In 1997, after Steve Jobs took back his position as CEO of Apple, he had a clear idea of what type of company he wanted Apple to be.
So, in a drastic and (at the time) unconventional move, he fired all but one of the numerous marketing agencies Apple worked with.
He decided to implement a marketing strategy that would turn the company, which was at the brink of bankruptcy (and had to borrow money from its arch-rival: Microsoft), into a tech behemoth with over $100 billion in cash reserves and the world’s first trillion-dollar tech company.
What Steve Jobs did was an effective, yet underused marketing strategy which has come to be known as Cult Branding.
A cult brand is a brand with super loyal customers who identify with the company’s brand message and will always buy from the company regardless of the competition.
This then brings up the question, what is a brand message? Your brand message is what your customers identify your brand with. It’s “Think Different “for Apple for Nike it’s “Just do it. “
Your brand message is not just a slogan; it’s what your brand represents to your core customers. It is seen in your products and services, your marketing materials, your customer service, etc.
Benefits of Cult Branding
Now let’s talk about some benefits of having a cult brand.
Why is it necessary for a business to build a super loyal following?
I want to think it’s obvious, but just if you haven’t yet figured out why it’s important for a business to have people who will always buy their products regardless of what the competition offers (still? You can’t think of any reason?).
All right, then let me give you three:
- It sets you apart from the competition.
Cult brands like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, etc., are in a league of their own. Despite what it might look like, they are not in competition with anyone to a large extent.
You might think that Apple competes with companies like Samsung, Huawei, etc. But they really aren’t. Apple is in a world of its own, and Samsung is in direct competition with Huawei and other Android phone manufacturers, not Apple.
- You have a higher brand value (goodwill).
A company with loyal fans who will stay committed to it commands a higher brand value than one that doesn’t.
Whenever Apple releases a new device, people queue for hours to be one of the first few to grab the device. This is the kind of brand value money can not buy and will fetch you much money in the case of a buyout.
- Market conditions do not severely impact you.
Whenever there’s an economic downturn, some businesses collapse while others are barely affected.
Companies with a cult brand are part of those rarely affected. This is because your core customers will always patronize your products regardless of the economic situation. Cult brands like Apple don’t suffer too much damage in an economic downturn.
How To Build A Cult Brand
Building a cult brand is a continuous process and not a one-time event. It’s ingrained in how you run your business, the kinds of services you offer or do not offer, your products, your marketing campaigns, your customer service, your customer acquisition processes, etc.
Now that you have an overview of the kind of company-wide commitment it’ll take to actually build a cult brand, let’s explore exactly how this is done.
- Find Your Voice, Share Your Message.
Every cult brand has a message it has been called to preach and an audience to preach to – you just need to find yours.
A company is not just an organisation that produces goods or delivers a service, but a company is an organisation that has been called to meet the needs of a particular kind of customer. When you discover the kind of customer you’ve been called to serve, you discover your voice and hence your message.
The biggest mistake you can make as an entrepreneur is to assume your product is for “anyone and everyone”.
There’s no product for everyone, not even water!
So take a deep dive into your business and ask yourself some important questions: who is your dream customer? That one person who you know your product or service is a perfect fit for. Now ask yourself important questions about your dream customer, questions that will help paint a better picture of who this person is.
Next, you need to ask yourself exactly how you want to serve this customer? Congratulations! You’ve found your voice and your message!
Your message tells your dream customers that you are the perfect business for them. Your voice is how they hear you and follow you.
This is the foundation of every cult brand.
2. Stand Out From The Competition
If your business is just like the one next door, why would customers come to you and be loyal to your company?
You need to stand out from the competition. There are a thousand and one ways to stand out from your competitors. Your differentiating factor should however be on “price”. If you decide to offer your product at the cheapest price, you don’t build customers who are loyal to your brand but people loyal to their disposable income.
Some areas of differentiation are; product quality, service delivery, unique technology, etc. If you can consistently deliver the highest quality product to the market at a reasonable price, you will attract the right kind of customers who will remain loyal to your brand. Similarly, if you are known for offering a unique and satisfying customer service to your customers (excellent customer service is a rare thing to find), you’ll gradually build a committed following for your business.
NOTE: If you decide on what your differentiating factor is, you stick to it, because that is what will attract your dream clients to your business. But the moment you compromise on it, you risk losing them all!
Followers of a cult brand are rational consumers, you have to give them a reason to stay loyal to your brand.
3. Build a Community Around Your Business
There is a popular saying that you are not yet in business until you have repeat customers.
Repeat customers are those who try your product for the first time and love it so much that for whatever reason, they decide to buy from you again.
The more they buy from you, the more their loyalty to your brand deepens.
You cannot build a cult brand if all the time you are selling to new clients. You need repeat customers to build a community around your brand.
Community building is vital for the success of your business. Study shows that businesses with an active consumer community grow 3x faster through word of mouth than those who don’t.
Once you learn to treat the customers in your community right, they will serve as your company foot soldiers – telling more and more people about your company and nudging several new customers in your direction.
They will also serve as a perfect source of honest consumer feedback on your products and services, as well as perfect candidates for new product testing or general market research and gathering consumer insights.
Every business can build a community around their products and services; you just need to learn how.
4. Know Thy Enemy
Now that you are building a community around your customers, you need to give them something to unite them.
Nothing unites people more than a common foe. Just as the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
You have to create an enemy for your customers to hate. The enemy could be bad product quality, poor customer service, the “establishment,” etc.
When Apple was launched, it was marketed as the company that will help the everyday customer fight the establishment (which at the time was IBM).
This worked so well for Apple that they later found another giant enemy in Microsoft and launched one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time, PC vs. Mac.
Apple always finds the enemy in whatever product or service they offer, and they know just how to rally their customers against that enemy. When they launched the iPod, the enemy was, again, the establishment (big music industry companies).
When they launched the iPhone, their enemy was bad product design (represented by companies like Blackberry and Nokia), now the enemy is Andriod.
Think about this, why do you think iPhone users hate android phones? I mean, you can love iPhones, but you don’t need to hate android. Well, Apple knows that unless they hate Android phones, it’ll be easy for their competitors to steal their customers.
5. Be Purpose-Driven
Building a community about your brand, please don’t make it all about yourself and how awesome you are as a company’s founder.
Rather make it about a specific purpose.
People love to feel like part of something higher than themselves.
So please give them a purpose to rally around.
You can achieve this through your marketing campaigns and brand activation campaigns.
6. Put Your Customers First
Your customers will care more about your brand if they feel your brand cares for them and not just their wallets.
When you build a community around your brand, you need to learn to show them love, and they’d return the favor to your business by remaining loyal.
Don’t be exploitative – always looking for how you can extract more money from your customers’ pockets while providing little value.
Always make them feel like the value of what your company is doing for them far outweighs the cost it comes with (regardless of the price tag).
Apple sells the most expensive phones and computers in the market, but people keep buying, not because they don’t know what to use their money for, but because they feel it’s worth it.
Building a cult brand can be much hard work and requires long term thinking. But once you have the right foundation, the building becomes a lot less difficult.
Do you need help with creating the right foundation for building a cult brand? Consult with us.
Want to learn more about cult brands?
See The Anatomy of a Cult Brand on SlideShare.
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