When we think of cult brands we think of Apple, Nike, BMW, Converse, Harley Davidson, Kombi. The reason they achieve cult status and cult-like following is that they stand for morethan just the products they sell.
Although cult brand status is realistically unlikely for the vast majority of businesses, there are common behaviours of these brands that if followed, can have major implications for a brand’s impact in the market. In simply applying these behaviours, brands can amass loyal followers that become advocates and solidify a major market share in their industry.
While most brands attempt to stake a claim in the minds of their audience through positioning, Brands that achieve cult status get a coveted place in the heart of their audience.
These are just a sample of the Cult Brands out there.
Part of the Brand Story
These cult-like followers hold these brands on such a pedestal that not only do the brands become part of their lives, often the audience feels like they couldn’t live without them. Whereas most consumers feel that brands are lucky to have their business, the audiences of cult brands often feel that they are the lucky ones to be part of the bigger story of that brand.
Wrap your head around that one for a second.
There is no higher level than this when it comes to branding. Cult status is the pinnacle,though very few brands achieve this level. The line of thinking that your brand will one day hold that position, where your audience queues outside your business to hand over their cash while being thankful to be part of your brand story, is wishful at best.
Followers are found on the Journey
Wishful thinking, however, has its place. As the saying goes; “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. Although the prospect of having cult followers is not easily achievable, aiming for it will get you closer.
Simply by starting on the journey to cult status, you already differentiate yourself from most brands. In focusing on being what your audience wants with 110% commitment, you put them first and begin to grow your following. If cult status is found at the destination, cult-like followers are found on the journey.
Here is the starting point for your journey. Follow these cult brand traits and start acquiring cult-like followers.
#1 Start with purpose
Your brand purpose is the reason, the meaning, the most human aspect of a living brand. This goes beyond what you do and taps into the why. That is, the meaningful reason of what your brand gives to its audience, that feeling of the end result.
Brand loyalty and the brand purpose are intrinsically linked. Knowing why you do what you do and the meaningful reason of the ‘Why’ translates to the audience in the delivery of that solution. Brand trust and thus loyalty stems from a connection between audience and brand. This connection can come in many forms but an aligned brand with a deep sense of purpose, connect with their audience in the way they behave, and those connections are far deeper and meaningful.
Knowing your purpose is the starting point for all else, but communicating your purpose is best done through storytelling. Telling your story in the right way can make your audience feel like they are part of the story. Brand storytelling taps into the emotions of the audienceand is often the first point where a brand makes the first move from head to heart.
#2 Commit to your promise
The purpose is the meaningful reason for existence while your promise is your binding contract to your audience. Cult-loyalty follows brand loyalty, brand loyalty follows trust, trust follows the consistent keeping of the brand promise, which stems from the brand purpose.
Trust in a relationship between a brand and its audience is the keystone of its existence. Without trust, there is no relationship. The only way to build and keep trust is to consistently deliver on the promise you make time and again.
In McKinseys article “The Three Cs of customer satisfaction” they highlight the importance of consistency of the keeping of brand promise;
“A company’s brand is driven by more than the combination of promises made and promises kept. What’s also critical is ensuring customers recognize the delivery of those promises, which requires proactively shaping communications and key messages that consistently highlight delivery as well as themes. Southwest Airlines, for example, has built customer trust over a long period by consistently delivering on its promise as a no-frills, low-cost airline.”
A brand promise lends itself to a powerful connection between a brand and its audience. The real power of the promise, however, is in the keeping of it. Consistent delivery on the keeping of a promise instils trust in the customer, which builds over time. Only the truly committed reached the Promised Land where their promise defines their brand.
#3 Make it all about your audience
A brand cannot be all things to everyone. If they try to please everyone they end up pleasing no one. The reason brands develop cult like following is that they appeal to a specific type of person with a specific problem and a specific need.
The more a brand knows their audience, the better they can deliver on their promise. In getting to know the intimate details of the perfect audience, a brand can learn what makes them tick, and so, how to make them tick.
Cult brands they know their audience so well to the point that everything they do is aimed appealing to the finer details of who they are. For any brand with cult aspirations, that needs to be the laser like focus.
In focusing on the audience, you are focusing on the on the purpose of the business. In doing that, you will find that much of what you try to achieve as a business comes as a by-product of this focus. Meanwhile, the focus itself over time will move you from the head of your audience to their heart.
Here are seven ways to get to know your audience better as outlined in Marketing Land’s article
1. Do your research in advance
2. Look at your competitors
3. Create a customer persona
4. Get to know your clients personally
5. Monitor reader comments and engagements
6. Witness External Social Habits
7. Conduct Surveys
#4 Focus on your strengths
By ensuring you are not trying to be all things to everyone you are ensuring you focus on what it is you do well. By focussing on what you do well you can continue to develop your service and processes, increasing the value you offer to your audience.
The more you focus on your strengths the more you improve and advance your solution, increasing your overall value to your audience.
“To hold your market share in an increasingly competitive market, sticking to what you do best will help maintain focus on serving the customers you’ve already earned and potentially attracting new ones.”
If you think of the brand ”Volvo”, what sticks out in your mind? Safety. For decades, the Volvo brand has stayed in its own lane and concentrated on what it is good at, making cars with the highest safety standards.
In doing so, Volvo has been able to lift the industry standards as it put a focus on improving what they do well. Although Volvo has stepped up its game in recent years and is introducing much more visually appealing and technologically advanced cars, their primary focus remains on their “Safety First” mantra.
The brand vision of Volvo Cars to ensure nobody is killed or seriously injured in, or by, one of its new cars by 2020 has already made a “major impact” on brand engagement levels, according to its VP of global marketing Thomas Andersson.
As it broadens its appeal to those whose priorities are not necessarily Safety, it remains focused on its core cult following by not deviating from its core values and promise. This highlights the fact that brands can still evolve, and still stay true to their promise.
#5 Stay Consistent
Consistency in what you do communicates stability, which breeds trust.
Continuing to deliver on living your purpose, keeping your promise, focusing on your audience, focusing on your strengths your brand will draw loyal followers. Their appreciation of your consistent focus will come in the way of brand loyalty and brand advocacy.
When your audience begins to tell people within their inner circle of the value you bring to them, take this a sure-fire sign that the journey you are on is headed in the right direction. Cult followers of cult brands tend to be big advocates.
That then reinforces the need for you to continue doing what you are doing and to let that consistency be a mainstay in your brand.
The brand promise is a major cog in the machine of a cohesive brand and neglecting it is neglecting the brand itself.
Many leaders are strangely resistant to upholding the brand promise in which they invested so much time and treasure. Or, they lose sight of the brand values as they focus on the day-to-day activities of their team. It happens more often than you think, and it happens because of the false belief that branding is simply about creating a slogan and a logo that millions of people will recognise and remember.
When it comes to your brand, hoping for a cult following someday will have very little effect. Focusing on the small things today, tomorrow, next week, next month and next year will set you on a journey that can draw a cult following.
In focusing on your: Purpose, Promise, Audience, Strengths and Consistency, you put what you do, why you do it and who you do it for, front and centre. The
you put what you do, why you do it and who you do it for, front and centre. The By-Product of that may not result in cult brand status, but it will certainly result in a healthy and admired brand status and committed followers.
Stephen is a passionate Brand Creator and Founder of Iconic Fox Brand Agency. With a background in both financial markets and design, he is well positioned on brand strategy and creative and is passionate about both. Stephen has been featured on Marketo, Hubspot, Inside Small Business, Creative Bloq and more for his expertise on brand strategy and creative.
He’s also a friendly chap so if there’s something you want to know about brand, he’d be happy to get into it with you