Words by Tess Robinson of Smack Bang Designs
Let’s talk about the April Fool’s Day joke of the century. In 1994, a popular American news broadcaster reported that companies such as Apple, Pepsi, KFC and GAP were offering appealing discounts to teenagers who would tattoo their bodies with corporate logos.
As we’ve learnt over the years, there is always a small, albeit gullible percent of the population that actually become an ‘April Fool’. In this case, fools for life. Apparently, there are over 1,000 people out with Steve Job’s fruity logo emblazoned on their skin for the rest of their existence. Crazy? Kinda. Stupid? Probably. Great marketing? Absolutely.
Swept up on this body-branding bandwagon, I made the mistake of doing a Google search for corporate logo tattoos, and almost lost all of my faith in humanity. I know there’s a few of you reading this that have now just copied and pasted that phrase into your own Google search. I’m really sorry, please accept my condolences and grab yourself a stiff drink.
I’ve always been interested in brands with cult followings – brands that seem more addictive than crack. Come on, we’ve all got a soft spot for our fave brands. You know, the ones that you buy from without even really thinking past your frontal lobe anymore. The ones that you identify with so freaking hard that they make you feel more you. Those brands that adorn your house, your wardrobe, your desk, your pantry… perhaps even your skin? Have you ever stopped to think how they do it? These brands get under our skin by providing a sense of belonging. Cult branding is the art and science of creating a feeling of shared consciousness with others, supported by ritualistic behaviour, and in the day and age of social media is pure ingenuity when pulled off.
So how do some brands make us feel so connected that we voluntarily stain our skin forever to declare our unending love?
CULT BRANDS SPIN GOOD YARNS
Harley Davidson has achieved market valuation of $7.72 billion (USD) – which is 131 times more than the book value of $59 million. How? They’ve told a bloody good story. The foundation of any cult brand is the story. Harley Davidson’s brand is not just a brand, it’s a lifestyle. Their die-hard followers are connected to a lifestyle of rugged adventure and bad-ass rebellion, even if they don’t have a rebellious bone in their body. A Harley executive famously said “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.” What they’ve proven is that the stronger the story you can create, the more loyalists you will have backing you.
CULT BRANDS MAKE SHOWING OFF EASY
We humans are a social bunch, and a little vain (let’s be honest). We want to feel valued and so we sometimes cluster together and follow one another around to feel belonging. Creating swag through your brand is an easy way to grow your business, just ask Frank Body. A simple coffee scrub famously convinced over 60,000 loyal customers to post photos of themselves half naked, covered in coffee grounds. A bold ask you might say, but one that has surely paid off. The Frank Bod team have used customer generated content to convert brand awareness into cash and buyers into loyal fans.
CULT BRANDS ARE EMOTIONALLY ENGAGING
Loyal customers don’t buy your products. Instead, they buy your story, your mission and your values. They care about the why sometimes more than the what. When a cult brand is engaging, it is able to tap into way more than just a bunch of loyal wallets. Oprah Winfrey has created a billion dollar biz by sharing stories that tug at heartstrings and positioning herself as a relatable, emotionally engaging brand. And there’s surely no one on earth who doesn’t wanna give that woman a humongous bear hug.
CULT BRANDS SOLVE PROBLEMS THAT DON’T EXIST YET
Can you believe that thousands of people around the world camp out in front of a store multiple times per year, just to be one of the first million or so to purchase a new product? Steve Jobs must be giggling in his grave. I wonder if he even knows the enormity of what he has created? The magnetism of the Apple brand is the genius of being able to solve their audience’s problems before they even know they exist. Cult brands know what makes their loyalists tick. It’s crucial to understand what they love and hate, and which problems they face not only today, but in years to come. I mean seriously, back in 2007 I had no idea I needed a device glued to my thumb 24/7, and now? I can’t even find my way home without it.
CULT BRANDS INVITE THEIR FANS
Ask any Lululemon customer and they will tell you that you aren’t just buying a product of fantastic stretch and cellulite disguise, you’re buying the Lululemon community. Show me an almond latte drinking, green smoothie sipping, yogi-loving mum that doesn’t own a pair of Lululemon tights and I’ll eat my own Nike Free Runner. Seriously though, this company and its tribe is growing faster than the activewear trend itself. By facilitating numerous live events and interaction like in-store yoga classes, Lululemon builds not only a tribe of loyal followers, but a platform to invite their audience to give feedback and ongoing conversation with the brand. The more opportunities you give your customers to connect to you, the greater loyalty they will have to you and your brand.
CULT BRANDS FOCUS ON THEIR NICHE
There are few people that want to get up at 5am on a Monday morning and launch just to swing kettle bells above their heads and squat till their thighs feel like Satan’s inferno while somebody stands over them screaming military instructions. The Crossfit culture is a niche market. Although large in reach, it caters to a small percentage of the population who are into self harm by way of exercise (no offence to the die-hards; I’m clearly just jealous of your motivation and cheese board abs). Cult brands, like Crossfit, focus on their niche in the early stages. Narrower targeting allows you to be more successful in nailing your concept with an audience who is ready to devour your offering. This is where your following will expand from.
CULT BRANDS STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
Was anyone ready for the tsunami of cray that was Psy in 2012? The Korean rap sensation racked up over 2.6 billion Youtube views for his epic pop song ‘Gangnam Style’. At the time, I thought ‘Wow, this will never make it to mainstream viewing!’ And now, the jokes on me. Old mate Psy has received millions of dollars in revenue from downloads, TV commercials, concerts and speaking appearances. Why? Because he stood out in the crowd. Our brains are hardwired to notice what’s different, so building a cult brand means building a drastically different business offering that plays to its uniqueness. Stand out, don’t just fit in.