Can too much loyalty be bad for you?

Too much loyalty can be a double edged sword.  Whether you’re a pop icon, a business leader, a sports team or a brand.


My favourite pop star is famous for his uncompromising live gigs where he reinterprets his old classics so that they’re unrecognisable to casual fans, refuses to interact with the audience for 90% of the concert and often won’t do an encore.  I and his other loyal fans love him for it.  The more uncompromising the better.  He can do no wrong.  He’s unlikely to top the charts though at this rate.  (He’s an artist, not a business, so in this case it’s all for the best, (unless you only know his best of album and turn up at a festival this summer expecting him to play a greatest hit.))


I’ve worked with business leaders who value loyalty over challenge and unconditional agreement over development.  I don’t work there any more, (I tend not to be their type) but read Scoop for one of the best examples in literature of this with the character Lord Copper, a newspaper magnate so fearsome that his obsequious foreign editor, Mr Salter, can never openly disagree with any statement he makes answering: “Up to a point, Lord Copper” in place of “no”.  (You might find this useful yourself at times).  Business leaders like this can build empires but don’t create the most satisfactory places to work or indeed to develop.


Too much loyalty can be a double edged sword in sport too.  In “Scorecasting, the hidden influences behind how sports are played and games are won”, authors Moskowitz and Wertheim, tell the story of their home baseball team the Chicago Cubs.  Their performance is so bad and so notorious that it is commonly attributed to a longterm curse.  The last time they won the World Series was in 1908, and their ongoing performance was summed up by their play-by-play announcer Jack Brickhouse in 7 words : “Everyone is entitled to a bad century”. Moskowitz and Wertheim set out to look for the facts, statistically are Cubs fans right to think that their team is particularly unlucky?


The answer, unsurprisingly, is no.  “The Cubs ritual underperformance in terms of wins is perfectly understandable when you examine their performance on the field.”  But if it isn’t bad luck, is there another underlying reason?


The authors think there is.  That it is in fact due to the loyalty of their fans.  They examined home game attendance versus performance for every team in the league.  The Cubs attendance is the least sensitive in baseball to performance.  Therefore financially the club has less incentive to perform than its rivals.  They have lots of loyal fans, used to losing, happy to have a great day out.  Some argue that the team has a “perverse incentive to maintain their image as a ‘loveable loser'”.  A popular fan t-shirt reads “Cubs baseball: shut up and drink your beer”.


In fact beer prices have a bigger effect on attendance than team performance.  Cubs fans will tolerate bad performance and high ticket prices, but draw the line at expensive beer.  This “makes for a fun day at the ballpark, but doesn’t give the ownership much incentive to reverse the culture of losing”.


Interesting isn’t it?  We can all think of football teams whose loyal longterm supporters in some way relish the constant disappointment of a typical season of ups and downs in stark contrast with the impatience of say a Chelsea fan (or owner) with a manager who doesn’t perform consistently and immediately.


Back to brands.  Too much loyalty can be a signifier that the brand is static, hasn’t grown, isn’t changing or updating itself sufficiently to attract the promiscuous consumer, or top up its younger base.


In the longterm a business culture needs an element of restlessness and dissatisfaction to keep growing.  If that means upsetting some loyalists it may be a necessary price to pay.








Comments are closed.