cult_brands

I’m Doug McIntyre, CEO of Cult Marketing.  When I left my prior agency to start Cult Marketing over a decade ago, I did it with the belief that all great brands share a common set of characteristics or traits. It was clear to me then and is now, that there is a path to accelerate growth and excitement for your brand by incorporating the traits that define a cult brand. 

Cult brands inspire employees and turn regular customers into devoted and passionate fans. At Cult, we define a cult as a group of people that share a passion, idea, or belief. I started Cult Marketing with the idea that we would help companies develop passionate customers for their products and services.

What is a cult brand? 

Understanding the phenomenon of cult brands starts with the realization that all successful brands have a strong customer base at their core. Many cult brands use the 80/20 scenario, where 20 percent of customers drive 80 percent of revenue. These are the most sought-after customers in any market segment. 

Who are cult customers? 

Not only do cult customers drive revenue, but they also exemplify brand loyalty and are less likely to drift and purchase from other brands. These customers strongly identify with your brand offering and understand what makes it different from competitors. This leads to less customer turnover and lower marketing costs. 

They are also brand evangelists who spread the brand’s gospel, usually by word-of-mouth. They love your brand and want to inspire others to feel the love too. A positive word-of-mouth referral from a credible and trusted source is the most powerful and effective marketing tactic your brand can adopt! 

Cult customers tend to be price averse because they see the value in your product or service. They are often early brand adopters who will pay top dollar for the latest technology, model, style, or flavor regardless of the flashy discounts your competitors might offer. 

Lastly, cult customers are emotionally engaged and constantly look for information, updates, and news from your brand to feel “in the know”. They love being a part of the “movement” and look for opportunities to join brand loyalty clubs or rewards programs. 

How do you build a cult brand?

While every brand wants a cult customer base, it takes work to build a strategy that will attract dedicated customers.

We’ve been studying the defining characteristics of cult brands for years and have developed what we call the “11 Laws of A Cult Brand.”

Over the coming weeks, we will highlight each of these “laws” and how brands have successfully exemplified these traits in their brand messaging and strategy to build a cult following. I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned over the last decade with you. See you soon.

urban outfitters

One of Cult Marketing’s philosophies is to strategically disrupt markets. This is critical in getting attention with your target audience and is step one of any successful marketing effort – you must breakthrough the clutter. How do you decide where the boundaries are? When has a disruption strategy gone too far?

Most recently Urban Outfitters got into hot water with a vintage sweatshirt design featuring the Kent State logo and what appears to be spattered blood. Kent State officials publicly decried the tactic. “We take great offense to a company using our pain for their publicity and profit,” Kent State wrote in a statement on its website on Monday. “This item is beyond poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still hurts the Kent State community today.”

Urban Outfitters have struck before with items including a “Ghettopoly” board game; a T-shirt that resembled the clothing that Nazis forced Jews to wear; and a hat that labeled vomiting as “Irish Yoga.”

Other retailers such as Abercrombie & Fitch have been famous for disruptive tactics. A&F featured naked teenagers in their catalogs, a t-shirt that agitated the Asian community (“Wong Brothers Laundry Service — Two Wongs Can Make it White”), and had guest articles written by porn stars offering advice on oral sex and other sexual techniques. As expected, many conservatives and members of the religious right were outraged.

So where do you draw the line on disruption tactics?

The Cult view on disruption is based on one primary factor – a keen understanding of a company’s target audience and their attitudes, desires and motivations. One of the reasons that the A&F tactics worked so well is that it appealed to the teenager and college target audiences, not the religious right. In fact, the disapproval of the religious right gave the tactics validity with its target audience. And, while it was considered edgy and inappropriate, it was just about sex which is a hot topic among all consumers, especially the younger consumers experiencing those emotions for the first time.

In terms of the Kent State sweatshirt, our question would be to their millions of consumers that loyally shop the store: Were you outraged by the Kent State sweatshirt design? Will it stop you from shopping there in the future? Our guess is that while the sweatshirt itself may not sell very well, the publicity will create enough curiosity to actually increase traffic. After all, don’t most Americans love a good scandal?

