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?
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.
Deliver the extraordinary.
Be driven by a powerful ethos.
Inspire from the inside out.
Personify human attributes.
Co-create with customers.
Envelop consumers’ lives.
Anatomy of a cult brand
We’ve identified six anatomical elements that brands
use to forge fanatical followings and win legions of
1Cult brands deliver extraordinary
products, services and experiences.
not win fans and
Being remarkable does.
services or experiences
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.
Apple inspires interest with bold innovations,
thoughtful design and empowering promises.
Dyson draws discussion through the design,
functionality and performance of their products.
Blendtec got millions of consumers talking by
answering a simple question: Will it blend?
Harley-Davidson is a quintessential cult brand
because motorcycle enthusiasts love their bikes.
A.1. rewards elite fans with the amazing ability to
summon emergency sauce on command.
What makes a brand
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.
2Cult brands are driven
by a powerful ethos.
Nothing motivates more
than a shared purpose.
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.
TOMS Shoes built a cult following by benefitting
children around the world in need of shoes.
Patagonia won the hearts of conscious consumers
through its efforts to solve environmental problems.
Chobani aligns every decision and action with their
brand mantra: Nothing But Good
Honest Tea has earned the affinity of thousands
socially concerned, health conscious consumers.
Dove aims to redefine what it means to be beautiful.
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
3. Remind both consumers and themselves “why”
they do what they do at every opportunity.
3Cult brands inspire
from the inside out.
around a set of
Cult followings begin at
the core of a company.
believe if your people
The same connection that a brand wants to make with
customers must begin with employees.
Every WestJet employee runs the successful airline
as a business “owner”.
Panera has rallied around a culture of transparency
and genuine goodwill towards others.
Whole Foods empowers staff to meet the local needs
of their communities and customers uniquely.
Build from inside out.
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-
4Cult brands personify
Brands are not
But they need a real voice.
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.
Apple’s “I’m a Mac” commercials literally personified
their Macintosh brand in an extremely relatable way.
Consumers can role-play as the Scarecrow,
a personification of the Chipotle brand values.
Lululemon is like an encouraging friend, offering
tips, training and motivation to reach your goals.
Say it like you mean it.
1. Make their values and personality present at every
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.
5Cult brands co-create
with their customers.
Shut up and
listen for a
Big ideas come from
customers who care to share.
People are drawn
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.
Coke Freestyle machines facilitate
simple co-creation with customers.
Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos are the result of a
fan-initiated movement on Facebook.
Starbucks’ “splash stick” was the result of the
company’s ongoing idea exchange with patrons.
A store for runners by runners, Running Room sells
products and programs based on customer input.
Harley Owners Group members bond with the brand
and each other through shared experiences.
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.
Be where consumers
expect you to be.
And also some places they don’t.
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.
Disney characters and stories extend beyond movies
to games, clothes, toys and experiential destinations.
The Marvel “universe” spans comic books and video
games to movies, mobile apps and collectible toys.
LEGO transcends its iconic toy blocks through retail
stores, theme parks, video games and even movies.
Beyond toy cars, Hot Wheels has fast become an
entertainment brand for boys of all ages.
The Virgin empire encompasses everything from air
travel to broadcast radio and mobile phone service.
Span the touch points.
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.