Love Perk: Philly Teaches Brands Lessons in Loyalty

Love it or loathe it, there’s no denying that Philadelphia is a city of devout loyalty. Sports teams, food, schools, even the neighborhoods themselves are idolized and worshipped, vehemently debated among residents yet fiercely defended against outsiders.

This city bursting with “phanatical” evangelism offers a case study on brand loyalty, providing lessons on what it takes to convert a dweller to a devotee. Take a look.

Linebacker loyalty

Nearly every Philly sports season involves at least one reference to well-worn lore — the jail at the Vet, the batteries tossed, the 1968 Santa Claus snowball incident. But through it all, players, fans, and journalists alike certify that this city has loyalty like no other.  

In Philly sports, spectators and players are equal parts of the brand, and management works with that. They’re not wasting time trying to build loyalty through the front office; they’re delivering valuable, memorable brand experiences, showing behind-the-scenes videos of secretive Chip Kelly praising fans from the practice field and hosting young hockey hopefuls in the “Mites on Ice” contest between Flyers periods. Fans feel part of the team, entitled to critically assess performance because they’ll always show up for their team. When the Eagles put up an abysmal 4-12 record in the 2012 season, home game attendance still totaled over 100%. And those tickets aren’t cheap.



Brands can take note. Establishing loyalty isn’t just about giveaways or coupons, it’s about connecting with your customers, acknowledging the value they bring to your business, and providing them with value in return. Give your customers a voice by regularly seeking their feedback and by studying the behaviors of your best shoppers; do you hear boos or wild cheering? Either way, you’ll find direction for changing course or building on your success. 

Cheesesteak choices – What’s in a name?

Another polarizing Philly subject? The cheesesteak. Since Geno’s cooked up its 1966 beef with Pat’s, the war for the crown now includes a multitude of monikers: Jim’s, Tony Luke’s, Steve’s, Sonny’s, Dalessandro’s. Everyone has a favorite somewhere between Passayunk and the Parkway.

Choosing a steak is about both sandwich and style. Do you want the outrageous and flashy Geno’s, or the austere, toned-down Tony Luke’s? Sure, there are slight variances in steaks, but it’s the experience that turns visitors into loyal fans. Memories are celebrated with cheese whiz after the Mummer’s parade, at 3 am on South Street, before your kid’s first Phillies game. Eateries promise a consistent visit that complements its patrons’ other adventures.

Brands can similarly approach the customer experience. Winning loyal shoppers is not about thrusting your business into the spotlight, but about finding avenues in which you can bolster their bigger picture lifestyle.  Know your best customers’ preferences intimately — what channels they use, what they buy, when they buy, how much they buy, what promotions they redeem — and ensure your every engagement with them nods to their habits while differentiating your brand enough to be a unique voice even in a crowded market. 

Alma mater matters

While the rivalries of Philly high schools are smaller in scale than some collegiate counterparts, they remain a significant point of contention among loyal alumni. Philly boasts America’s oldest continuous high school football rivalry: the Northeast vs. Central Thanksgiving game. Started in 1892, the game draws alumni from across the U.S. and is annually the highest attended game for both schools. In a 2014 Sports Illustrated profile, Raymond Hagan wrote “you can compare rivalries nationwide for Thanksgiving Day, but you’ll find none better than this.”

For Catholic schools, devout loyalty often seems less about religion and more about tradition. When the archdiocese of Philadelphia announced a 2012 plan to close 24 schools, parents and students couldn’t bear the thought that generations of attendance would be broken based on budget cuts. Communities rallied and alumni appealed; their fundraising successfully prevented 22 of the 24 proposed closures.

When planning brand positioning, consider longevity. Will your strategy go beyond the immediate target market to create enduring loyalty? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to create a rivalry and appeal to your competitor’s rejecters, like Android did with its “Be Together. Not the Same.” campaign. 

But the fervent fandom these schools inspire also speaks to consistency and emotional connections. A regular event — whether an annual game or a weekly in-store experience — that hews to your customers’ tastes can drive sales and grow loyalty, especially if there’s an emotional connection. 

The Philly schools’ saviors fought for their alma maters because of the fond memories they’ve carried for decades. By better understanding your customers’ habits, you’ll uncover ways to surprise and delight them, and begin building relationships as part of a long-term loyalty strategy.

Go build Philly-style loyalty

Any way you spin it, Philly is a case for loyalty. From the art museum steps to Tastykakes, the city is rich with tradition where devotion runs deep. If brands create authentic relationships with their customers, they too can benefit from the unwavering loyalty of a true fan.

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