This is part four of a six part series that explores what it truly means to be a cult brand. Read part three 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.
Cult brands personify human attributes.
No, brands are not real people, but they do need a real voice.
The brands consumers bond with are those to which they, as human beings, can most easily relate. Brands’ with human characteristics such as honesty, humility, sympathy and generosity are much more appealing to consumers, this often translates into preference towards these more relatable brands.
If you, a marketing leader, are struggling to discover the fundamental personality of your brand, try considering it as you would a real person. Imagine your brand has Emotional Intelligence, and administer an EQ test to aid in determining the human traits your brand should exemplify. Defining and projecting a brand’s attractive persona will make it memorable, and — someone, not just something, consumers will want to befriend.
Marketing thought leader and founder of Fidelum Partners, Chris Malone, is an expert in the field of “Brand Perception”, which is the idea that a brand’s perceived intentions affect the way consumers regard and behave towards that brand. According a 2010 study by Fidelum Partners on the power of brand warmth and competence, the human traits brands exhibit influence 50 percent of all purchase intent, loyalty and likelihood to recommend. That’s extremely significant and underlines why it is imperative to find those touchpoints along the customer journey where your brand should be most relatable to consumers.
Everything from product packaging, staff name tags and purchase receipts can be opportunities for a brand to convey relatable attributes.
While researchers are still learning more about how persuasive ‘humanness’ can be, some brands have already unlocked the power of relatability.
Pranayama with Personality
Take yoga-inspired athletic apparel company, Lululemon. Its products are good, but not good enough to justify the high prices. What makes Lululemon so relatable is its perfect alignment with the aspirational female. Using a strategy of motivational messaging within stores and on its shopping bags, employing a highly trained and encouraging sales force of brand ‘educators’ who are required to develop a personal connection with each customer, sponsoring free community events, and a host of other feel-good tactics, Lululemon is able to come off like a helpful friend, one who cheers you on towards your goals. By becoming a positive lifestyle enabler, Lululemon has personified its brand and has defined why it exists and what it stands for. Understanding how your product fits into your customer’s lifestyle is key to becoming more than just another spandex pants company.
Understanding how your product fits into your customer’s lifestyle is key to becoming something more than just another company.
Because Lululemon had worked so hard to forge meaningful bonds with customers, people were especially shocked and upset when Lululemon founder, Chip Wilson, defended the quality of recalled yoga pants. Wilson’s denial of the issue felt like a stab in the back to its loyal fan base. But, Lulu later came out with the ‘Second Chance Pants’ as a make good on the recall, thereby admitting its mistake and offering a gift to gain forgiveness. What a human thing to do.
Assigning human characteristics to a brand is particularly important if things should ever head south. While a transgression initially feels more hurtful to people in a customer-brand relationship, those same people also tend to feel more compassion toward that brand, forgiving, and ultimately repurchasing the brand in future.
Assigning human characteristics to a brand is particularly important if things should ever head south.
Academics at the University of California’s Marshall School of Business found that consumers are less likely to seek revenge on brands they can forgive and are even willing to defend these brands against naysayers.
Feeling Good About Good Food
The digital age has revolutionized human-to-brand interaction, and Chipotle Mexican Grill has flawlessly utilized modern technology to help create a relatable brand persona. In its Scarecrow campaign, consumers embark on a journey for sustainable food as the Scarecrow character, which is an animated personification of Chipotle’s brand value, to create “Food with Integrity.” It’s a short film. It’s a game. It’s a brilliant consumer engagement strategy. Consumers can literally play out Chipotle’s mission to “Cultivate a Better World.”
In a restaurant category where ambiguous ingredients and deceptive advertising seem to be the norm, the Scarecrow fortifies Chipotle’s position as the nice guy who just wants to make the world a better place. A toddler could relate to such a basic and agreeable human trait.
Don’t Mask it with a Mascot
But be aware that Chipotle’s use of a character to represent brand persona should not be confused with mere mascots and spokesmen. The Aflac Duck has made for a memorable ad campaign, but he is not the persona of the insurance company. Cult Collective’s Chris Kneeland emphasizes that, “Mascots and spokesmen come and go, but brand personas should reflect long-standing company values and inform all touchpoints.”
Real Humans Seen Here
Some brands have risen to cult status not by so much by portraying human-like qualities, but instead by exposing the actual human labor force behind the brands. Chris Malone reminds us that all commerce used to be done face-to-face. Obviously that is not always the case today, but our brains are still looking for information on the people who make the products we use. Humanness carries a lot of content that isn’t conveyed through written word, and that is why consumers have responded so positively to brands like Zappos and Dominos Pizza, who place their employees front-and-center in a bid to garner trust and loyalty from consumers.
Humanness carries a lot of content that isn’t conveyed through written word.
Zappos’ business model depends on the abilities of its highly accessible customer service team, who are available to chat directly with customers, 24/7. The online shoe and clothing shop’s customer service phone line is prominently displayed atop every web screen, whereas most big companies go to great lengths to hide phone numbers in exchange for bulky online forms or distracted web chats. While Zappos doesn’t offer deep discounts, the human connection it does provide keeps fans coming back for more and more shoes – customers are earned, not bought.
Putting a face to your brand pays off, people want to see who they are buying from.
Dominos Pizza has made market gains ever since 2009 when its CEO, Patrick Doyle, appeared in commercials to apologize for Dominos’ old pizza recipe, which was less than stellar to say the least. People responded so positively to Doyle’s humble, human apology, that Dominos has consistently featured real employees’ personal stories in marketing campaigns ever since. Dominos’ valiant attempt to put a human face on its brand has paid off, as consumers prove they want to trust real people and offer them their support.
Apple’s Psychological Edge
We just couldn’t write an article on being relatable without mentioning Apple’s famous “Get a Mac” ad campaign. The commercials, which ran from 2006 until 2009, literally personified Apple’s Macintosh brand by using real people to represent a Mac and a PC. The ads presented viewers with a question: “Would you rather be the cool, laid-back Mac dude or the frumpy, awkward PC dweeb”? The campaign suggested that people who buy Macs have fundamentally different personalities than those who prefer Windows PCs.
Through the “Get a Mac” ads, Apple succeeded in personifying its brand while simultaneously driving a psychological wedge between Mac users and PC users.
Say it Like You Mean It
The more consumers know about, and relate to, your brand’s personality, the more likely they are to become loyal customers. However, brand characteristics are not just catchphrases to be sprinkled throughout annual reports and marketing campaigns. Your brand must actually become the personality you have created for it.
- Make their values and personalities present at every touchpoint.
- Can be readily associated by consumers with someone they admire and know or would like to know.
- Behave in human ways, including admitting faults and owning up to mistakes.
Cult brands operationalize their personalities and convey character traits that are also present within positive, trustful, human-to-human relationships.