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Anatomy of a Cult Brand: Have Purpose
Have a clear vision of who you are and what you stand for.

This is part two of a six part series that explores what it truly means to be a cult brand. Part one can be found here. “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. To learn more, register for our Anatomy of a Cult Brand Webinar.

Powerful Purpose

Cult brands are driven by powerful purpose. They occupy a realm where both provider and customer trust that their actions represent something far greater than a mere transaction of a product or service.

In Simon Sinek’s highly popular TED Talk regarding what makes a great leader, the motivational speaker and author asks, “Why do you do what you do?” It’s a provocative question that applies to brands as well as leaders, and one that all too many can’t easily answer. Sinek opened the eyes of marketers around the globe to a principle that purveyors of cult brands have understood for decades: great leaders and brands inspire positive actions in their employees and customers alike by motivating them with a clear, shared purpose, apparent in all that they say and do.

The Heart of the Matter

Cult Collective’s CEO, Chris Kneeland, notes, “Most CMOs or senior marketing executives view their role as governing outward-facing communications to customers and prospects. By contrast, cult brand CMOs and marketers focus on communicating with their brand’s internal audience first.”

If employees understand the purpose behind why they do what they do, their ideals will radiate outwards and influence the external audience.

According to a study by Havas Media, consumers feel greater affinity towards brands that project a clear purpose beyond the utilitarian functions of the products or services the brand encompasses. Furthermore, the companies behind these brands are more profitable and have greater stability. They outperform the stock market by 120% and enjoy financial results that exceed those of top hedge funds. Unfortunately, only one in five brands are perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, and 73% of brands would not be missed if they disappeared entirely. Conversely, there would be riotous uproar if a cult brand simply faded away.

Purposeful Purchasing

Kneeland also reminds us that, “being purpose-driven is not the opposite of being profitable. Just the contrary. The more you can appeal to audiences because of your purpose, the more they are willing to consolidate purchases with you and even pay premiums.”

The following brands exemplify this ideology through and through. While not all aim for higher price points, they all achieve success in their respective industries by knowing who they are and what they stand for; a powerful purpose.

Shoe Story

Toms GiveWhen Blake Mycoskie started TOMS shoes, he created an entirely new business model around the idea of “one for one.” Part philanthropic charity and part minimalist shoe company, TOMS gives away a second pair of shoes to someone in need on the other side of the world when you buy a pair for yourself.

TOMS’ cause marketing efforts are so successful, because charitable giving is sown into the company’s core values. TOMS’ “one for one” ideology is as vital to its business model as its revenue generating aspects. The brand has done a brilliant job of tapping into our shared humanistic desire to help those in greater need than ourselves. As a result, people can’t help but feel proud when they buy a pair of TOMS and are most certainly motivated to become repeat customers.

Since starting the company, TOMS has given away over two million pairs of shoes in 40 countries, and they have now started an eyewear product-line with the same “one for one” business model.

Selling with a purpose greater than profit means that your product or service is able to provide significant added value to consumers in a way that the alternatives cannot.

It’s not hard to tell that TOMS shoes aren’t the best on the market, but having a purpose doesn’t necessarily require that you begin with a superior product or service; there is an intangible component that separates even the most similar of goods.

Cheap Seats

southwestgoodNot every ‘purpose’ has to be grandiose or high-minded. Sometimes the purpose is to simply do the best for customers by offering a product or service that solves a deep-rooted need. For example, Southwest Airlines struck a powerful chord with travellers tired of paying higher airline ticket prices in return for a handful of meaningless benefits, such as complimentary beverage service and assigned seating. Instead, Southwest’s singular aim is to offer customers the cheapest airline tickets around. No bells. No whistles. And Southwest’s devoted fans have knelt at the threshold of its boarding gates ever since. In fact, Southwest Airlines was recently named to FORTUNE Magazine’s list of World’s Most Admired Companies for the 20th consecutive year.

Hotelier Extraordinaire

fourseasons doormansLike Southwest Airlines, luxury hotel chain Four Seasons is not on a mission to change the world, just the hotel experience, one customer at a time. Isadore Sharp, founder of the brand, determined that luxury is not defined by over-the-top decadence and opulent surroundings. Instead, luxury is dependent how front-line staff makes guests feel. Customer experience is what sets the Four Seasons apart from other high-end hotels and the brand consistently inspires this commitment among thousands of employees on a daily basis. Sharp sums up the Four Seasons’ purpose for existing perfectly, “There was no vision, there was no grand dream, but there has always been a consistent thread and it propels us forward today…and that’s service.”

Patagonia’s Purpose

PatagoniaCampaignYvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, has taken an entirely different approach to earning the cult following his outdoor apparel company has today. While most public companies must ultimately act in the interest of their shareholders, Patagonia is part of a new breed of ‘B Corporations’ that are as concerned for the world around them as they are about making a profit.

B-Corp certified organizations, where the ‘B’ stands for Benefit, are for-profit corporate entities that want to consider society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making processes. Benefit Corporations differ from a traditional corporation primarily in regards to their purpose, which is to create general public benefit, defined as a material positive impact on society and the environment. Other high profile B-Corp certified companies include Etsy, Ben & Jerry’s and New Belgium Brewing Company.

Patagonia’s mission statement succinctly explains all that it is trying to achieve through its B-Corp status, which is to, “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

These days you can’t fool people by “greenwashing” your products. You have got to put your purpose where your brand is.

This radical new way of doing business is something that Patagonia’s customers fervently support.

Greek for Me

20100721_chobani-logoLike Patagonia, Chobani Greek yogurt aligns every decision and action with its own brand mantra: “Nothing but good.” Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani on the premise that all Americans deserve delicious, preservative-free food. What consumer doesn’t want that? Talk about shared purpose. Chobani also donates an unheard of 10% of revenue to charity in an effort to do “Nothing But Good.” Chobani was one of the most explosive start-ups in history and, thanks to Ulukaya’s clear purpose, was able to successfully transform an ordinary dairy product into a social movement.

What is Your Purpose?

Do customers identify with and/or define your brand by what it stands for rather than by the benefits of the products or services your brand offers?

Is your brand’s purpose instilled from the inside out, at every level of the company? From the front-line employees to the top executives, all must be on board.

Brands with a purpose:

  1. Articulate a vision or purpose that goes above and beyond the purpose of any individual product or service currently sold.
  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.

Building a cult brand starts with the “why”. Find yours, then find ways to bring it to life.

If you want to learn more, register for our Anatomy of a Cult Brand Webinar.


Further Reading
The CULT of Customer Experience
FIX: A new prescription to cure disengaged customers, prospects or staff
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