Marquette Suffers a Loyalty Turnover

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May 16, 2005
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By John Hennessy, Vice President, Concept Shopping

www.conceptshopping.com

The loyalty of alumni enjoyed by a university is the envy of anyone who operates a loyalty program. Marquette University in Milwaukee recently shook the foundation of that loyalty
and is now doing everything it can to regain its best customers.

A little background… Marquette University, known as the Warriors since 1954 and during their 1977 NCAA championship at the hands of legendary coach Al McGuire, changed its
team nickname to the Golden Eagles in 1994. The change was made because the Warriors mascot and image, an American Indian wearing a headdress, had offended some Indian groups.

Alumni have been persistent since then in trying to get the school to return the team nickname to the Warriors. The passion for the Warriors led two trustees last May to offer
the school $1 million each to restore the Warriors name.

The university’s response was to survey over 9,000 members of the Marquette community. The results were tabulated and, rather than return to the Warriors, Marquette’s Board of
Trustees voted to change the name from the Golden Eagles to The Gold.

The backlash was nothing short of overwhelming. Students held protests. Alumni flooded the school with calls and emails that threatened to stop contributions if the school went
through with the name change.

After standing by the name change for over a week, Marquette’s Board of Trustees reconvened and announced a new, transparent, inclusive and easy process to select the new team
nickname. The process will let the Marquette community vote on the nickname. The possession arrow is now correctly pointing to Marquette’s customers.

Moderator’s Comment: How can you make sure the decisions made by your organization are truly in the interests of your customers?

Marquette really dropped the ball on this one (I couldn’t resist). Instead of listening to its customers, the university’s approach seemed, as one person
interviewed characterized it, arrogant. Minimally, the university made terrible assumptions based on an incorrect read of survey data. It seemed pretty clear to everyone else
what the survey respondents were trying to communicate, “Bring back the Warriors!”

The backlash extended all the way to recent Marquette basketball star and current Miami Heat superstar Dwayne Wade. When visibly surprised by the name change
during an ESPN television interview, his disbelief was followed up with a comment that he had to make a call to Marquette about this. Off-camera, as the interview ended, teammate
Shaquille O’Neal could be heard saying, “The Gold?”

A couple lessons to learn from Marquette’s renaming fiasco:


  1. Customers are no longer passive. Besides Dwayne Wade promising to make a call, blogs, thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls contributed to
    getting the Marquette Board of Trustees to reconsider whether they had acted on behalf of their customers. While maybe not as active as alumni, your customers are more active
    participants in your success or failure today than ever before.
  2. Never say, “Never!” Marquette made it harder on itself to correct its error by making statements like, “We’re done,” and “This is not an optional program.”
    Give yourself some wiggle room when dealing with a topic your customers care passionately about. Your customers might view things a bit differently.
  3. Test. Test. Test. Testing the new name on small groups before widespread release would surely have surfaced some of the negative feedback. The results
    of testing might change your launch tactics or send you back to the drawing board depending on the nature of the feedback and the situation.


John Hennessy – Moderator

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8 Comments on "Marquette Suffers a Loyalty Turnover"


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Ken Kubat
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Ken Kubat
15 years 9 months ago
Gee, I hate to see John “shooting hoops” alone on such a fun topic … although I must say he HAS already tallied the key points of this story from a business perspective! The first adage that popped into my mind when reading this story is the one of not being able to “leave well enough alone.” Of course, Marquette alumni were NEVER going to embrace “Golden Eagles” the way they did “Golden Warriors,” but the university DID have a defensible reason for making a difficult decision and necessary change 11 years ago. Attempting to placate a vocal (and apparently generous!) group of alumni by coming up with a NEW name … well, that was just stupid! Did someone actually think the group that was seeking reinstatement of “WARRIORS” would be happy with “GOLD”? My goodness! Beyond the great points John has already opined, my only “business lesson” observation here has to do with applying the right metrics to a decision BEFORE making a significant change … Marquette was clearly gauging satisfaction with the 10… Read more »
Al McClain
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Al McClain
15 years 9 months ago

Another lesson to be drawn here is that you’re often going to offend someone, no matter what you do. So, you have to decide where your loyalty lies, who’s really important to you, and then do what is going to make them happy. Unfortunately, in many of these types of situations, you have a choice of doing the politically correct thing or doing what makes the majority of your customers happy. Either way, you’re going to have one really unhappy group of people. The only way they can go back to the Warriors is if they are willing to put up with many years of protests. So, even a community vote on this type of thing may be the wrong decision, as the vote will probably say go back to the old name, which will create plenty of strife.

