Marquette Suffers a Loyalty Turnover
By John Hennessy, Vice President, Concept Shopping
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.