Companies around the world put a lot of their hard-earned money and sweat into carving out an image for themselves. It’s an investment and pays off in ways more than one. All our lives, we make decisions that are influenced by a series of well-planned marketing campaigns by these companies, at least those who succeed in getting our attention anyway.
However, what separates a few brands from the rest is having a user base that is so loyal to the brand, that it actually resembles a cult. We’re surrounded by so many such brands that sport a cult following. Chances are, we may be a part of a cult or two ourselves as well. This doesn’t happen overnight though. Brands bend over backward by providing the best shipping and delivery experience, optimizing their inventory management, handing out discounts and special offers, etc. all to woo users into switching over to their side.
In this blog, we talk about how brands go about creating a cult following and how eerily similar those tactics are to the ones adopted by the actual cults.
Picking the right target
Any cult worth its salt knows how to find the right target group (TG). Their messaging would only make the most impact on people who have certain things in common. The same is the case with brands that manage to create a cult around them. They find the right TG that shares the pain points that the brand is trying to solve. Once that part is taken care of, the brands go start rolling out the good stuff.
The term ‘Love Bombing’ refers to the activity performed by a cult and its members to constantly engage in a public or private display of affection with the newer recruits. They flood the joinee with all kinds of gifts that make them feel special and appreciated. Brands do a similar thing by offering them insider offers and discounts. When people are told that they’re part of an intimate, exclusive circle, it inspires them to be loyal to that brand.
Starbucks runs a special 40,000 member strong Facebook group that is dedicated to those who love their pumpkin spice latte and “all things Fall.” The group members exchange meaningful conversations around the brand, while Starbucks virtually does nothing at all and yet remains popular among its fans.
Forge Powerful Rivalries
Nothing unifies the troops like a powerful enemy! All cults tend to create an enemy to hate and compete with. From governments to religions, the followers of just about any cult are asked to have nothing but contempt for the rival who’s out there to destroy them.
A cult brand is no different. Take up any of the brands and you’ll notice a common pattern among all their marketing campaigns. They’re targeted to establish and enhance their supremacy over their one true rival brand. Many brands battle it out in rather public marketing feuds. On the surface, such face-offs may seem like casual banter, but to a discerning eye, they represent a strong desire to reinforce their soft power among their followers.
Spanning across decades, we see so many examples of such rivalries. The Mcdonalds vs Burger King tongue-in-cheek banters are entertaining, the Ad wars raging between BMW, Audi, and Mercedes are hot stuff causing major burns, and the Marvel vs DC debates still fill up the entire comic conventions. All of these are prime examples of this phenomenon and are a part of well-thought-out online marketing strategies.
But You Can Never Leave
It’s not a cult if you can leave it just as easily as you joined it. The same is the case with brands that have a very committed user base. The most common example that comes to mind is Android vs iOS users. Both these user bases find it extremely difficult switching to the other side because they’re just too set in their ways. And although Android is technically not a singular brand, Apple is. They have built an entire narrative around their products which their fans gulp down quite happily since it validates their choice of purchasing the products and thereby, staying in the cult.
Switching over to the other side would mean that they would lose out on all these privileges that their brand offers, while also feeling guilty about not staying loyal to an entity that has given them so much love over the years. Indian cellular giant Reliance Jio managed to not just retain all of its user base but in fact added 3.9 million users, all of this after they announced a shift from a tariff-free model to chargeable data plans. This happened partly because they provided the cheapest plans and a reliable network, but also because they had managed to carve out an army of loyal users that chose to stick with them.
It’s a tough, competitive world out there, especially if you’re a famous brand that every new kid on the block is ready to dethrone. The only way to last is by creating a formidable, loyal user base that will stick with you. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll see many more of such tactics being adopted by companies to keep their competitors from chipping away their users.
Apart from these, do any other cult-ish tactics come to your mind? Do let us know in the comments below.
'There are no boring topics, only boring content. There also are no interesting topics, only interesting content' - is the gist of why I write. A politics buff and a music aficionado, passionate about all things tech. Perpetually adding places to his travel bucket list and checking them off- a trip at a time.
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