Today's author, Stacey Allgeier, like a few others around the Wise Marketer community, has been adopted into the broad fan base of the Buffalo Bills, a National Football League team. Observing the intense fan devotion for the Bills over the years she was inspired to write about what we can learn from “extreme fanship” to inspire more powerful loyalty program communities.
We could not have anticipated the event that transpired the evening before this post was scheduled to go live. Last night, in the NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, Bills Safety Damar Hamlin experienced cardiac arrest. The game was subsequently postponed. According to this IG post from the Buffalo Bills, Damar is currently listed in critical condition and is receiving treatment at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. We all pray for a full recovery of Damar's health.
We had this post scheduled for publication today without any knowledge of what would transpire during last night's game. We decided to proceed in honor of Damar. As further evidence of what Stacey Allgeier writes here, donations to Damar's fundraiser, The Chasing M's Foundation Community Toy Drive, have risen to over US$ 3 million. Our informal count shows that 90k of the total 131K donations have been made since the event last night.
What the Buffalo Bills Can Teach Us about Loyalty and Engagement
by Stacey Allgeier, MBA, CLMP™ of Hinda Loyalty Group
It’s hard to be a Buffalo Bills fan. They are the only team to have lost four consecutive Super Bowls and still have yet to win the title. They’ve won games in triumphant moments. They’ve lost in agonizing defeat. Their most dedicated fans are known as the Bills Mafia. Despite the pain and punchlines over the years, their loyalty to their team is unrivaled. With a fanbase so loyal, what can the Bills and their fans teach loyalty marketers about creating meaningful engagement?
1. Celebrate What Makes Your Fans Unique
Buffalo fans have a language all their own, giving nicknames to every significant, and often negative, moment in the team’s recent history. There is “13 seconds” denoting their 2021-2022 season loss to Kansas City and “Music City Miracle” referring to the Bills’ 1999-2000 season game which resulted in a Tennessee Titans win. Fan fashion is also unique in Buffalo. Zubaz (a brand with a zebra-esque striped pattern in your favorite sports team’s colors) has become a part of their personal style guide, proudly wearing the bold pattern as a uniform along with Buffalo Bills’ red, white, and royal blue.
Applying these examples to loyalty, find what makes the fans of your program unique. Recognize these traits, and reflect it back to them in your rewards, marketing, and customer service. Be a fan of your fans! Show gratitude for their support and reward them in ways that make them feel understood.
2. Turn Hardships into Community Building Moments
Being a Bills fan means to rally together and share the struggles with the team. The fans support their players, and the players support their fans. The prime example is Jim Kelly who played 11 seasons for the Bills and suffered Super Bowl defeats with the team. But ask any Bills fan how they feel about Jim Kelly and instead of crying about the losses of a bygone era, you’ll hear about his good works and his care for the people of Buffalo. The fans continually support players who put in the effort, even when times are hard. These shared struggles have made the fanbase stronger. It’s easy to be a fan when times are good. It takes real heart to be a fan when times continue to be hard.
Loyalty programs should take notice of the way the Bills Mafia treats its players and each other. Hard times don’t have to mean the end for a program, it can be a signal to focus on your fans and grow stronger together. Listen and lift up program participants who are making a difference. The most challenging task for loyalty marketers is to do this genuinely, which takes time. True engagement is built in these moments, and you will not survive the hard moments if you aren’t willing to share in the struggles of your fans.
3. Never Underestimate Acts of Good and the Power of Many
It’s one thing for an individual or a corporation to make a large donation to a cause, but the Bills Mafia has taken acts of good and made it into an art form. They use small denominations such as $17 donations (in honor of #17 quarterback Josh Allen) from thousands of fans to make a big impact in their community. Just this season, Bills fans flooded Miami Dolphins’ player Tua Tagovaila’s foundation with donations after the player suffered a concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals. Tagovaila was injured the previous game against the Bills and fans felt called to show support and care for the player. They also use this strategy to do good while making a point – after a missed referee call during a 2021 game, the Bills Mafia encouraged fans to donate $17 to the Western New York Visually Impaired Advancement organization, raising over $65,000 in just one week. These actions help support the legend of the Bills Mafia, growing the connection between these fans and showcasing their collective power.
For loyalty programs to use this strategy, you’ll need to look for opportunities to make an impact that will resonate with your fans and align with their values. Look for the ways your fans are doing good and celebrate them. By celebrating actions that demonstrate the values of your members, you can encourage others to follow suit and show pride in being a member of your loyalty program.
If you’re looking for tools to help create community, Hinda Loyalty Group offers a “charity pools” feature, which lets loyalty program members contribute points to a common goal for a charity. Brands can choose a local or national organization to create a meaningful experience for their fans. Acts of good aren’t limited to donations to charity - listen to your fans and find fun, easy ways for members to participate for the good of your community.
The Buffalo Bills are having a great season and your loyalty program can too. Listen to your fans, focus on small ways to create big impacts, and take the time to build genuine connections during every season.
TODAY'S AUTHOR: Stacey is an Account Manager with Hinda Incentives and is one of most experienced Loyalty team members at Hinda. She works on program strategies for large accounts and holds the Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP™) designation from the Loyalty Academy. When Stacey talks about loyalty, people listen, whether they are executives at clients or members of her own team.