Monday, April 26, 2010

The Power Of Cult Branding

I came across this book back during my internship at Alliance Credit Union. My manager had it on her desk and was in the middle of reading it. She said it was good and so it found it's way onto my reading list. Eventually, I got the book as a present and it stayed on my shelf for a couple years. I'm sure this sounds all too familiar. And, just like all those other books, now that I've read it, I can't believe it took me this long to get to it. You'd think I'd learn...

The Power Of Cult Branding was written by Matthew Ragas and Bolivar Bueno. They set out to find out why some brands had a cult-like following while other brands struggled to be recognized. Similar to Built To Last and Good to Great by Jim Collins, they pick 9 companies to study. As you read each of these names, you'll probably have a similar experience I did: you'll recognize all of them, and for at least a couple, feel good towards the brand. The companies are:

Oprah Winfrey, The Volkswagen Beetle, Star Trek, World Wrestling Entertainment, Jimmy Buffett, Vans Inc., Apple Inc., Linux, and Harley-Davidson

The book starts off with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They found that each company focuses on the high-level needs of the pyramid while at the same time fulfilling lower-level needs. How do they do it? The book identifies 7 properties each company shares. The following (which can be found in the last chapter of the book) are those properties, and questions you can ask yourself to help your brand become more cult-like (in a good way, of course).

7 Cult Brand Properties
  1. Consumers want to be part of a group that's different
    • How is your company's product or service already different from the competition?
    • What are some ways you can make your product or service stand out even more from the rest of the marketplace?
    • List your craziest ideas for product differentiation.
  2. Cult brand inventors show daring and determination
    • What is the biggest branding-related risk your company has taken in history? In the past year?
    • What's a marketing idea that your company has decided was too risky to pursue? Does it challenge conventional wisdom?
    • Write down your brand's marketing failures. Be honest. Learn from them.
  3. Cult brands sell lifestyles
    • Is your brand fun? Does it make your customers happy and make them feel good about themselves? List everything fun about your brand.
    • What are the passions and dreams of your customers? How can your brand help fulfill these wants?
    • What is the lifestyle your customers are really seeking?
  4. Listen to the choir and create cult brand evangelists!
    • Does your company really listen to the feedback and suggestions of it most loyal followers? What are they saying? List them.
    • Customers want to be appreciated. How do you reward your best customers?
    • What are new ways you can show your customers that you "listen"?
  5. Cult brands always create customer communities
    • How do you communicate and stay in touch with your customers? Newsletter? Mailing list? Fan festival?
    • What are new ways you can create a "sense of community" around your brand?
    • Cult brands always give back. What are some organizations and causes that your customers would love to see your brand support?
  6. Cult brands are inclusive
    • Is your own brand already open and inclusive - or have you focused only on targeting ideal customers segments? Why?
    • Cult brands help fulfill deep human needs that customers of all backgrounds share. What human needs can/does your brand fulfill?
    • How can you take the human needs you just identified and make them even more intertwined and visible within your brand?
  7. Cult brands promote personal freedom and draw power from their enemies
    • Does your company's brand provide your customers with feelings of freedom and liberation from "the system"? How? List them.
    • Is your brand experience consistent? Do you take advantage of your brand's nostalgia? How can you improve in both of these areas?
    • Who is your brand's enemy? What is your brand fighting against for?

If you find these qualities interesting, and if you find your brand lacking these, I recommend reading this book. It gives great examples from each company on how they execute each one. The questions asked are geared more towards companies who already have a brand, but that doesn't mean you can't set your brand up this way from the beginning. I found it was a pretty quick read, and easy to follow. The last chapter's summary was really helpful too. Enjoy.

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