Four Loyalty Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Brett Favre
The former Green Bay Packers quarterback's journey exemplifies what it takes for brands to win—and lose—fans.
As a Wisconsin native, I can say (with a slight bias) that Packers fans are some of the most loyal fans in all of football. They'll endure sub-zero temperatures to watch a game at Lambeau Field and sport their giant cheeseheads with pride. They've even formed their own dating site so that they can mate with their own kind.
But the green and gold lovers have endured some heartache over the years. And no wound brings back a sting quite as strong as the Brett Favre debacle. Favre tugged at Packers fans' heartstrings by delivering consecutive wins and leading Green Bay to two Super Bowls. Yet, his decision to retire and then play for the New York Jets and then Packers rivals the Minnesota Vikings was a tough cheese curd to swallow for many fans.
So when the Packers announced that the team would retire Favre's jersey and induct him into the Green Bay Packers' Hall of Fame on Tuesday, I felt torn. Yes, he was an amazing quarterback—one of the greatest—but his retirement shenanigans, team changes, and sexual harassment charges made my loyalty towards him waver.
As I scanned the social sphere to get a sense for how other fans felt, I noticed that many were happy for Favre—even defending him from people who weren't supportive of his induction or were making wisecracks.
Favre's journey is a play-by-play for how brands can gain, lose, and regain customer loyalty. So, in honor of his Hall of Fame announcement, here are four loyalty lessons marketers can learn from Green Bay's own number four.
Have a clear brand identity and stick to it: Besides throwing touchdown passes, this is where Favre excelled at the beginning of his career. He was the leader of the Pack: I mean you don't get mentioned in the mid-1990s Macarena parody, Packerena, for nothing (which is highly worth a listen if you haven't heard it).
But it wasn't just Favre's athletic ability that caused him to win cheeseheads' hearts. He also showed a lot of personality and emotional vulnerability—not an easy feat during a pre–social media era. The fact that he still played against the Oakland Raiders the day after his father passed away in 2003 and supported causes that were close to his heart, like breast cancer awareness after his wife Deanna completed treatment, helped fans relate to the quarterback and further strengthen their loyalty. With marketers having so much access to consumers through a variety of touchpoints, it's important for them to take a clear stance on what they stand for and identify ways that they can relate to their customers on a personal, deeper level.
At the same time, Favre's original image as Wisconsin's hero is exactly what led to his tarnished reputation later on in his career. When Favre went to play for the Minnesota Vikings (we're going to pretend that brief stint with the Jets never happened), some Favre fanatics felt betrayed (note the T-shirts from Zazzle below). How could he sport a Vikings helmet after wearing a cheesehead?
The move also created a sense of tension towards the Packers in general, as some blamed Favre's team change on coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson's decision to have current quarterback Aaron Rodgers fill the position. And when Favre started accumulating sexual harassment charges, it seemed like Wisconsin's golden boy was gone.
It's important for brands to stay true to their core values and identity. Failing to do so can result in customers feeling divided or deceived. But if a complete rebrand is absolutely necessary, companies should try to involve their customers in their changes, explain why they're making them, and ask for feedback every step of the way.