In my career, I’ve been privileged to have associated with over a hundred CMOs, marketing directors and brand leaders. Do you want to know the single biggest difference separating the marketing leaders of cult brands from the leaders of average brands?

It’s something I call the “get it” factor.

Cult brand leaders who “get it” have a very different job description (often self-imposed) than their “don’t get it” peers. For example, the CMO of an average but let’s say successful brand would likely describe their primary responsibility as increasing awareness and traffic, crafting communications or acquiring customers. While those marketing functions are very important, they shouldn’t be the primary goal of the CMO.

Huh?

That’s right. The CMOs who lead some of the world’s most cult-like brands don’t get mired in the day-to-day marketing mechanics that drive nominal growth and revenue. Instead, they believe that they are on mission to accomplish something more noteworthy or meaningful, and by contrast, behave in ways that build brand affinity and customer advocacy.

The CMOs who lead some of the world’s most cult-like brands don’t get mired in the day-to-day marketing mechanics that drive nominal growth and revenue.

A cult brand CMO will describe their role completely differently, like nurturing a brand with such noble ideals and superior products or services that people don’t just try them but commit to them. It’s not about buying, it’s about buying in.

Buying vs. Buying In

Consider how Peter McGuiness, CMO at Chobani is carrying out the yogurt brand’s “Nothing But Good” ideal. True, Peter oversees PR, loyalty, social and digital, packaging, and even pricing activities, but he describes his primary role as helping “…differentiate and delineate the brand.” And he’s doing this by helping integrate Chobani with consumer’s lives in more relevant ways, by opening experiential destinations like the Chobani SoHo café, publishing cookbooks or building communities around digital content like Chobani Kitchen. In their quest for “good”, the company donates an unheard of 10% of revenue to Chobani’s own charity, Shepherd’s Gift, to which he says, “We don’t view it as corporate social responsibility, we do it because we want to.”

I’m in.

The cult brand CMO’s realm of responsibility extends well beyond external advertising to include strategies and tactics that foster an internal culture and external communities of devoted brand followers.

The cult brand CMO’s realm of responsibility extends well beyond external advertising (in fact many of the best cult-like brands do the least amount of advertising) to include strategies and tactics that foster both an internal culture that supports their mission and external communities of devoted brand followers.

Does Your Brand “Get It”?

In our evaluation of potential cult brand inductees for The Gathering this February, we’ve interviewed dozen of senior marketing executives from the top brands across North America. By asking a few simple questions, it is very easy to discern the “get it” brand leaders from the “don’t get it” leaders, and determine how cult-like their brand really is.

Wanna know if your brand’s got the “get it” factor? Ask your CMO (or yourself) these questions:

  1. Do you consider it part of your responsibility to ensure the right people are hired into your organization (either as front line staff or managerial positions at corporate)? If they defer that task to HR, then they aren’t holding themselves to the same level of accountability as cult-like brand CMO’s. Cult-brand CMO’s know few things are as important as the living people representing their brand and so they involve themselves in setting the criteria for hiring practices and play an active role in developing the materials to onboard and train new talent.
  2. Do they have a meaningful voice in product development and quality assurance? If they defer that task to R&D or merchandising or product development, they aren’t assuming control of their brand where it matters most. Cult brand CMOs spend less time drafting ads to convince people their products are superior and more time making sure their goods and services are actually remarkable. Average brand CMOs attempt to make mediocre things seem better than they are. Cult brand CMOs strive for excellence in how they operate and what they sell and then invite people to experience that excellence for themselves.
  3. Do they oversee internal communications and ensure all employees are aware of their brand purpose, differentiators, and promise? If they consider internal communications the role of HR or operations or corporate communications, they are missing out on one of the biggest areas cult-like brand CMO’s dedicate their time. Cult brands view internal stakeholders as important – if not more so – than external. They build their brands from the inside out.

Cult brand leaders have that other brand leaders don’t is a great disdain for status quo, and the courage to behave differently.

Learn Cult Brand Secrets at The Gathering

Admittedly, cult brand CMOs are few and far between. When you do find one, you can’t help but wonder why more marketers aren’t following their example. They’re not smarter than anyone else. Often, they even have fewer resources than their competitors. The only thing I can determine cult brand leaders have that other brand leaders don’t is a great disdain for status quo, and the courage to behave differently.

If you want to learn more about how the leaders of some of North America’s most cult-like brands think and behave differently to achieve superior results, I encourage you to register for The Gathering.

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