Soccer fans are loyal buyers. They purchase based on the relationship with their favorite team, and they wouldn’t support a rival team at any price. The relationship extends to their love of the team colors and symbols. It is a tribal allegiance, a deep loyalty to the team brand.

So what happens when that relationship is challenged? Look to Cardiff City FC, a Welsh football club competing in the British football league, where supporters protested the changes to the club brand introduced by the owner, Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan.

To appeal to the Asian TV market, in 2012 Tan altered the team colors from blue to red, and changed the team emblem from a bluebird to a red dragon. In doing so, a century-old brand was discarded overnight, and fan loyalty was threatened. Supporters were in an uproar, and thousands protested in the streets despite Tan’s multimillion-pound investment in the club, its players and infrastructure.

After several years of discord, which were not helped by poor performances on the field and declining match attendances, the team emblem and colors reverted to tradition in 2015. So what does this crisis tell us about buyer behavior when loyalty and relationships are the top buying factors?

Loyal buyers are motivated by trust, service, allegiance and camaraderie. They enjoy a deep and abiding relationship with the seller. Here’s how the approach by Cardiff City FC compares with three strategies used by top-performing companies to manage their loyal customers:

  1. Engage them in building your business — Invite your loyal customers to participate on advisory boards and user groups. Leverage their product knowledge and enthusiasm to generate new ideas, test concepts and trial new products. There was no fan involvement in the rebranding effort at Cardiff, not that it stood much chance of success.
  2. Provide access to executives and leadership — Assign members of the company leadership to critical accounts. Align the leadership with the appropriate executive at the customer account, and ensure a specific plan is in place to meet key customers on a regular basis. Keeping your product and service offering relevant will retain loyal customers for the long term. Tan eventually invited supporters to meet with him to discuss the changes, and he finally acceded to their desires by reverting to the bluebird emblem.
  3. Show them regular appreciation and thanks — Always thank your customers for their business. Often. Then thank them again. Celebrate project successes and milestones with joint press releases, case studies and lessons learned. Mark significant achievements with celebration events, however small. At Cardiff, Tan was often at loggerheads with supporters and treated them with some disdain, not surprisingly when they chanted from the grandstand for his removal. Your company emblem might not be a bluebird or a red dragon, and you may not be a football club, but adopting these strategies may help grow your business through careful management of your loyal customers.