Building and growing a profitable brand isn’t like it used to be. The rise of mobile and social technologies has forced companies of all sizes to re-examine their approach to reaching customers, driving consumer loyalty and building the value of their brands. To grow their business, companies need to inspire passion and build a fanbase of customers.
But creating a cult brand doesn’t happen by accident. The companies that have the most rabid fans aren’t simply #blessed with those customers. These brands earned the trust of their customers.
Here are notable lessons from seven brands with a cult-like following.
1. Find and target your niche
Trying to be all things to all people is usually a recipe for failure. In the crowded landscape of fast food restaurant choices, for instance, Taco Bell created a strong following by committing to a niche and capturing it.
Over the past few years, the once struggling, family-focused Mexican fast food chain has transformed itself by focusing its marketing towards Millennials. Taco Bell has tapped into that generation’s hunger for quick, easy, food with edgy and entertaining marketing campaigns that leverage social media platforms. It also makes sure its messages and content are tailored for each form of media. This includes early adoption of video, such as live performances on YouTube that enable customers to connect with their favorite bands as well as the restaurant.
More recently, Taco Bell announced that it is adding mobile payment and delivery apps to support experiences that Millennials have come to expect.
2. Develop a consistent look and feel and messaging
For the fashion vertical, Instagram has become a critical marketing channel, especially for brands that have a compelling and consistent messaging. One example is Mansur Gavriel, a brand that created an it-bag that generated thousands of Instagram posts. As noted by Eva Chen, Instagram’s head of fashion partnerships, Mansur Gavriel has created a look and feel that’s so consistent that she can immediately spot the company’s emails and social media updates.
As she tells the Business of Fashion, “Just as when you pick up a magazine, whether it’s Self Service or Vogue, and you could remove the title from the cover, but you would still know which magazine it was just from the image, the typography, the talent they’re using, the tone of voice—that logic extends to Instagram as well.” Chen says moments of spontaneity and joy are important, but feeds that have a consistent look do well on Instagram. And as Mansur Gavriel demonstrates, this consistency helps to build and keep a dedicated following many cult brands enjoy.
3. Tell a compelling story
People love stories, even as consumers, and they enjoy learning about why a business was founded. A brand’s story is often about having a mission beyond selling product—something that the shoe company TOMS embodies.
With the leadership of its founder Blake Mycoskie, the company has built a strong following in large part because of its compelling story. When the company was just getting started, Mycoskie took every opportunity to tell the story of TOMS and company’s purpose. With friends, family, customers and anyone who listened, he shared what inspired him to come up with a business model that helps a person in need with every product purchased. And as he shares on Entrepreneur, the company’s story was instrumental to opening crucial doors, including the company’s first ever retail customer.
4. Focus on quality
In-N-Out Burger has amassed a big following by taking a page from the Ford handbook and making sure quality is job one.
In-N-Out Burger: A Behind The Counter Look At The Fast-Food Chain That Breaks All The Rules chronicles how the chain has become a worldwide phenomenon by focusing on the quality of its food—still made the same way since it was founded in 1948. In-N-Out Burger spends little on advertising; instead, word of mouth has fuelled its popularity and given it “a ring of authenticity” to it that most chains don’t have anymore, the book’s author notes.
While the chain has only 305 locations in the United States, its reputation for quality has given In-N-Out Burger a level of notoriety that has travellers from inside and outside the country seeking them out.
5. Take a stand
More and more consumers expect brands to show their true colors and to take a stand on social issues. Apparel company REI chose to stand apart from its retail peers by not opening its 143 retail locations on Black Friday, instead encouraging its employees and customers to #OptOutside “to reconnect with family and friends” during the Thanksgiving holidays. REI also opened a microsite where people could get recommended hiking trails as well as other tips to enjoy the outdoors.
By going against the flow, the retailer garnered positive word of mouth, in part by putting the wellbeing of people over profit.
6. Understand your customers’ aspirations
Cult status goes beyond simply selling a product. They promise an experience or support a lifestyle that consumers aspire to.
Nike is an excellent example. It has built its brand by understanding its customers and giving them a reason to engage with the company beyond simply buying its apparel. The Nike+ website allows runners to upload data about their runs and map their run history, as well as share that data with others, get fitness tips and post upcoming events of interest. Consumers improve their fitness regimen while Nike is able to learn more about how customers are using its products.
This two-way engagement gives Nike an opportunity to become part of their customers’ lifestyle aspirations through active listening and consistently delivering products that customers value.
7. Create a community
Just as Nike has created a two-way dialogue with its customers, building an organic following through community is key to Glossier’s growth strategy. Its approach is spurred by its founder and CEO Emily Weiss’ feeling that beauty brands tend to talk “at” consumers, while missing the context of real women and their experiences.
Although brand identity is a top priority for Glossier with its unified look and feel for all products, messaging, and marketing, the company’s product team relies on its community of customers to support a level of innovation that’s difficult for large beauty conglomerates to achieve because of there aren’t close enough the consumer, according to Weiss. Glossier’s marketing is greatly influenced by user-generated content through social media platforms such as Instagram.
Cult brands have distinct voices
Building a cult-like following for your brand doesn’t happen overnight. For most companies, creating a cult brand requires deep understanding of your customers and building a relationship with them around a distinct value proposition and experience. Without customer insight, it’s impossible to create a brand customers will love and feel passionate about.