Apple, Starbucks, the Mini Cooper – these brands and products are not just successful, they are cult and many marketers dream that one day they might be able to create a similar cult around one of their products or brands.
Many have tried that before, most of them have failed and when they have failed to create a cult product it is usually the result of one cause: They focus on the product instead of focusing on the product’s tribe.
Another essential question is of course: What is a cult product? A cult brands gives customers a sense of belonging within that product category and owning that product is an honor.
A cult is primarily the results of an extraordinary consumer tribe, and only secondarily of an extraordinary product.
A cult originates in the mind of people
A cult product is created in the minds of customers and if you want to create cult product, having a great product alone is simply not enough. The first thing you have to change is your language – you are not trying to create a cult product, you are trying to create a cult around your product.
A cult is the result of peoples opinion of your products and the owners of your product. Therefore you have to find a way how you can either influence people’s opinion, attract a certain kind of customers that represents your brand image and give them a sense of belonging to somewhere. Sounds complicated, but tribal marketing can help.
Everything starts with building a tribe
A tribe is basically a group of people connected to each other, to your products and your brand. Successful marketing increasingly includes the task of cultivating, nurturing and developing a tribe and its members. Instead of following the top-down approach which is the core of “brand management” , “tribal marketing” focuses on each individual that gives permission to be part of your brand and convert him into a passionate and loyal follower that will spread the marketing message for you.
The Joel On Software Tribe
Applications for tracking bugs in computer software are not a very innovative area and countless commercial and free applications are available. Nevertheless Joel Spolsky, author of the blog JoelOnSoftware, and his company FogCreek Software successfully developed and launched a product in a mature market by first building a tribe of software developers and project managers through his blog and his books. After establishing this tribe he leveraged it to promote the companies bug tracking software and also the statistics for his latest project stackoverflow.com, a wiki for software developers, demonstrate the power of his tribe to launch product that is built for it’s tribe.
The Joel On Software tribe is a community of software developers who have the desire to become better developers or better manager of software development teams.
Focus on what others think about your tribe
Driver Image vs. Car Image
Studies have shown that one of the essential drivers of an automotive brand image is the image that is associated with the drivers of a car. So if Porsche aims to change it’s brand image, it has to consider what other people think about Porsche drivers.
If major car manufacturer want to launch an electric car, they have to consider what other people associate with drivers of electric cars and make them members of a tribe that represents more than an electric car. Hopefully it is not “radical environmentalism” but a different lifestyle.
An expensive, exclusive product won’t create a cult
Many companies try to create a cult product by making a really expensive version so that you associate “rich and famous” with your product and they can then charge a premium. While this is a strategy to earn higher margins by targeting a segment with higher income, it won’t necessarily help you achieve a bigger following – you are merely creating a halo product.
The implications for your brand
If you decide that you want to create a cult product you should first start to think how you could create a tribe around your product.
- Who could be the first people to join that tribe?
- What would it mean to be part of that tribe?
Next you have to focus on how you can increase the reputation of your tribe members and shape the opinion of non-customers about your tribe members.
Should every company try to become a cult brand or develop a cult product?
The key to cult products is not just the product, but the tribe that surrounds it’s product and that represents it’s product. Whatever you do to build this tribe and convert indifferent customers into enthusiastic customers, there is a certain risk associated with being different. It is up to you how much you differentiate your tribe and how much you empower your tribe.
But one is certain: If you don’t dare to be different, you will never become a cult brand.
- Book: Tribes - We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin
- Tribe Management
- Harvard Business School Marketing Club conference-Cult Brands: Lessons Learned At Apple, ESPN, and PepsiCo
- Detroit’s New ‘Halo’ Cars Make Sharp Turns in These Hard Times
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