I may be a bit biased because I’m a huge hockey fan, but as I watched this year’s run-up to the Stanley Cup, I couldn’t help but see uncanny parallels between the Nashville Predators and what it takes for a start-up to break out of a niche market and become a household name.
Despite never having won a title and coming from a region clearly not generally associated with hockey, without a doubt the Predators' insanely loyal fan base has been a key factor in capturing attention and break through to the national stage.
As marketers, what other specific lessons, especially around building customer loyalty, can we gather from the “Southern Stanley Cup”? Here are five to ponder:
Build your core fan base
The Predators nurtured their early fans not by trying to turn them into hockey purists, but creating a new kind of game that’s purely Nashville. Focus on the customers in your immediate space first and develop a set of passionate super-users.
Silicon Valley start-ups advertising on billboards along Highway 101, per Wired, take a similar approach. They focus their message on a highly technical audience. For example, Twilio is a company with software that only developers will use. They recognized that and turned it into a strength with the call-to-action, “ask your developer,” that coalesces their core customer base.
Just as the Predators fans have rallied around their hometown team, focus on users who will be fanatic about your product and lifetime advocates. These customers will be the first to offer a reference when your business is more mature.
Highlight what makes you different
Embrace your niche market and own it. The Predators stayed true to their Southern roots and created unique traditions: catfish-throwing, live music at games, southern food in the concessions, and flashy elements that resemble a Tim McGraw concert more than a typical hockey match. Draw on the unique aspects your customers face and unite them.
Create a customer community
Sports obviously brings fans together because it’s a live event. In business, you may try and achieve a similar sentiment by holding a user conference, but it’s more nuanced than that. Instead, try to parallel the atmosphere and excitement of the Predators’ arena by giving your customers ways to connect and built relationships with one another.
For example, Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference has multiple tracks for their customers to engage their peers, bond over war stories and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. They’ve even taken that community spirit to the next level with their Salesforce World Tour.
Find ways to bring your customers together, whether it’s a happy hour, meet-up or an annual conference, and make sure there are opportunities for them to network and learn from one another.
Find superstar brand champions
The Predators have had some help from the star power and charisma of their team captain. Think about how you can identify and cultivate a similar brand champion. Perhaps it’s a stand-out employee with subject matter expertise, an enthusiastic customer with great results to share, or an industry influencer who’s genuinely excited about your company.
Choose a role model who customers look to for advice, best practices and mentorship. Find your company’s rockstar evangelist and capitalize on it.
Don’t forget what got you there
The same fans, or customers, who brought you early success, are the ones who will define your brand later. It’s inspiring to see Predators fans fill the stadiums of home and away games, no matter where the Predators stand on the scoreboard. That’s because the Predators have remained proud of their Nashville culture and constantly cite their hometown base as a winning factor.
In the constant push for business growth and expansion, it’s tempting to set your sights on bigger targets and forget your first, smaller accounts. Don’t overlook them – instead, thank them for their loyalty and champion their story. After all, it’s the fans whose headline-making antics have made the Nashville Predators an unlikely national sensation.