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S’Well: Leading with Purpose
(but knowing that's not enough)

CULT ’s second cult-brand principle is “Have Purpose”. As one of this year’s emerging Cult Brand Honorees, you could argue none is more tied to a bigger purpose than S’well. Since Founder & CEO Sarah Kauss launched the company in 2010, their mission has been as bold as it has been simple: to rid the world of plastic water bottles. The S’Well organization has continuously put their money where their mouth is, with it’s most recent example being their BRING IT initiative in New York City, providing 320,000 high school students across the five boroughs with S’Well bottles in an attempt to displace 54 million one-time-use plastic bottles. Fifty-four million bottles!

But as impressive as S’Well’s purpose-driven efforts have been, I want to focus more on the first word of S’Well’s tagline of “Beautiful. Sustainable. Charitable.” S’Well’s mission is certainly a driver of audience engagement, but what causes S’Well’s best customers to buy a second, third and fourth bottle is the beautiful design.

Let’s step back and talk about a different product – cars. Long before Infinity launched their brand in North America showing ads featuring landscapes and ocean, automobile brands focused less on features, such as 0-60 acceleration and miles per gallon, and more on what their specific vehicle says about its owner. Stop in any retail parking lot and look at the autos, and you’ll have a good sense of who their customers are based solely on their car year, make and model. As a Prius owner, I’m aware of what the vehicle says about me. It’s less about fuel efficiency and more about a commitment to sustainability and energy conservation, and even a point of view about fossil fuels. But when it comes to making a statement, my Prius is no Tesla, is it? Elon Musk took a completely different approach by creating a sleek, sexy, electric car targeted at the higher-end market. Less “Car Of The Environmentalist”, more “Car Of The Future”. The earned media, the waiting lists, the celebrity owners all validate the instant Cult Brand status of Tesla. Looking back at my 2011 Prius, I have to admit I am driving the Nalgene of automobiles.

S’Well’s commitment to design is impressive, and they continue to bring new and interesting products to the market. (Cocktail Kit in time for the holidays, anyone?) They show a clear understanding of their customer and don’t rest on their laurels of sustainability. They have listened to customer feedback and created new products based on this feedback, such as wider mouths to make it easier to add ice cubes, and a size that will fit a bottle of wine. S’Well’s actions show the right level of listening necessary to stay a cult brand in the minds of their core customer. They’ve been rewarded for this connection to their customers with exponential sales growth, as well as recognition as a cult brand at the annual Gathering summit.

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about S’Well until a few months ago, but from what I have learned, I’m a big fan. I’m eager to watch their continued rise. And I can’t wait to hear from Kendra Peavy of S’Well at The Gathering as she shares some of their inner workings and core marketing principles. They are a great success story, and a great example of two of the Cult Brand Principles: Higher Purpose and Co-Create. Kendra will help us all identify the work necessary to determine what’s remarkable about your brand and engage audiences in meaningful ways.

There is still time to register and join us in Banff this February to hear about S’Well and many other amazing cult brands.

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