As someone who has played, coached and watched a lot of basketball all my life, I have long admired the Syracuse Orange brand. Growing up in upstate New York, Syracuse was the "hometown team" for just about anyone north of Poughkeepsie. The Orange have built a great brand that has consistently delivered diehard fans, and fantastic results, for decades. There are many reasons why the fans are loyal to the brand, despite tough losses like the one they had last week.
1) Creation of Community: The Orange bring communities and generations together. Rich and poor, old and young find common experience and common pride in the team. They provide value to their community by bringing them national recognition and instilling pride in this small upstate New York community.
They respect and appreciate their fans, and give back through numerous community events. Brand managers should be asking: How is my brand connecting people? What am I doing to foster that connection? How am I showing the community, not just individual customers, how much the brand values them?
2) Tone and values: Syracuse has always been the "working man's" team. Humble, hard-working and dedicated. They do not recruit high-profile, high-drama players to give them a short-term boost. They are consistent in their brand values year after year, decade after decade.
They demonstrate humility, even when they are #1 in the country. While great brand managers know the importance of brand consistency, they also need to think about how the brand should behave when it's in the leadership spot vs. a challenger spot. That's when consistency is so critical.
3) Leadership: Every great brand needs a strong leader. Syracuse has Jim Boeheim, who has been a strong, steady force for the team for 41 years. Tenacious and steady, Boeheim has been one of the most winning coaches of the NCAA. He has had more players under his tutelage become NBA drafts than most top coaches.
The lesson here: Brands need not just great marketers, but great leaders. Leaders with strong character able to make tough calls, provide critical feedback and that can motivate their team with consistency.
4) Ownable Icons: Ask basketball enthusiasts what they associate with Syracuse and you will hear consistent comments: Orange. The Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim. These brand features are iconic of Syracuse men's basketball. They are ownable, and they are recognizable. Most successful sports teams have ownable icons.
Many powerful consumer brands do as well. But too often icons or ownable attributes are tossed aside for new thinking. Great brands keep consistent attributes but focus on modernizing them with time. Syracuse has kept orange in style for decades.
Of course, these brand lessons are common to the many great brands in basketball, and in other sports as well. The Hoyas. The Tarheels, The Red Sox, The Yankees, the list goes on and on.
So while SU fans like myself will be mourning for quite a while, we will not lose a bit of our brand loyalty. If only every brand could command that type of a consumer following.