Two days ago I’ve been to the “Anniversary Match” – which was actually a normal league match on the 100th birthday of Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s best known soccer clubs and winner of the UEFA Champions League and Intercontinental Cup in 1997.
The match was played at a freezing -16°C (3° Fahrenheit), but still over 80.000 spectators turned up to celebrate the birthday. And 100 years of existence is a mighty long time.
On top of their famous south stand, Dortmund supporters displayed a huge sign saying “Passions leads to love, work leads to success, history leads to tradition”.
This comes just days after Borussia Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke stated that tradition was an important factor in soccer and that he does not support teams that took the short way to success with the help of a big sponsor and that lack tradition (coincidentally, Dortmund is the only publicly traded club on the German stock market, which weakens Watzke’s position in this statement).
So what’s the importance of tradition to a brand or company?
The example of 80.000 people celebrating at -16°C shows how much it can activate and create loyalty among the stakeholders. From what I’ve seen so far, my feeling is that in companies with a long tradition, workers usually stay an exceptionally long time with the company. And they often have loyal customers, too. That may be because everybody had enough time to get used to the company and it’s products but it may also be because some modes of cooperation have been fine-tuned over many years, creating a big strengths for an organization.
In good times that does not matter too much, as successful teams will have a lot of fans even without tradition and successful companies will e.g. receive a lot of applications, even if they’re still young.
However, when your company is not successful, tradition may be a huge strength, even preventing the company from going down.
Let’s go back to the soccer example: In 2005, Borussia Dortmund was close to bankruptcy and played a very mediocre season in the middle of the league table. However, in that 2004-05 season, they had clearly the highest average attendance of any soccer club in Europe, 4.000 (on average) higher than F.C. Barcelona, 6.000 higher than Real Madrid and nearly 10.000 higher than Manchester United. I believe that without the tradition and the support shown from all stakeholders (including fans in this case), the club would just not have survived.
So try to build up tradition and loyalty while you’re doing fine, it may help you when luck turns. Just make sure it does not slow down your decision making process, as tradition does not equal stubbornness.