TalkShop

How Brands Can Build a Cult Following

By Ron Welty, Founder & Chief Client Officer


From the “Trekkies” of the 1960s to the “BeyHive” of today, consumers crave a sense of belonging. But these tribal connections aren’t limited to just books, bands, and shows. A sense of belonging can also be a powerful emotion in a brand’s customer experience. Considering nearly half of Americans feel lonely, giving customers the opportunity to be a part of something can have an impact comparable to your team making it to the World Series. Per IBM, brands that tapped into this sense of belonging grew revenue at three times the rate of brands who didn’t. 

What is a Cult Brand?

A cult brand boasts an unmatched level of brand loyalty, where customers feel a sense of ownership that can last a lifetime. These are the customers whose daily morning routines involve picking up a coffee from their favorite shop. The drivers who buy from the same manufacturer time and time again. The patrons who order the same vodka brand at the bar every weekend. The runners who sport the same shoe brand for every race. 

When customers are this loyal to your brand, you’ll begin to reap several benefits, including:

  • Minimal price sensitivity. Cult brands can charge more than competitors and/or increase prices without losing loyal customers. Customers are simply willing to spend more with the brands they’re loyal to, according to Accenture.
  • Influencer advertising. Did you even go to Starbucks if you didn’t Instagram your cup? Accenture also found that customers express loyalty by promoting and sharing cult brands to their friends and family via social media, reviews, and word-of-mouth.
  • Forgiveness. Regardless if it’s something minor like unusually slow service or a full-blown scandal, loyal customers will more easily forget and forgive mistakes of cult brands. SAP Hybris found that 50 percent of loyal customers are willing to give brands a second, and even third chance if something goes wrong.
  • Zero competition. Coke or Pepsi? Mac or PC? Every industry has its competitors, but a cult brand’s customers will view the use or purchase of a competitor’s products as betrayal, eliminating competition entirely.
  • Increased sales. A loyal customer is a repeat customer. It’s been reported that loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase.

With benefits like these, every brand should focus on creating exceptional customer experiences to build a loyal following.

Create a Brand Community

It’s hard enough to get people to like your brand, and even harder for people to develop an obsession. Here’s how your brand can build a cult-like following.

Disrupt the industry.

People love to rebel against the system and are quick to jump on brands that are hip or trendy. Identify what makes your brand uniquely different and relay the message through your brand promise, marketing materials, and/or cutting-edge products and services.

Consider Dollar Shave Club. There’s really nothing exciting, interesting, or innovative about a razor. Yet, the subscription service has created a following that household name brands failed to achieve at the drugstore. From the logo to advertising to packaging, the billion-dollar brand sells a message that they’re different and better than any other product.

Play hard to get.

Cult brands make customers feel like they’re a part of an elite group. Creating barriers to entry, or making it difficult to achieve a specific result, ensures customers value your products more when they finally get their hands on it. Is your product available everywhere? Can everyone afford your services? Are there deals only available to certain customers? Limited discounts, availability, or locations can make your brand feel more exclusive.

There’s a reason people value Ikea furniture—and it’s not because of a high price tag. Ikea furniture is hard to get with only 50 U.S. locations, so customers sometimes have to drive long distances to purchase their products. Nevertheless, 43 percent of homeowners have purchased furniture from Ikea, according to the Fung Business Intelligence Centre.

Promote a lifestyle.

Rather than focusing on selling products, top brands with cult followings focus on selling customers on a lifestyle. Whether it’s beauty, status, love, or even lots of friends, brands looking to build a following should tap into what its customers desire most. Leveraging celebrities and social media influencers in advertising and marketing is often a common method brands use to promote a lifestyle. 

When it comes to creating a lifestyle everyone wants to live, the Kardashian-Jenner family knows how to do it best. From Kim Kardashian’s $500,000 Instagram endorsements to Kylie Jenner’s cosmetic line earning her the title of “Youngest Self-Made Billionaire,” 16 seasons (and counting) of Keeping Up with the Kardashians has built a brand with a massive cult following.

Personalize the experience.

Personalized experiences can not only improve customer experience, but also increase brand loyalty. Accenture found that 41 percent of consumers are loyal to brands that offer them the opportunity to personalize products to create something that is tailored to them.

For example, Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign featured different names like “Carrie,” “Dad,” and “Best Friend,” on its packaging to encourage customers to purchase a soda for themselves or someone they know who fits the bill, or in this case, bottle. Customers could also customize their own packaging online to say whatever name they desired. The campaign resulted in an 11 percent spike in sales and millions of impressions and engagements online.

Go to war.

Every brand has its competitors. For cult brands, purchasing a competitor product is practically treason. To cultivate a following, create an “us vs. them” mindset amongst your customers. Make it so that your customers have no choice but to stay loyal to you.

Apple serves as a great example here. Apple products are most—and in some cases, only—compatible with other Apple products. If you want to stream Apple Music, you can jam out on an iPhone no problem but won’t have much luck trying to play your favorite songs on a PC. Consider using branded hashtags like Apple’s #TeamiPhone so customers are forced to pick sides and choose you every time.

Show some love.

You’ll know when the “club” or “cult” feel has started to grow amongst your customers as your churn rate goes down and repeat buys from customers go up. Don’t forget to show your loyal customers the same love back. Loyalty rewards programs can be a great way to give back to your customers by sending them discounts and free gifts.

Starbucks, for example, knows their coffee drinkers can wait in long lines and rack up a sizable bill for a cup of coffee with a misspelled name on it. To show appreciation, Starbucks rewards its customers through a loyalty rewards app. Its combination of purchase-based rewards and digital engagement has led Starbucks to have the most regularly used loyalty rewards app among major restaurant chains, with almost all of the company’s same-store sales growth coming from its rewards program.

Be authentic.

As your brand builds its followers, try not to get a big head about it. It’s important for brands to stay true to their mission and be authentic. Cohn & Wolfe found that 91 percent of customers value brands for authenticity. 
Levi Strauss & Co., for example, has maintained its authenticity for over 165 years. Despite the rise of fast fashion and changes in denim trends, Levi’s maintains its “built-to-last” message through its quality and signature design details that’s withstood the test of time, which is why young consumers today say Levi’s is one of the most trustworthy brands.

Nurture Your Following

Cult brands don’t try to dictate or control their customers, but rather, nurture them. Listen to your followers, so you can give your customers what they want, when they want it. Voice of customer tools can be a great way to gain insight into what customers want from your brand, while increasing audience engagement. 

IntelliShop’s voice of the customer programs are designed to gain a subjective understanding of what your actual customers think and feel about their experiences with your brand. Our tools can be designed as standalone customer feedback solutions, or in conjunction with any of our other methods of measuring customer experience like mystery shopping, competitor evaluations, and compliance audits. Contact IntelliShop today to learn more about how we can grow and serve your brand community.