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.
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?
[Burger King, please read this!]
This week’s news from Burger King perfectly highlights why the brand has been struggling for so long – Burger King engages ad agencies in a shoot-out to look for a new brand positioning strategy. This is an egregious mistake on the part of the Burger King management team. It’s brand suicide. Here are some reasons why:
- The brand is way bigger than just advertising. A true brand is holistic – it impacts everything: shopper marketing, product design and innovation, social media, promotions, associate behaviors, mobile, digital, the retail experience, package design, e-commerce, channel strategy, sales, PR, loyalty, advertising – and the list goes on.
- “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Ad agencies have a limited focus and purpose. Agency folks are paid for developing creative executions (i.e. television commercials) NOT holistic brand strategies. Even the agency brand/account planners are charged with the responsibility of helping produce better creative work, not defining the brand.
- Many companies use multiple agencies. If you have an advertising, digital, direct, social, promotions, media, PR, mobile, and shopper marketing agency, which one is in charge of the brand? Is anyone even taking into consideration the needs of the brand?
- When an ad agency creates the brand position, the internal corporate brand team doesn’t own the brand. That’s why many sophisticated companies such as Kraft have taken brand strategy and planning in-house. Internal brand teams have access to information, goals, objectives and discussions that no agency can have. And, it allows companies to become agency-independent so they can work with whatever outside partners they want.
- Often, agencies are selected in a pitch process. This is the fastest way to guarantee that your brand will be a hit or miss proposition. In most cases, the agencies are left to their own devices to find the golden nugget that will resonate with consumers. This means whichever agency has the best creative wins, and creativity is subjective, not based on a sound and tested strategic platform – or even what consumers actuall want and need.
- As Deep Throat advised Bob Woodward,“Follow the money. Always follow the money.” What do you pay your agencies for? Not a holistic brand strategy, that’s for sure.
So how should Burger King and other companies manage their brand positioning? First, they should engage an independent brand strategy firm (call Doug McIntyre at Cult Marketing) to conduct a deep strategic dive, develop key insights, and define the brand strategy. Then that brand platform can be provided to all the agencies they want to work with to develop creative executions across the various media channels. It will help the brand, the agencies, will produce better and more effective work, and help eliminate the abusive process of agency shoot-outs.
The Mayo Clinic is arguably the most successful medical organization in the world. How do they do it? What is their model, why is it successful, and is it possible to apply key features of their model to the delivery of marketing services?
The Mayo Clinic has a formal and proven 135-year old Model of Care. At its core, it is completely patient-centric and integrated. In spite of the ever-increasing number of medical specialties, the Mayo model demands collaboration to benefit the patient’s well-being. To avoid physician self-interest, turf issues and financial conflict, all doctors are required to work in patient teams and all are on salary.
Much like the medical profession, the marketing world has seen a proliferation of specialists. But unlike the Mayo Model and its integrated, collaborative approach, many corporations have moved to a fragmented agency model. How many companies work with a large number of speciality agencies like advertising, digital, PR, product design, packaging, in-store, media buying, social, direct, loyalty, brand strategy, research, and others?
It raises the question, who is looking out for the health of the “marketing” patient? Who is responsible for the overall brand strategy? Are all of these fragmented service providers serving in the best interest of the brand and working to achieve the company goals? Or, are they trying to get a larger piece of the fee pie?
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.
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