How would you like to have a brand that inspires loyalty in its customers like Apple and Nike?
These cult-like following certainly didn’t happen by accident.
In The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers, Douglas Atkin (Head of Community at AirBnb) shows you how to extract the same principles major brands, religions, and actual cults use to get people excited about your brand and turn them into lifelong customers.
The Culting of Brands is packed with case studies from brands like JetBlue, Harley-Davidson, and Ben & Jerry’s. In each scenario, Atkin shows us how these brands make their customers feel special, important, and part of a unique group, fostering a type of loyalty that most businesses can only dream of.
Despite the negative connotation of the term, most brand “cult followers” are simply regular consumers looking for a group to fit in with. Although some certainly could use these lessons to manipulate people, the objective is really to create a marketing message and brand that resonates so deeply with people they fall in love with it.
The Culting of Brands goes beyond brand-building and teaches marketers how to tell better stories and make products, services, or even people, larger than life.
Once a brand reaches cult status, it becomes impossible to ignore and forever sets itself apart from the competition. Here’s how you can do the same.
10 Easy Steps for Successful “Culting” of Your Brand
Atkin outlines a simple ten-step formula for elevating a brand to cult status based on the shared strategies found in all cults, religions, and cult-like brands.
Here is the step-by-step plan:
Difference – Distance your cult from the establishment or norm. Form your own niche. People love to rebel against the norm.
Connectors – Recruit successful, attractive, and sociable souls to spread the word and drive growth. These are your influencers.
Exclusivity – Limit entry to your group. Not anyone can join or the members wouldn’t feel as special or enticed by it. (Learn more about exclusivity and how your brand can do it right here.)
Solidarity – A clear sense of belonging to the group creates loyalty and word-of-mouth.
Ideology – A clear belief system outlines the values that the group is expected to uphold.
Lovebomb – Overwhelm your customers with love to let them know how appreciated and welcome they are in the group.
Paradox – Make joiners feel that they become more individual, despite the fact that they are joining a group. Make them feel like they are discovering a new sense of self, or finding a new way to express their individuality.
An Enemy – Define what you are and are not to rally your group against the competition. (Think PC vs Mac.)
Contact – Splash your ideas onto the right people.
Let go – Don’t be a wide-read, psychopathic, control-obsessive cult leader or you risk losing everything you’ve built. Allow the vision you built to grow and evolve on its own.
Now, let’s look closer at a few of those steps that usually have the biggest impact: connectors, paradox, difference, and "enemy".
Before people will buy into your ideology, they need reassurance. That’s why you need to first recruit connectors to help facilitate this. Think of this like Influencer Marketing.
Connectors are people who thrive in social environments and people trust. They are attractive, give the aura of success, and given the environment of your brand, they are advocates.
These are the people your target customers like, want to be like, and listen to. They are also the people you want to hire for customer-facing positions, while also encouraging your connectors to recruit more connectors.
Once you’ve populated your internal organization with the right connectors, you need to create opportunities for them to meet nonmembers.
In the world of digital marketing, this could be through webinars, Snapchat, Facebook Live, or in person at meetups and industry events.
Whenever new people join the group, you and the other members should then shower them with love (lovebomb) to reaffirm their decision and make them feel welcome. This is the first step in fostering lifelong loyalty.
Although you should always reward members for promoting your brand, you should never force them to do so. A “brand cult” is more alluring when the members are passionate enough to become advocates on their own.
The Cult Paradox
To continue onto our analysis of the cult paradox, difference, and establishing an "enemy" click "keep reading" below.