It’s the time of the year to reflect and give thanks for all the good things that happened during the year. We decided not to do that. Rather, we thought it would be way more fun to commemorate history and hold our first annual Cult Turkey Shoot.

Someone got the bright idea to dress up like pilgrims to get in the spirit of shooting turkeys. Some people wear camouflage when hunting turkeys, but we have a soft spot for the garb preferred by our forefathers.

We also wanted a way to shoot turkeys to make it challenging and visually interesting, as we were going to capture this important day on film. So, our in-house engineer and artisan Kyle built a giant sling shot to launch turkeys into the air after capture. This would both look cool and give us the opportunity to demonstrate our shooting skills – or lack thereof.

No turkey shoot would be complete without guns, so we had our friends at AimHi Shooting Range bring their favorite shot guns and 3 inch magnum shells. During the warm-up, CEO Doug McIntyre was overheard saying, “There is nothing like the smell of gunpowder in the afternoon…it smells like victory.”

As the day progressed, the Cult team fearlessly challenged the vicious Orient, Ohio wild turkeys. The turkey call was played beautifully to lure the beasts into range, much like the sirens luring ships onto the rocks. We mastered the various turkey calls: gobbles, clucks, putts, purrs, yelps, cutts, cackles and kee-kees.

While the calls may not have produced a plethora of turkeys, we made due with a species native to the area. We stalked the available turkeys and blasted them as they attempted to run away.

A high powered sniper rifle was brought in to deal with the turkeys playing hard to get and instantly regretted trying to be coy. As you can see from the images, the turkeys were no match for the fierce Cult Pilgrims. The Cult team took it to the turkeys and carried the day.

To demonstrate the teeth whitening effectiveness of the new Prime Time Smile product in conjunction with its national release, Cult Marketing created the ultimate product demonstration challenge – to whiten the tusk of a pre-historic mastodon.

Cult Marketing organized a Prime Time Smile whitening team to visit a Museum of Natural History to apply both the Pre-Treatment and Whitening Gel formulations to the 11,000+ year old mastodon tusk over a period of five days.

As the time lapse photographs clearly demonstrate, the Dual-Action Teeth Whitening System works wonders on even “ancient” and hard-to-remove stains.

In the future, we plan to send the Prime Time Smile whitening team to scour the country in search of other interesting artifacts, displays, or iconic monuments that could benefit from a good whitening.

Washington's Teeth

The world needs to see how well Prime Time Smile actually works. Up next – George Washington’s False Teeth. If you have a great idea of what needs to be whitened, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re also working on a print ad that will feature the mastodon story, and will add the story and photographs to the Prime Time Smile website and Facebook page to round out the social media coverage.

Prime Time Smile is available exclusively at Walmart stores and Walmart.com. Check it out: walmart.com

 

Cult Marketing Gets Jiggy!

How did Cult Marketing help the Dublin Irish Festival shatter their all time best attendance record last year?  By doing what we do best, creating fanaticism. So, as the marketing agency for DIF, we continued our successful campaign and added even more fun cult tactics to the list.

Fans came out in droves this year. We saw folks ‘getting jiggy’ at the Killian’s Celtic Rock Stage, ‘wigging out’ with traditional Irish dancers at the Cardinal Health Ceili Dance Tent and lining up for the gathering of the Red Heads.

Check out some of the highlights from this year’s campaign that got folks talking and spreading the word for DIF.

 

Trade show marketing strategies

Trade show marketing strategiesA trade show is like a modern day bazaar – a veritable open market of hawkers and vendors urging you to buy. In this chaotic environment, how do you succeed? How can you promote and market your brand without getting lost in the crowd? How do you land the hot leads, get the order, or at least have a real conversation about your service or product?

