, who I could hate” and fight against. 

    Two of the side effects of his cancer treatment was to first lose his sense of taste, but then have an enhanced sense of smell.

    Iron Maiden has created his own multi-million bottle selling beer brand – Trooper.

    Which is how Iron Maiden ended up making their own beer – Trooper – which now sells millions of bottles a year. 

    He says the band was originally asked if they wanted to have their own wine, but whilst he personally drinks a lot of wine he admits he is not very passionate about it – and more importantly neither is the band. Beer is more their collective tipple.

    It was at the same time as he was diagnosed with cancer that they were also looking at how they could have their own beer brand. They had approached around 20 breweries to see if they would be interested in collaborating on making a new beer. All of whom replied to say they were so “passionate” about their beer and brewing skills they did not think it would be appropriate to work with Iron Maiden. 

    Then they came across Robinsons Brewery, the multi-generational, family brewer in Stockport and they got talking to its master brewer about what they might be able to do together. He shared with them the kind of beers he liked to drink and what they could do that was similar, but different. 

    So whilst he struggled to taste the differences in the beer samples they sent back, he was able to have an in-depth understanding of them through his sense of smell. “I had a real visceral emotional response to them,” he says. 

    The result is Trooper, an English cask ale and, as Dickinson says, “people love it”. It sold over 1 million bottles in its first year and the band now has multiple beers and is selling over 14m bottles and as well as Robinsons has contracts with brewers all over the world. But Trooper, he stresses, will always only be made by Robinsons. 

    Bruce Dickinson says Iron Maiden will be forever indebted to Robinsons Brewery for being willing to work with Iron Maiden to create Trooper beer and will never switch breweries as a result

    That’s where its loyalty lies. “We will never get anyone else to make it for us,” he says. “The skill of the brewer to make the same beer every year is remarkable.”

    Dickinson says is very “proud” of the beer they were able to make and he sees it as his “gift from cancer”. But is also a good life lesson. What things go badly wrong, what else can you do. Look at things differently. How are you going to get over this obstacle and find a new way forward. 

    “When life throws lemons, make lemonade,” he says.  

    He left the smitten conference hall with one last thought. Your goal in business should ultimately be about getting people – your customers, or fans – to “love you” but what are you doing to earn that love, or if they do love you what are you doing to show that love back?

    If you can do that then “no-one will ever be a customer again – they will be your fans. They will love you”.

    Wine Future takes place in Coimbra in Portugal between November 7-9

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