The first step in developing a cult brand is understanding that it’s neither expert management nor efficient operations that create it. At the heart of cult branding is the social and psychological makeup of people, which creates fiercely loyal customers out of regular ones.
When you make people realize their wants and needs or appeal to their personal beliefs, you elicit emotions and social responses that will make them so loyal they’ll refuse to buy from your competitors. In all your marketing endeavors, this is what you should strive for. Just think of the war between Apple and Windows fanatics. Those are the kind of fans to look for and encourage.
The bedrock principles of cult branding lie in the wants, needs, and ideals of people, and when you tap into them you activate the loyalty circuits in your audience. It’s not easy but neither is it impossible. Are you aiming to foster a cult following for your brand? Check out the qualities below that all cult brands have in common, and learn to adapt them for your own purposes.
They provide a sense of belonging
The answers to the whys of consumer behavior can often be found in psychology – where else? Psychology and marketing often go together and cult brands understand this. Their marketers regularly use principles of psychology to draw customers in to their products and services. They exploit the universal needs and wants of people from a psychological vantage.
One such need relates to the sense of belonging. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need of humans to belong is, psychologically speaking, almost as important as food or water.
People don’t always recognize psychological needs. Your job, as a marketer, is to make people realize they have those needs and then provide solutions for them. Successful cult brands don’t simply create products, services, and concepts that fill this need to perfection, they masterfully make people aware of those needs.
Starbucks, one of the most popular cult brands, created a need for luxury coffee that soon attracted loyal customers. Who would have thought that an existing commodity product, that you can often get for less than a buck, would attract a large following of people who’d gladly pay for an expensive cup of coffee to distinguish themselves as coffee connoisseurs, or pretend to be? The need to belong is strong.
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There are many theories as to why people want to belong. Psychologists believe that when we act on this basic need, we make decisions but we don’t usually understand why on an intellectual level.
Why do we buy ridiculously priced coffee? Is it really that much better? Ask many people and you’ll get many answers, but the main reasons mostly lie in the psychology of belonging. Take social proof, for example. Social proof is the tendency of people to make choices based on other people’s choices, because they feel that the opinion of a majority is likely to be correct. It’s a bit different than the theory of belonging, but it illustrates how people can make decisions based on their emotions– sometimes, without even realizing it.
Social proof can also help you build a strong brand online. By buying social media Followers and other social signals, you’ll grow the social proof that will help you gain organic Followers. These people will Follow you because they’ll see so many other people tagging along already, and they’ll be happy to jump on the bandwagon too.
They build self-worth
Closely related to the sense of belonging is the need for self-worth. More particularly, psychologists refer to it as the Social Identity Theory. The proponents of the theory believe that groups we belong to, like social class, family, school, company, etc., provide us with our self-worth. So, in order for us to feel better about ourselves, we promote the status of our groups and discriminate against those who are not in our group.
Apple clearly took it to this level by creating an “us against them” mentality among its customers. The friendly (but serious) feud between Apple and Microsoft users is famous around the world, with each side demonstrating a strong cultish admiration for their own products.
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Apple perfectly met the self-esteem needs of its users, probably more so than Microsoft, and their brand purpose and passion have weaved their way into the emotions of millions.
They promote exclusivity
Cult brands address the self-esteem needs of consumers by creating a sense of exclusivity for their brand. They give their brand the coveted status that appeals to people’s desire to feel and be important. By introducing the idea that the product or service is only available to a select few, people naturally want it more.
If you’ve heard of the recruiting slogan of the US Marines Corp, “The Few. The Proud.,” you probably know that it’s one of the most successful ad campaigns of the 20th century. The Marines could thank our innate psychological needs for that.
Indeed, cult branding isn’t limited to products and services. It could encompass everything from ideas and concepts to people and what they represent, like Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart, to name a few.
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They have a strong brand position
Brand position refers to what you stand for as a brand. It’s the emotional core of why your brand exists and is tied to the foundation of your culture, and it could be political or just social/cultural. It gives your customers a reason to believe in you and wins their hearts, not just their minds.
Brand position is a statement that drives everything about your company, including taglines. For instance, Disney’s brand position is “fun, family entertainment,” while their tagline is “Where Dreams Come True.”
Create a truly meaningful positioning statement and align your tagline to your position. A strong brand message speaks to the heart and allows customers to associate your brand with positive feelings. First ask yourself, what do you want to deliver to your customers and the world?
When you have a strong brand position, developing an effective tagline will be easier. You also give your customers a compelling reason why they should stand in line to buy your products or avail themselves of your services. Create a culture and an emotional reason for people to like you. You might just start seeing your logo tattooed on the skin of your customers.
Image credit: Retail Voodoo
They are a status symbol
Everybody wants to “make it” and possessing something that represents status is the culminating point for most. Along with increased financial wealth, many people find social status to be of the utmost importance. Some people buy products they can’t afford to impress others, while some buy luxury goods to salvage their own ego and feel good about themselves. Whatever the reason, cult brands are aware of this human insecurity and so they create ideas, products, and services that represent status.
Quality matters, but it’s certainly for more than the craftsmanship that people, even those with relatively low income, buy Louis Vuitton products. Louis Vuitton has always been a brand that appealed to the wealthy. Now, though, they appeal to everyone because they symbolize wealth and high status. People buy a Louis Vuitton bag not so they can have a well-crafted bag, but so they can own a Louis Vuitton bag.
Image credit: Ratchet Pics via Pinterest
They provide extravagant customer service
People want to feel valued, and they look for experiences that make them feel young, sporty, or powerful, for example. Knowing what your target audience wants and needs is the key to attracting customers and building long-term loyalty.
Cult brands sell experiences and positive feelings. They ask how you feel, not just if you are satisfied with their offerings. They give the kind of customer service that borders on the excessive, beyond just great or excellent. All with the goal of making their customers feel important and eager to come back for more.
Apple does this exceptionally well, from the moment you enter their store to the time you leave. Though they have a good product, this isn’t the only reason for the cult-like behavior of their fans. Great product and customer service are part and parcel of the entire experience that is Apple.
I find it fascinating that IKEA–a company built on extremely low prices–has some of the best customer service. Certainly possible for others
— Dave Cole (@DaveColePhoto) August 4, 2017
Ikea, too, is known for their customer service. Ikea’s selling points aren’t just their cost-effective, ready-to-assemble products. It’s also the way they have made it clear from the very start that customers sit high on their priority list. Don’t they always encourage customers to return products (even if they’ve already been assembled) that don’t meet expectations?
Do you have what it takes to be a cult brand?
Cult branding exists because of the emotional responses and social relationships of people. It is based on the principles of psychology and sociology that explain man’s deepest needs.
Abraham Maslow explained it best when he theorized that everything we do, we do in response to a need of some kind, be it a lower or a higher need. So, when a brand addresses people’s needs on a fundamental level, fanatical behavior almost always follows.
Can you build a cult following? Tap deeply into the emotions of your customers and it definitely becomes possible. Don’t just aim for your products to sell, but aspire to develop a strong following that will buy your product regardless of logic.
There are many psychological principles that you can use to promote your brand, and not just the ones in here. Explore them all and you’re sure to gain a strong following. Before all that though, you need an audience to build cult followers out of.
Grow a strong social media presence and augment your organic marketing campaigns with bought social media Followers. Thousands of Followers will not only help you rank high in search results but will also help you create a credible online reputation. When you decide to buy, make sure you buy high-quality Followers and only from trusted providers.
Hit all these bases and there’ll be no reason why you can’t have a cult following of your own. Start today and start reaping your rewards tomorrow!