At Cult Marketing, we believe in the Sun Tzu philosophy that “the war is won before the first battle begins.” In the case of a trade show, it is certainly the truth; your brand marketing strategy going in must be airtight. You must carefully define your target audience, determine how you engage with them, how you make them aware and interested in your offerings, and how to motivate them to seek you in this environment. This is all possible only through careful ethnographic research, strategic planning, bold creativity and maybe a bit of show business.

Careful Ethnographic Research: What do you know about your target audience? In Sun Tzu terms this is known as “intelligence.” First of all, who is attending this trade show – potential customers/clients, competitors? What are they interested in? What are the characteristics of the attendees? The first thing you need to do is make sure the trade show is right for you as a presenter by assessing all these variables and comparing them to your objectives, product/service offerings and sales strategies.


Strategic Planning:
If you’ve decided there is a good match between what you do and what attendees are looking for, then what is your plan to move attendees down the AIDA continuum (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action)? How will you get their attention, what will tweak their interest, can you actually get them to move to action? In this case, the call to action will be defined here as conversation, a lead, a proposal, or in a perfect world, an order. You also want to be sure that your current brand marketing strategy is prepared to handle these conversions (have a trade show related landing page created on your website, for instance).

One thing you need to do is start the awareness process weeks or months before the show begins. Your target customers should be seeking you out by the time they get to the show because you have intrigued them well in advance. So, remember to invest in a solid pre-show campaign. Don’t skimp here and spend all your money on a crazy booth stunt.

Bold Creativity: There is nothing quite as dramatic as the instant feedback you get at a tradeshow. If people flock by your booth on their way to your big competitor, you can only sit there and pretend to look busy. In the meantime, it is too late. If your creative efforts are not the result of a well thought out extension of your strategy, they will fail. They will also fail if your message is presented in a boring, uninteresting or expected way. Remember the first rule of creativity: you must get their attention. If you don’t get their attention, everything else you did is completely wasted.

Show Business: This one is tricky as many companies feel a bit embarrassed about going over the top. But, it’s OK to push the envelope as long as it is well done. I remember a Kohler booth that had the “Bond Girls” coming up out of a pool of water. Yes, it was expensive as hell, but it was fabulous and the booth was overrun with prospects. The rule here is if you can’t afford to do it right, then don’t make the attempt.

Last but Not Least: You need to close the deal after the show. You need the order, the PO or even better, a large check mailed to your doorstep. This is where having a pre-show strategy incorporated into your brand marketing efforts pays off. Have a custom sales follow-up for each and every prospect. You should know more about them after the show than you did before, so capitalize on that information.

Trade show marketing can be fun if you are prepared for the battle. Find a good strategic and creative partner and carefully chart out every step of the process. Leave no detail to chance. Now, please enjoy the show!

Did you know that private labels products now account for up to 45% of all retail sales in key European countries, and 21.5% in the U.S. (Nielsen, 2009)? If you looked at these statistics ten-twenty years ago, it would be a different story. But recently, private label products have become increasingly popular with consumers. Yet, you don’t see these products spending millions of dollars on television and print advertising. Still, in most cases, private label products deliver significantly higher margins to the retailer than the traditional consumer produced goods (CPG) brands.

So, it is surprising that private label strategies are not pursued with the same level of vigor or investment as their branded brethren. Is it because they are completely sold that the only way to spend their marketing budgets is on traditional advertising?

Cult has been working with a large national retailer to optimize their private label product strategy and package design. We employ the same rigorous branding development practices used by the big CPG brands. We conduct deep dives into the lives of the consumers to see how the brand fits into their lives. We employ unique market research techniques to determine what about a private label product speaks to a consumer and pushes them to make the purchase.

Cult Marketing develops concept testing programs to evaluate various design and messaging options, and we have consumers evaluate the competitive products, both CPG and private label. After all, when it’s all said and done, the consumer needs to choose the private label product even when it is displayed right next to the familiar brand icon.

The result is a highly competitive product that can win at the shelf, without a massive marketing campaign. We call this kind of win “the moment of truth” – and if done properly – it can pull the rug out from beneath a billion dollar brand.