There was an interesting conversation on cult brands, over at Twitter, triggered by this tweet from Karthik. The conversation that followed set me thinking about what makes a cult brand and whether they happen by chance or can be consciously created. I have seen some books on this topic like ‘Power of Cult Branding‘ (haven’t read it yet) and they talk of Seven Golden Rules for cult brands. On the larger question of do brands become cults by chance or are they carefully created?
I guess no brand sets out wanting to be a cult brand. In the Twitter conversation, one of the criteria for brands becoming cults was mentioned as the steadfastness of followers to stick to a brand, among other things. But steadfastness alone does not make a cult. By that yardstick, so many brands that are popular in a particular region in India would be cults. A Chennaiite would perhaps not switch from a Hamam or Amrutanjan for life. But he doesn’t make a cult.
Cult brands typically have a passionate fan following who believe in the brand’s core values so strongly to a level of irrational belief. Brands like Harley Davidson, Apple (ahem) come to mind. This fan following become evangelists and advocate the brand’s benefits to non-believers, as it were. Such users of brands usually have a superior attitude – not in a smug way necessarily (though Apple fans are accused of that all the time). They beleive that their brand is a cut above and that’s what makes them stand out from the crowd. Royal Enfield’s Bullet users come to mind. Though if they buy into the brand only because they want to stand out from the crowd, I doubt if they are true believers in the brand.
Another facet of cult brands is that their fan base is usually miniscule compared to the market leader (Apple vs. Microsoft?). But the fan base sticks with their brand come what may, through adverse market conditions, over time.
However, no brand can be programmed to be a cult brand from Day 1. I think the brand owners must firstly get a sense from consumers that there is a ‘movement’ of sorts in favour of the brand. There must be an emotional relationship with the brand. Think of the intesne emotional relationship people have with TV shows like Lost, 24 or American Idol. Steps taken to strengthen that emotional relationship go a long way in creating cult brands.
What are your views? Any examples from India? As always, do comment in.