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

Two significant business related errors.

One: Listening to the squeaking wheel instead of accurately polling the opinion of the majority — who typically keep their mouths shut as long as they are happy.

Two: Putting someone in a decision making capacity who is more interested in imposing their own agenda than they are in serving their customer.

Tom McGoldrick
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Tom McGoldrick
15 years 9 months ago

The danger in surveying your customers is that your customers then expect you to do something with the results. I don’t know what their results showed but they clearly tried to push the survey finding under the table. We always stress to our clients how important it is to close the communication loop by letting your customers know not only what you learned but also what you are going to do with the information. Everyone wants an engaged and loyal customer base; a survey can be a good tool for achieving that only if the communication runs both ways.

Mark Anhalt
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Mark Anhalt
15 years 9 months ago
As a Marquette alum (1990 – 1996), and someone who still lives in the Milwaukee area, I’d like to clear up a few misstatements that have been made on this topic. First of all, the change from Warriors to “Golden Eagles” in 1994 was not made because the name offended any Indian groups. It was made because the Board of Trustees felt the Warriors name might at some future time offend some of these groups. There was no outcry in 1994 from anyone to change the name. During this time period, there were a number of universities that were worried about being “politically correct” and changed their team names/mascots (St. John’s and Stanford come to mind) so as not to “potentially” offend anyone, so Marquette and its heavily left leaning board chose to follow this trend without any consultation of students or alumni. Also, the name “Golden Warriors” is not now, nor ever was a name used for Marquette’s sports teams. It was (and still should be) Marquette Warriors…period! Unlike in 1994, this time around… Read more »
Jeff Weitzman
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Jeff Weitzman
15 years 9 months ago

Dartmouth went through the same thing in the early 70’s, and went from the Indians to the Big Green. The bad feelings lasted through my undergrad years in the early 80’s, with many people still using the old Indian symbol, and into the 90’s. Eventually it became less of an issue and you don’t hear much about it these days. Everyone wants the world to stay the way they remember it. Such is life.

I’m not sure how applicable this is to retail. The emotions surrounding your alma mater and sports and such are far stronger than retail loyalty. I wouldn’t read too much into it as a branding lesson.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 9 months ago

Unfortunately, many marketing decisions are made this way: Out-of-touch, entitled, non-marketing-trained committees, fully armed with mother-in-law research and “some interesting ideas I had last night,” have proven to be capable of some of the biggest marketing blunders in history. “I’m no expert, but I know what I like”… ever heard that one from a ranking executive?

So, the Marquette Board of Trustees decided to get creative with “Bob’s great idea that everybody’s sure to love!” They’re University Trustees, for Pete’s sake. What else would you expect? University leaders are in the news nearly every day with bonehead decisions.

Lucius Boardwalk
Guest
Lucius Boardwalk
15 years 9 months ago

The board made only a couple of errors in changing the name. Unfortunately, they were whoppers.

First, the board apparently gave no consideration to the impact of their decision. Sure, it’s only the nickname for young men and women playing games. However, the sense of identify shared by alumni–especially those who feel it powerfully enough to open their wallets–was violated.

Second, the decision was made without transparency. The board apparently didn’t bother to explain why or how the change would be made. (One earlier commentator, a Marquette alum, said the board didn’t consult students or alumni. I’d be curious to know if they consulted any Native American advocacy groups.) If you want customers to have a stake in the success of your decision, they have to be part of that decision.

Finally, when confronted, the board argued its position, not its principle. By insisting that the process was “done” and showing no willingness to compromise, the board energized those who wanted the traditional name to fight like, well, warriors.

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