198. How To Build A Cult
Brand marketing is all about building a cult-like following
You say the word “cult” like it’s a bad thing.
But the term “cult” is derived from the Latin word, cultus, which means “worship”.
Worshipping is good, right?
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OK, maybe I’ve been known to take worshipping a little too far, but that restraining order is supposed to be removed from my record any day now.
And sure, Jim Jones probably gave cult worshipping a bad name. His whole Jonestown schtick completely screwed all the cult leaders out there who are trying to do some good in this world.
He did no favors for Kool-Aid either.
The Cult Leader Explained
A “cult leader”, according to Encyclopedia Google, is a person of tremendous charisma who makes followers feel loved and accepted.
I ask you, who doesn’t want to feel loved and accepted?
It’s these feelings of love and acceptance that lead cult followers to do things for their leaders that they wouldn’t do for others.
Yes, yes. Sometimes that involves drinking Kool-Aid or, you know, killing people and using the blood to write Beatles song titles on the wall.
Don’t let the evil few make it bad for all the good cults out there.
Jesus, for instance, was a cult leader. He was charismatic and had a fervent group of followers who felt loved and accepted by him.
He’s the very description of a cult leader.
In fact, there’s an entire book describing how he created and was ultimately killed for the cult he built.
Christianity is now one of the largest cults in the world. In fact, every religion is a cult if you take it by the definition. Whether it’s Buddha, Allah, or Yahweh, every religion has charismatic leaders that help give people purpose and feelings of acceptance.
Cults, as it turns out, are really important in business too.
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A Cult-Like Following
How many times have you heard marketers talk about creating “a cult-like following” for their brand?
Actually, don’t answer that. It’s a rhetorical question.
Establishing a cult is the pinnacle of a brand’s identity.
Let’s go back to that definition of a cult leader for a sec:
A person of tremendous charisma who makes followers feel loved and accepted.
Imagine, if you will, that we make a slight edit and turn the definition into this:
A powerful brand position that makes people feel loved and accepted.
How does a brand position make people feel loved and respected? The same way a charismatic leader does:
1. Deliver a message that resonates with a group of people
2. Encourage and nurture the community
After all, when people who are passionate about something hang out with other people who are passionate about the same thing, they build a bond. That bond is rooted in understanding and acceptance. The community, in turn, strengthens the feeling of love for the brand. Boom - a cult is born.
Confusing? Well, let me try to make it easier to understand.
Perhaps the best example of cults is seen in sports.
I’m a proud NY Yankees fan. Good year or bad year, I worship the Yankees. They are my cult leader and I am a loyal follower. I proudly wear the logo, proselytizing at any opportunity.
Yes, I can watch the Yankee games at home and root for my team. But it’s when I’m at an actual game in a stadium - or even at a Yankee-friendly sports bar - where that feeling of a cult-like community flourishes.
I feel like I belong. I hug and high-five strangers. I reminisce with people I’ve never previously met about things I’ve never actually seen.
And, most importantly, I spend spend spend.
Every industry has cult-like leaders.
Harley-Davidson is one of the most passionate cults around.
So are Grateful Deadheads - and that band broke up nearly 30 years ago.
A lot of BMW owners have a cult-like worshipping over the brand, just as lululemon, In-N-Out, and Hubspot have amassed cult-like followings.
The Importance of Establishing A Cult
Why are these cult-like followers the pinnacle consumer for a brand? It goes back to what I said before, had you been listening:
Cult followers will do things for their leaders that they wouldn’t do for others.
When it comes to the cult of brands, it means these most loyal followers are willing to spend more money more often for that brand, even though they may be able to save money - or even get a better product - elsewhere.
Cult followers are obsessively loyal. And like most other cults, they will be passionate in their attempts to recruit others into the cult.
That’s why establishing a cult is a marketer’s wet dream.
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The 6 Steps Towards Creating a Cult-Like Following
So you want to create a cult-like following, eh? Don’t we all.
The reality is that it’s not too challenging to create a cult following - all you need to do is get one person who absolutely adores what you’re doing. You can have a cult of one. That’s allowed.
Most brands have at least one cult-like follower.
The challenge is how to grow that cult following into a much larger group. That part is not so easy.
That said, there are six things a brand must consider to help maximize its cult-like opportunity. You don’t have to master all six of these, but the best cult-like brands master at least two of them. So keep that in mind.
Be Inspirational... like Nike
Be Aspirational... like American Express
Be Charismatic... like Tony Robbins
Do things different(ly)... like Apple
Create a community... like Lego
Make an Impact... like Ben & Jerry
And there you have it folks: the value of cults.
So, please, stop saying the word “cult” like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. In fact, it should be the main goal of your brand strategy.
Except, of course, if you work for Kool-Aid. In which case, ixnay on the ultcay.
A Somewhat Relevant Quote
“Here’s an easy way to figure out if you’re in a cult: If you’re wondering whether you’re in a cult, the answer is yes."
- Stephen Colbert
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