nhl fansWith the Stanley Cup pulling into the quarterfinals, it’s easy to see team loyalty coming to a head. While team loyalty and brand loyalty are certainly a little different, there are a bunch of lessons that businesses can learn about customer loyalty from the current championship. Let’s take a look.

Winning Counts, But Underdogs Have Devout Followings, Too

If you take a look at Forbes’ list of top-performing hockey teams in comparison to the loyalty of said teams’ fan bases, you’ll notice something that’s not particularly surprising: the teams with the greatest degree of fan loyalty tend to be the teams that had the best win/loss record last season. But, if you take a closer look, it becomes clear that there’s some variation. The St. Louis Blues, for example, ranked close to the bottom at 21st in the league last year, but are tied for 4th in terms of loyalty.

Looking at marketing, I think this comes back to the popularity vs exclusivity debate. Mainstream, popular brands that are enjoyed by everyone are big on sales, but in some cases, the brand that has something of a mystique that doesn’t appeal to everyone tends to have a smaller number of incredibly loyal followers. The lesson here? You don’t have to “win” – or appeal to everyone – to develop ties with customers. So think about which approach you want to take as you craft your marketing strategy.

Always Be Entertaining

Hockey is an incredibly fast-paced game, and fans tend to walk away satisfied even if their home team lost. Why? Because if there’s a good performance from both sides, hockey tends to be entertaining no matter what.

When looking at branding, a huge part of customer loyalty comes from entertainment value. After all, just look at the ads of top performing brands: they’re funny, they’re creative, they’re a little bit off-the-wall. Ultimately, customers will often develop loyalty to the brands that they distinctly remember, regardless of the actual product or service in comparison to competitors – and in today’s world, customers remember entertainment.

Fan Bonding Leads to Team Loyalty

Teams that give fans a reason to come together and bond tend to build supportive communities around themselves. Whether due to merchandise that fans can use to identify each other and proclaim their allegiance, or a fantastic season after a multi-year slump that reignites fans’ passion, fans are more loyal to teams when they feel like they’re part of a club.

Creating a community is a huge part of marketing, too. By providing a platform to build relationships through social media, encouraging fan-created content, and creating a culture around your brand, you can instantly up your customer loyalty.

History and Tradition Build Investment

Lastly, teams that cultivate a sense of history and tradition further bring their fans into a larger community. When fans all wear a certain color on game day, can easily list off prior Stanley Cup-winning seasons, and share knowledge of legendary players, that “club” feeling is invoked.

Businesses can do exactly the same thing with branding. By creating brand experiences that situate customers within a larger culture or history, a product becomes more than a product. A coherent brand image, a propensity towards storytelling, and differentiation from the competition are what you’ll need to succeed in this area.

What other lessons can businesses learn from the NHL? Share your ideas with us in the comments section!