The Green Bay school of brand loyalty

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(Photo courtesy Jim Biever & John Harmann, Packers.com)
(Photo courtesy Jim Biever & John Harmann, Packers.com)

Dedication to your football team is a model brands must emulate

To quote Vince Lombardi: "The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall."

There have only been two times in my life when I've cried after a sporting event. The first was in 2009 when Boston University beat Northeastern for the Beanpot title — foreshadowing what turned out to be an NCAA championship-winning year for my alma mater's men's hockey team. Those were happy tears. The second was last Sunday when the Green Bay Packers lost to the Seattle Seahawks in overtime during the NFC championship. Those were not happy tears.

Saying that I'm devastated by the game's outcome feels like an understatement. What appeared to be a Super Bowl-qualifying victory quickly turned into a heart-wrenching defeat in a mere 44 seconds. I spent two hours after the game laying on my bed — replaying Brandon Bostick's mishandling of the ball over and over again and wishing that we had gone for those early touchdowns.

While I sulked, I tried to pinpoint why exactly I was so upset. I realized that the root of my despair stemmed from one simple fact: It was over. And "it," I realized, had multiple meanings. "It" wasn't just dreams of winning the Super Bowl (although, I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't part of it). "It" was sitting on the curb outside of the Kettle of Fish Packers bar for hours just to watch a game with fellow fans; "it" was wearing my green and gold Packers cap to work after a victory; "it" was singing "The Bears Still Suck" with my friends; and "it" was having the excuse to pig out on brats and bloody mary's on game day.

I didn't always feel this passionate about the Packers. Truth be told, I wasn't even a die-hard Packers fan growing up. Sure, I would attend our family's Packers parties and root for the team while living in Wisconsin — it's kind of a sin not to there. But it wasn't until I moved to New York that being a Packers fan took on a whole new meaning. Cheering on the green and gold strengthened my loyalties in other related areas, like my home state pride and the sense of community that I formed with other Packers fans.

Just as how most fans don't randomly select which sports team they stand behind, many consumers don't arbitrarily choose which brands they're loyal to. Consumers are loyal to brands because they encompass other things that they're devoted to, like values, hobbies, charitable causes, lifestyles, or even memories with family and friends. And when marketers tap into consumers' extended loyalties, both teams win.

For instance, in a previous blog post, I wrote about how Budweiser, IKEA, Subaru, and KLM leveraged people's loyalty towards their pets to build emotional connections and drive their messaging. Brands can also align with causes that their customers are passionate about and represent the companies' values, like Bank of America's commitment to the Wounded Warrior Project or Teen Vogue and Toyota's devotion to safe driving among teens. Tapping into customers' beliefs can be another way companies drive loyalty. Consider Always' commitment to female empowerment, Dove's focus on Real Beauty, and Honey Maid's inclusion of all family types. Brands can even play off of the pride customers and organizations have for certain geographic locations, like Chrysler's Imported from Detroit 2011 Super Bowl commercial.

Of course, as in any relationship, loyalty has to be a two-way street. After all, customers can't be loyal to brands that don't return the devotion. Brands can show their customers loyalty through a number of forms, including customer appreciation offers, winning service and experiences, and even simple notes thanking them for their patronage.

I know that there's been speculation over whether the Packers will be able to bounce back from this loss, especially with the morale so low. And in my opinion, Green Bay's future is partially determined on how much the team shows its loyalty towards its fans. Packers fans have supported their team through and through. Now, it's up to Green Bay to return the favor by dusting themselves off and giving next season their all. This in turn will further strengthen fans' loyalty toward the team and inspire them to cheer on the Pack once again.

Former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi said it best: "I have been wounded, but not yet slain. I shall lie here and bleed awhile. Then I shall rise and fight again. The title of champion may from time to time fall to others more than ourselves. But the heart, the spirit, and the souls of champions remain in Green Bay."

This article first appeared on dmnews.com.

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