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The seventh Law of cult branding is defined here as:

Keystone Events and Traditions

Many cult brands create excitement, community, and connection through keystone events that become highly anticipated and ingrained traditions with their customers. 

Every year since 1979, the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting has taken place in Omaha. It started with 20 people in a lunchroom and has grown to 40,000 attendees. The “Woodstock for Capitalists,” which features Warren Buffet – who is also known as the “Oracle of Omaha” – and his partner Charlie Munger is a true cult event. Attendees will even line up at 4:00 AM to get a preferred seat. 

Based in the Columbus area, 31 Gifts has used keystone events to generate brand excitement, get their consultants fired up, celebrate the top sales producers, and introduce new merchandise. Founded in 2003 by Cindy Monroe, the company was at one time the fastest-growing woman-owned company in the world. In 2018, 11,000 direct sales consultants attended its annual 31 Gifts conference at Nationwide Arena. Women come from all over the United States with their team members and can be seen throughout the city with matching outfits and team badges. 

In 1924, then known as the Christmas Parade, Macy’s department store promised parade-goers “a marathon of mirth” in its full-page newspaper advertisements. To match the nursery-rhyme theme in Macy’s Christmas window displays, floats featured Mother Goose favorites such as the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, Little Miss Muffet, and Little Red Riding Hood. Macy’s employees dressed as clowns, cowboys, and sword-wielding knights. A menagerie of animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo—including bears, elephants, camels, and monkeys—offered a circus-like atmosphere as four bands provided the soundtrack to the festive march. Bringing up the rear of the parade was a float bearing the guest of honor – Santa Claus – sitting in his reindeer-driven sleigh on top of a mountain of ice. Today, 3.5 million people attend the festivities and another 50 million watch live on TV. 

Red Bull has also developed its own milestone events – starting in 1989 – that align with its mission of “giving wings to people and ideas.” One of Red Bull’s most valuable and well-known event series has been their involvement within Extreme Sports, supporting and creating high-octane events such as the Red Bull Air Race, Red Box Soap Box Racing, as well as motor-cross events, snowboarding and cliff-diving. Not only have Red Bull invested heavily in creating events, but they’ve played a major role in supporting extreme sports from youth levels, enabling extreme sports to become increasingly accessible. Red Bull has been able to connect with young audiences all over the world, sharing its brand identity as an enabler of thrilling events, sponsoring and being involved with over 500 extreme sports. 

One of the keys to success in developing milestone events and traditions centers around the alignment to a company’s mission, values, and target audiences. Whether it’s designed for people that desire to create wealth, women that want to be independent and successful, families enjoying fun and wholesome holiday entertainment, or thrill-seekers engaging in extreme sporting events, these brands have created milestone events that become long-standing traditions and build cult followings and communities. 

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The sixth law of cult branding is: 

The Visionary Leader

Great leaders are present in every industry and category, but it is often the founding entrepreneurs and visionaries that are the ones recognized for changing entire industries or categories. The most compelling brands have been driven to exceptional heights because of the efforts of their visionary leaders to brand the company and build a cult following

One example of a Columbus-based company that built a cult following is Quantum Health. Its founder, Kara Trott, was a lawyer specializing in healthcare who saw firsthand the inefficiencies of the healthcare system. Kara realized that consumers did not know how to best navigate their healthcare journey, especially after suffering a serious healthcare incident. 

When Trott founded Quantum Health 20 years ago, the founding principle was based on this need. The company’s mission is to help its “members” navigate their healthcare journey. Today, the Quantum Health “Healthcare Warriors” relentlessly serve over 1.5 million members. Kara had the vision to create an entirely new industry and has also created an amazing company culture, consistently listed in the Best Places to Work rankings. Kara’s leadership is so compelling that if she cannot attend a meeting, associates have created a life size cutout poster that they place in the room and ask “What would Kara do?” 

Explore Cult’s work with Quantum Health. 

Another Columbus, Ohio company, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, was founded in 2002 by Jeni Britton Bauer who currently serves as the brand’s Chief Creative Officer. She is nationally known as the main driver of the artisan ice cream movement. Her 2011 cookbook won a James Beard Award and was hailed “the homemade-ice cream-making-Bible” by the Wall Street Journal

Jeni is possibly the most notable ice cream authority in the world. Her penchant for organic and fresh ingredients is legendary, and the company has expanded to include just under 50 scoop shops in 14 cities across the U.S.

When you talk about visionary leaders, internationally-recognized leaders like Steve Jobs come to mind for his ability to build a cult following for his brand, Apple. But, another current example of a true visionary that has changed the landscape of several industries is Elon Musk. 

Musk has started and/or funded industry-changing companies across verticals such as Tesla, SpaceX, and X.com (the predecessor to PayPal). As of mid-2020, Tesla is worth $210 billion and is valued above all other automobile companies, as well as Coke, Disney, and Exxon Mobil. Musk is known for his relentless innovation, and this quote may embody his fearless attitude more than anything, “If things are not failing,” Musk says, “you are not innovating enough.” 

From homegrown heroes like Kara Trott, to internationally-recognized Elon Musk, these leaders reveal valuable insights for you to emulate in order to maximize your brand’s impact. 

  1. Solve a pain point for customers in a “hard to copy” way
  2. Strive for continuous innovation to keep elevating your products and services
  3. Embody your brand and create a focused vision for your team 

Maximize your company’s impact with strategic leadership and thoughtful branding. 

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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.