From worst to first: Lessons in loyalty from Cincinnati Bengals fans
As Evan McPherson’s 12th postseason field goal sailed between the uprights, people in living rooms, basements, and bars across the country jumped out of their seats in disbelief to say, “Can you believe it?!” The Bengals are in the Super Bowl!” Yes, we can believe it. The loyalty of Bengal’s fans hasn’t been cemented by a rational evaluation of wins and losses, but forged by fire. Through the highs and lows, we’ve handed down memories and traditions reflective of Cincinnati through the ages. We feel the magic again through the eyes of the next generation.
Even still, one has to wonder, with a franchise quarterback like Joey B, in the wake of Tom Brady’s retirement, how will the Bengals and their fans deal with the bandwagon hype?
Loyalty can be contentious amongst fans because deep loyalty is a beating heart. It can be damaged, broken, repaired, nourished, and invigorated. Hearts love, and love can be hard. It takes work. This team is a lesson in the maintenance of loyalty.
At Hyperquake, we spend a lot of time working to build brand loyalty for our clients. Our formula for this is to inspire and gain trust with emotional connection, and reinforce it with rational reasoning.
“You have to move people to move product,” – Colin Crotty, Hyperquake CEO
“56% [of people] said they’d spend more on a brand they’re loyal to even if cheaper options existed elsewhere” (Yotpo 2021).
As defined by Merriam-Webster
Truth, be told.
When it comes to sports fans, loyalty tends to index higher in emotion than rationality, sometimes even crossing into irrationality.
Teams can put out decades of rational reasons not to believe (losing records, ticket pricing, the former TV blackout rule, etc.) and loyal fans will remain. Why? Because sports teams are representatives of the people in the cities they play for, and the people in those cities cannot give up the ghost when it’s sacred to their identity. The city of Cincinnati is a humble, persistent people.
The Confidence Curve
Connection comes by commonality. This is the backbone for how Hyperquake drives loyalty on behalf of our clients. We start with shared values. We find the overlap between what is going on with the consumer and what the brand has to offer them. While your focus is on your organization’s pricing, promotion, product development, etc., we highlight how those things meet the values of consumers today. When you share a value, your distinction becomes clear and loyalty begins. The emotional connection trumps rational reasoning.
“When asked if they were more inclined to be loyal to a brand whose values aligned with theirs, a whopping 84.3% of respondents said yes” (Yotpo 2021).
For the Bengals and the fans in Cincinnati, the shared value is resilience. Respect is earned. We are not a Cinderella story. We’re not just happy to be here. We belong here.
That is a value a lot of people can relate to right now. Alongside the rational reason of performance, we will be seeing a flood of new Cincinnati Bengals fans. We’ve already sold out McPherson jerseys, turned retailers’ shelves barren of Bengals merch, and had Burrow’s rose-colored glasses go viral.
You can categorize 2021-22 Bengals fans in one of three ways: the old faithful, reginited believers, and new adopters. Each has unique problems and solutions that brands can learn from within their own consumer bases.
1. The old faithful
Problem: Cincinnati fans have quite the chip on their shoulder from all they have endured.
Cincinnati Bengals Instagram
Solution: Help them embrace new fans. It’s good for business, it’s good for the city, and these boys deserve it.
- Reward legacy loyalty. Be loyal to those who have been loyal to you with exclusive experiences, priority ticketing, merch, and other perks.
- Let them lead. Legacy Bengals fans lead their own fun initiatives like player nicknames, and crazy costumes. Lean into that.
Brand Example: Delta Elite Frequent Flier Rewards
Photo Credit: Sheri Barber
2. Reignited believers:
Problem: There is a whole sect of people who loved the Bengals for a long time, but had their hearts broken one too many times. The rational began to outweigh the emotional.
Solution: Build their trust and let them know they’re safe to believe again.
- Stoke the nostalgia. Strong bonding memories sit waiting to be stirred in their hearts.
- Consistency is key. Deliver on your promise and mean something to them when you can’t.
Brand example: Champion
Photo Credit: Upscalehype.com; Kravitz/Film Magic
3. New adopters
Problem: Whether bandwagoners or beginners, the Bengals haven’t had the time to build rapport and sink their teeth into these fans.
Solution: Relentless welcome.
- Make them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, without excluding the current fanbase.
- Give them a reason to stay.
Brand Example: AT&T
Wherever you fall in the fandom, we have this shared value in common; We belong here. May we all celebrate a Bengals’ Super Bowl ring come this Sunday. I may be biased, but