cult is a group of people who have a common interest - be it religious, spiritual, a philosophical belief pertaining to a particular object, personality or a goal. When we combine the term branding with it, this applies to a group of customers who are loyal to a certain corporate identity, and aggressively follow it. They associate themselves with the brand logo, tagline or overall brand image. It is beneficial to the brand as it encourages the entry of new customers, resulting in a larger customer base, since existing loyal customers would persuade their family and friends to indulge in the same.
Cult branding is not to be confused with a fad - which is a temporary trend that eventually fades out, like the fidget spinner, that quickly became so popular and everybody had it. A good example of a cult brand is IKEA, whose customers cannot think of any other brand for their furniture.
Every corporate identity cannot have a cult branding situation. A brand must offer something unique to its customers, maybe a powerful origin story, or something memorable and impactful to their customers over the long term. People choose to be a part of a cult due to the following reasons:
- Status - The iPhone, for example, shows a person’s status and is regarded as a class symbol. The brand logo itself is so powerful that people usually don’t hide it - therefore buying transparent phone covers.
- To be part of the family - People might choose a brand to become a member of the family. If you buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle, you are not just getting a bike, but you are also getting a membership of the club.
- Emotional connect - Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the eternally famous Sherlock Holmes books, had killed his primary character in 1893 after having written multiple stories, citing his boredom as a reason to end the series. Loyal readers were so hooked with the adventures of Sherlock Holmes that they insisted on bringing him back, after which he was resurrected in 1905, almost twelve years later. The series has resulted in a cult following over the years with multiple cartoons, TV shows, movies, merchandise and a dedicated museum which was established in 1990.
- Share a common belief - People want to experience a sense of belonging from a brand that they associate themselves with. The values and beliefs of the brand become part of their own personal identity. For example, there will always be a community of individuals who prefer Coca Cola over Pepsi, or vice versa.
Cult brands regard their customers as royalty. They try to understand the customer’s psychology, their desires, and what would motivate them to indulge in the purchase of their unique product or service. They establish a relationship which doesn’t stop at the sale of a product, but is maintained even after in the form of services which are given equal importance. That is what differentiates them from others, making their customer believe they are an important part of it.
Cult following is not only confined to a product, but can also be ascribed to a certain personality, like the Kardashians. People stay updated on everything they do, wanting to buy clothing or makeup products exclusively launched by members of the family. Sometimes, the logo of a brand is so impactful that people will buy anything, for example, Dove or Nike. A corporate identity, in order to be a cult, should examine existing ones to discover what transforms fondness into fanaticism. Cult brands grow slowly and organically, with the enthusiasm of their customer base. There are many things that help a brand to gain a cult status. The difference is made with the risk they take to experiment on new and innovative ideas. They sell more than a product or service; they are selling experiences and a story that grabs people’s attention.
What can we learn from existing cult brands?
- VANS, as a brand today, stands as an alternative sport symbol for snowboarding and skateboarding. It sponsors and organises sporting events each year with enthusiastic customers and renowned adventurers, which is the best way to connect with them and stay inclusive. They also build and operate skateboarding parks to make their customers understand they care for them.
- Amazon's main focus is to satisfy their customers by constantly seeking their feedback in the form of rating and reviews, they pride in fast shipment of goods, easy replacement, as well as premium variety in choice of entertainment (film, tv, music). Basically, the brand makes a customer believe that it is their one-stop shop for anything they need.
The real deal to cult branding is to focus on customers, making them a part of the overall corporate identity. Brands must sell products that grab people’s attention immediately, being confident, focused and authentic.