Anatomy of a Cult Brand: How Leading Brands Build Fanatical Followings and Ludicrous Loyalty


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We’ve studied the world’s most renowned brands to try and unlock the genetic code that’s helped them dominate their markets and decimate their competitors for years.

Learn the six essential elements that successful brands use to forge fanatical followings and win legions of loyal advocates.

This is a condensed version of a larger report by the same name, available at

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Anatomy of a Cult Brand: How Leading Brands Build Fanatical Followings and Ludicrous Loyalty

  1. 1. ENLIGHTENMENT SERIES Anatomy of a Cult Brand How leading brands build fanatical followings and ludicrous loyalty. July 2014
  2. 2.    
  3. 3. What’s the secret? Why do some brands simply have customers, while others have irrationally loyal fans who: •  Pay more for their products and services? •  Accept no substitutes? •  Rave about them to everyone? •  Lose sleep to be first in line? •  Forgive them when they make mistakes?  
  4. 4.    We’ve studied the world’s most coveted brands to unlock the genetic code that’s helped them dominate their markets and decimate their competitors for years.
  5. 5. Be remarkable. Deliver the extraordinary. Have purpose. Be driven by a powerful ethos. Be inspirational. Inspire from the inside out. Be relatable. Personify human attributes. Be involved. Co-create with customers. Be pervasive. Envelop consumers’ lives. Anatomy of a cult brand 1 2 3 4 5 6 We’ve identified six anatomical elements that brands use to forge fanatical followings and win legions of loyal advocates.
  6. 6. 1Cult brands deliver extraordinary products, services and experiences. Be remarkable.
  7. 7. Mediocrity does not win fans and loyal customers. Being remarkable does.
  8. 8. INDISPUTABLE FACT Exceptional products, services or experiences spark conversation. Cult brands are forged when a product or service finds a way to fill a consumer need uniquely, which naturally gets attention and ignites word-of-mouth.  
  9. 9. Apple inspires interest with bold innovations, thoughtful design and empowering promises.
  10. 10. Dyson draws discussion through the design, functionality and performance of their products.
  11. 11. Blendtec got millions of consumers talking by answering a simple question: Will it blend?
  12. 12. Harley-Davidson is a quintessential cult brand because motorcycle enthusiasts love their bikes.
  13. 13. A.1. rewards elite fans with the amazing ability to summon emergency sauce on command.
  14. 14. What makes a brand remarkable? Remarkable brands… 1.  Make a value promise that gets consumers talking. 2.  Deliver on their promise to win customers who’ll pay more and won’t accept substitutes. 3.  Elicit both praise and constructive criticism from customers who care enough to tell them.  
  15. 15. 2Cult brands are driven by a powerful ethos. Have purpose.
  16. 16. Give people something to care about. Nothing motivates more than a shared purpose.
  17. 17. INDISPUTABLE FACT People are more motivated by a brand’s why than its what. Great leaders and brands inspire action by making their purpose apparent in all that they say and do.  
  18. 18. TOMS Shoes built a cult following by benefitting children around the world in need of shoes.
  19. 19. Patagonia won the hearts of conscious consumers through its efforts to solve environmental problems.
  20. 20. Chobani aligns every decision and action with their brand mantra: Nothing But Good
  21. 21. Honest Tea has earned the affinity of thousands socially concerned, health conscious consumers.
  22. 22. Dove aims to redefine what it means to be beautiful.
  23. 23. Why do you do what you do? Brands with a purpose… 1.  Have an articulate vision or noble cause that goes above and beyond their products or services. 2.  Enroll internal and external audiences in an ever- unfolding story as they strive to achieve their higher purpose. 3.  Remind both consumers and themselves “why” they do what they do at every opportunity.  
  24. 24. 3Cult brands inspire from the inside out. Be inspirational.
  25. 25. Rally people around a set of shared beliefs. Cult followings begin at the core of a company.
  26. 26. INDISPUTABLE FACT Consumers won’t believe if your people don’t believe. The same connection that a brand wants to make with customers must begin with employees.  
  27. 27. Every WestJet employee runs the successful airline as a business “owner”.
