This is part one of a six part series that will explore what it truly means to be a cult brand. “Anatomy of a Cult Brand” summarizes our study of the world’s most coveted and successful brands. This series details the six attributes, we have uncovered, that have enabled certain brands to win the irrational loyalty and devotion of their customers, and in doing so, establish a formidable competitive advantage.
Mediocrity does not win fans and loyal customers. Being remarkable does.
There’s a reason brands regard word-of-mouth as the ‘Holy Grail’ of marketing. There’s no stronger influence than the endorsement of a brand by someone that a consumer already knows and trusts. Nielsen reports that 77% of consumers are more likely to buy a new product when learning about it from friends or family.
Getting your brand on everyone’s lips isn’t about irreverent ads or garnering millions of impressions through broadcast media. It wasn’t the reach and frequency of Apple’s lively print, outdoor and TV ad campaign that popularized the iPod. It was the promise of “1,000 songs in your pocket” combined with an innovative product design, both of which, at the time, were truly remarkable.
No amount of “tell and sell” marketing will create a cult following if a brand doesn’t have a truly noteworthy product, service or experience to offer consumers. 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.
No amount of “tell and sell” marketing will create a cult following if a brand doesn’t have a truly noteworthy product, service or experience to offer consumers.
You’ll know that you have something unique and cult-worthy when you get people talking on their own accord.
What makes a brand remarkable?
Cult’s own Chris Kneeland states, “Being ‘remarkable’ is often the single most important aspect of being cult-like. But for aspiring cult brands, defining what exactly they can or should do that is ‘remarkable’ is a point of disagreement or even contention. If the Senior Leadership Team can’t decide they even want to be remarkable and instead remain satisfied with simply being good enough, or can’t agree on what exactly they do that is remarkable, they will struggle with being able to rise above mediocrity.”
You don’t have to be Apple, Harley-Davidson or Facebook to have a remarkable brand. The key is to learn from what these trailblazers are doing right and to emulate the characteristics and mindset that they have used to build their cult following.
When looking at these brands we see there is so much beneath a great product. For instance, Apple is not a technology company but a brand that inspires others through its creativity, intuitive design and commitment to ‘think different’. Harley-Davidson doesn’t just make exceptional motorcycles, but rather bonds individuals who covet the independence and freedom of cruising the open road. When looking at the social Media giant, Facebook, it is apparent that it is not just another thing to do online, it has the unique ability to bring connectivity and comfort to our lives, anywhere, anytime.
Remarkable brands don’t merely provide a literal product or service. They fulfill deep-rooted needs that are fundamental to us all.
Case Study: Dyson
Dyson sparks discussion and intrigue through the design, functionality and performance of its products. Jim Dyson, founder of the Dyson Company, asserts that he doesn’t he doesn’t believe in branding. “We’re only as good as our latest product. I don’t believe in brand at all.”
Dyson is a believer that the most effective marketing tool is word-of-mouth, and today the company claims that a huge percent of its vacuum cleaners are sold on personal recommendation. The vacuums’ signature yellow color certainly makes a statement, and the roller ball, for better corner handling, is pretty fun too. Best of all, the vacuums work. Really well. With a prohibitively high price point, Dyson is a domestic status symbol, giving owners all the more reason to brag about their spectacular yellow wonder to friends and neighbours.
Dyson is a believer that the most effective marketing tool is word-of-mouth, and today the company claims that a huge percent of its vacuum cleaners are sold on personal recommendation.
Being remarkable means that consumers derive value from your product or service in a way they can’t from the alternatives. There is an intangible component. Ultimately, Dyson vacuums suck up dirt. A function many other vacuums can do comparably well. However, Dyson is decidedly “not your mother’s vacuum” and has given new life to the fairly stagnant housekeeping industry.
Case Study: Blendtec
Blendtec got people talking with its kitschy, and very funny, web series entitled “Will it Blend.” Starring founder, Tom Dickson, “Will it Blend” is part commercial, one part pure silliness, one part outrageous, and all brilliant.
The key component to the video series’ success is Blendtec’s ingenious ability to find ‘blendable’ subject matter that is so culturally relevant. In a rather direct video, after a recent Justin Bieber concert tour, Dickson blended all the Bieber paraphernalia he could find. “Maybe if we blend all of his accomplishments together, we may end up with something with a little more substance,” he quips.
The Apple iPad ‘blend’ is the top rated “Will it Blend” webisode. To the millions of Apple fanatics and iPad owners, purposely destroying the holy tablet was a sacrilege, thus making this infamous blending experiment all the more remarkable.
The series struck a chord with consumers, and immediately sparked conversation, all while displaying the awesome power of their product.
To date, the “Will it Blend” video series has racked up more than 700 million views on YouTube and sales have rocketed up 700%, clearly people are talking.
Case Study: Apple
Innovative products are almost inherently remarkable because people haven’t seen anything like them. Apple’s legacy of innovation has become its brand promise: Consumers expect whatever Apple does to be unique and awe-inspiring.
Apple has always had a cult following, from its start in computing but the tech giant’s reputation hit a new level on November 10th, 2001 when it introduced the world to the iPod. Clearly, the iPod was not just another MP3 media player. It was thoughtfully designed, was easy to use with plug-and-play simplicity, and had more storage capacity than most music-toting consumers could ever wish for.
In Apple’s case, its product, and the love for it that customers expressed, became the conversation. “Can you believe that I have my entire music collection on this media player that is the size of a deck of cards?”
The iPod has since been succeeded by the equally remarkable iPhone, which has an almost unheard level of customer satisfaction. A 2013 Statistica survey on smartphone brand retention in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia found that 76 percent of iPhone owners are more likely to purchase another iPhone, whereas 58 percent of Samsung smartphone owners claim they will stick with Samsung.
Apple’s fans are among the most vocal and loyal brand ambassadors, but they’re also some of its harshest critics. When Apple fails to deliver on its promise, fans care enough to raise their voices but they’re also willing to forgive it too.
When Apple fails to deliver on its promise, fans care enough to raise their voices but they’re also willing to forgive it too.
Remember the iOS update that replaced Google maps with Apple’s own, proprietary, Apple Maps? Apple’s move to replace the popular app was widely criticized after users encountered numerous bugs, yet like the bold brand they are, Apple openly accepted their blunder, apologized, repaired the issue, and their fans forgave and forgot.
Key Lessons on Remarkability
Make a value promise that gets consumers talking.
Deliver on their promise to win customers who’ll pay more and won’t accept substitutes.
Elicit both praise and constructive criticism from customers who care enough to tell them.
If your product or service does these, you may have the makings of a remarkable brand.