The third law of cult branding is:
Encourage a distinctive look.
Brand fanatics often operate in brand subcultures, with behaviors, “looks”, and rituals distinct to those subcultures.
These brand evangelists, aka cult customers, share an emotional connection and passion for a brand and like to associate with other brand loyalists. Birds of a feather flock together has never been more true. A distinct look helps them form a shared community and acts as a symbol of their allegiance.
Every year, thousands of kids don their Mickey Mouse ears and Disney character outfits and head to a Disney park. And often, so do their parents or other adults known as Disney adults. Disney has created characters in movies that have become icons for cult followers, and these looks are central to the Disney experience.
Because of the Disney parks’ no costumes rule for attendees over the age of 14 (so as not to interfere with the official Park characters), grown humans have turned to donning Disney-inspired outfits within the amusement confines, a trend called Disneybounding. With over 500,000 social media followers, Disneybounders create Disney inspired outfits that are Park acceptable.
Another brand that has generated a unique look is Harley Davidson. The original look was inspired by the culture and style of the outlaw biker gangs like Hell’s Angels. Later on, the look was fueled by Hollywood stars like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider. The Harley leather riding jacket is almost obligatory while cruising on a Harley Owner Group (HOG) ride with other members.
One of the largest industries for developing a distinctive look is sports teams. Go to any college or professional football game and you’ll see a plethora of fans in face paint, team colors, weird hats, and other paraphernalia.
Music groups are another industry in which “the look” is critical to building their brand. The Insane Clown Posse have fanatical fans called Juggalos that often paint their faces to look like clowns, and some sport tattoos of “hatchetman,” the logo for Psychopathic Records, ICP’s recording label. There is an annual festival called the Gathering of the Juggalos, sponsored by Psychopathic and featuring its artists as well as other musicians. The Gathering has been going on for 20 plus years.
Every brand should understand what inspires and connects its most passionate advocates. Finding common threads among this group of “super-consumers,” brands can encourage bonding and socializing through behaviors and symbols. Given the level of cynicism that exists around corporate marketing today, all brands should intentionally plan tactics to help connect their most passionate consumers together and creatively encourage them to be brand evangelists and advocates.