  28. 28. Panera has rallied around a culture of transparency and genuine goodwill towards others.
  29. 29. Whole Foods empowers staff to meet the local needs of their communities and customers uniquely.
  30. 30. Build from inside out. Inspirational brands… 1.  Hire the best candidates whose attitude best aligns with the brand personality. 2.  Train their workforce well, by showing them what they value and what they don’t. 3.  Keep their culture fresh in employees’ minds through strong internal communications. 4.  Empower staff to self-police and reward brand- aligned behaviour.  
  31. 31. 4Cult brands personify human attributes. Be relatable.
  32. 32. Brands are not real people. But they need a real voice.
  33. 33. INDISPUTABLE FACT People associate with brands as they do each other. Defining a brand personality articulates all the traits and attributes that will make a brand memorable and, with any luck, someone consumers want to befriend.  
  34. 34. Apple’s “I’m a Mac” commercials literally personified their Macintosh brand in an extremely relatable way.
  35. 35. Consumers can role-play as the Scarecrow, a personification of the Chipotle brand values.
  36. 36. Lululemon is like an encouraging friend, offering tips, training and motivation to reach your goals.
  37. 37. Say it like you mean it. Relatable brands… 1.  Make their values and personality present at every touch point. 2.  Can be readily associated by consumers with someone they either know or would like to know. 3.  Behave in human ways, including admitting faults and owning up to mistakes. Cult brands operationalize their personality.
  38. 38. 5Cult brands co-create with their customers. Be involved.
  39. 39. Shut up and listen for a change. Big ideas come from customers who care to share.
  40. 40. INDISPUTABLE FACT People are drawn together by common bonds. When customers feel they belong to a group, they will care enough to want to make things even better. Cult brands listen, then do something about it.
  41. 41. Coke Freestyle machines facilitate simple co-creation with customers.
  42. 42. Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos are the result of a fan-initiated movement on Facebook.
  43. 43. Starbucks’ “splash stick” was the result of the company’s ongoing idea exchange with patrons.
  44. 44. A store for runners by runners, Running Room sells products and programs based on customer input.
  45. 45. Harley Owners Group members bond with the brand and each other through shared experiences.
  46. 46. Invite participation. Collaborative brands... 1.  Get feedback from customers early and often. 2.  Give customers a sense of ownership and control over the brand. 3.  Celebrate innovations inspired by customers. Cult brands listen and respond to customers. Especially when they’re losing faith in the brand.
  47. 47. 6Cult brands are everywhere. Be pervasive.
  48. 48. Be where consumers expect you to be. And also some places they don’t.
  49. 49. INDISPUTABLE FACT It’s impossible to ignore what can’t be avoided. Beyond ubiquity, embedding a brand into consumers’ lives in meaningful ways creates an emotional bond. It’s not just the “moments of truth” that matter, it’s what a brand does in the moments between them.
  50. 50. Disney characters and stories extend beyond movies to games, clothes, toys and experiential destinations.
  51. 51. The Marvel “universe” spans comic books and video games to movies, mobile apps and collectible toys.
  52. 52. LEGO transcends its iconic toy blocks through retail stores, theme parks, video games and even movies.
  53. 53. Beyond toy cars, Hot Wheels has fast become an entertainment brand for boys of all ages.
  54. 54. The Virgin empire encompasses everything from air travel to broadcast radio and mobile phone service.
  55. 55. Span the touch points. Pervasive brands... 1.  Create destinations or events that deliver memorable, shareable brand experiences. 2.  Weave themselves into the fabric of pop culture. 3.  Are everywhere their audience wants to be: At home, online, or on-the-go. Cult brands create their own universe and place consumers at the center.
  56. 56.    
  57. 57. Cult is an international marketing consultancy focused on brand engagement. We help build unbreakable brand affinity that turns ordinary customers into devoted fans with irrational loyalty.
  58. 58. The path to marketing enlightenment starts here. @CultIdeas 1-403-228-7949 © 2014 Cult Collective Ltd.