Category Archives: branding strategy

The Cult Brand: Providing an exceptional experience to the point of total customer devotion

by James D. Roumeliotis

There are brands that tout the virtues of their products and/or services with a religious fervor. A “cult” brand is a product or service with a strong loyal customer following, whereby their clients are fanatical about their products or services to the point where their lifestyle revolves around those popular brands. This level of fanaticism also makes those devout followers unsolicited brand ambassadors.

Cult brand examples with customer aficionados include Apple, BMW, Porsche, Fox News, Lulumemon, Zappos, Oprah, Harley Davidson and Starbucks to name a few. As for Starbucks, it offers a superior product and experience that some people would go out of their way, by driving by less expensive alternative coffee shops, to pay for Starbucks’s pricier cup of coffee.

More than just a product or service, it is a lifestyle

Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone.

Call it “hype” or give it any other label, cult brands are a unique breed that create and are given plenty of attention. Their brand value is also much higher than their closest competitors. They have achieved a special connection with consumers through their distinctive appeal.

Unlike religious or similar type cult following, the cult brand is considered “benign” or a “benign cult” since it satisfies a need and desire in a positive and harmless manner. Some brand loyalists have gone as far as having their beloved brand tattooed on their body.

A brand is considered as a “cult” brand if the following aspects are present:

  1. Customers receive more than a product and/or service ─ they experience a lifestyle;
  2. Brand devotees firmly believe there are no substitutes for their beloved brand;
  3. Customers feel a sense of ownership with the brand;
  4. Loyalty is prolonged over time compared to brands which are considered fads and unsustainable in the long-term;
  5. An extraordinary degree of customer loyalty exists.

Ingredients of a cult brand: using psychology, identity and a sense of belonging

It is not enough for brands to spend plenty of money on glorified advertising. Any company with an adequate budget can do that. The essential challenge is to utilize an approach that makes people want to embrace a product and/or service that people would enjoy making it part of their life, as well as identity and belonging.

Brand cult status is an emotional component of the brand but it is not as simple to achieve. As per The Cult Branding Company, a brand consultancy firm, there are seven rules of cult brands this author stands behind ─ and are as follows:

Rule #1 – Differentiate: To achieve a special connection with consumers, the brand should have a distinctive allure and be unconventional in a good sense.

Rule #2 – Be Courageous: Cult Brands are successful because they are unlike their competitors. They possess their own personality, DNA and rules. They are also passionate about their offerings and their customers for whom they exist in the first place.

Rule #3 – Promote a Lifestyle: The goal of a lifestyle brand is to get people to relate to one another through a “concept brand.” These brands successfully sell an identity, image and status rather than merely a “product-service” in the traditional sense of the term.

Rule #4 – Listen to Your Customers: Focus on serving your customers’ desires by being customer-centric. Encourage feedback and utilize it as an opportunity to form ideas, and provide solutions that establish and retain loyalty.

Rule #5 – Support Customer Communities: Cult Brands build effective and sustainable relationships with their customers by developing and supporting a customer community that allows users, partners, and company employees to share information, answer questions, post problems, and discuss ideas about product enhancements and best practices in real-time. Cult brands also gather their loyalists by organizing occasional social events to ignite additional enthusiasm for the brand.

Rule #6 – Be Open, Inviting, and Inclusive: Cult Brands do not discriminate in terms of age, race, or sexual preference. As such, everyone who believes in the brand’s mission is welcome.

Rule #7 – Promote Personal Freedom: For most, the Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs pyramid includes elements of self-esteem and self-actualization. As such, a well-regarded brand will express this as much by promoting freedom which is essential in expressing one’s own unique identity and worldview without fear of consequences.

In the end: Achieving the highest level of emotional connection via brand advocacy

Cult brands have a fanatical customer base. A culture is created around the brand based on consumers of a niche group. From there, the brand evangelists spread the message and enlist more followers.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless – even though it may take longer to take a positive effect.

That said, innovative products, exceptional services, the total customer experience and the lifestyle which comes with being associated with the brand are what truly makes a cult brand exceptional from competing brands. The key objective is to create a relationship of trust. The world’s powerful brands establish trust and friendship with their customers. They develop emotional capital, and gain passion. This is what makes them great, thus “cult” brands.

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Filed under 1, Branding, branding not products, branding strategy, cult branding, lifestyle branding

The Creativity and Strategy of Nation (Country or City) Branding

By James D. Roumeliotis

When branding comes to mind, we think of products and services. We also come to think of “personal” branding ─ especially in professions such as attorneys, architects, accountants, and the like. Moreover, with the prevalence of freelancing, as well as influencers, branding offers them similar benefits in regard to grooming their image and reputation to attract more clients and fans respectively. However, cities, towns, and even countries have joined the bandwagon and business concept in branding themselves. They do so because they understand the many benefits of branding nations. These include attracting trade, business investment, possibly immigration, and/or tourism. For a few, it may be reputation management due to a negative perception/disrepute of the location.
 
Nation Branding refers to a process in which a country claims a distinct brand positioning in the minds of its citizens, the global prospect/customer, and international stakeholders. This requires the country to invest resources in coordinating and integrating a multitude of activities.
 
In many cases, the country image provides credibility to the brand image. Think French wine, Swiss watches, German Cars, Danish designs, and Greek hospitality. Additional examples as consumers top of mind are Italian fashion, Colombian coffee beans, and 100% pure New Zealand wool, and are some of the well-known examples. 
 
Through effective nation branding, countries, and cities independently, can develop a distinct personality that benefits both the country and its renowned national brands within it. Tourism and national airlines may be the main representation between nation branding and corporate branding. However, there are various other sectors that can also partake an important role in nation brand building.
 
Countries are turning to PR to revive their global reputations
A Public Relations (PR) agency can bring value and enhance a nation’s reputation. They are storytellers who create narratives to advance their agenda.  Additionally, PR can be used to protect and build reputations through various online and offline media sources, as well as self-produced communications.
 
When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, the former hired Hill & Knowlton. The agency was tasked with creating international sympathy along with Western military support for what was essentially an oil-rich undemocratic regime in the Middle East. This worked in its favour.
 
Where paid media, such as advertising by a country, is normally the default way to promote anything that may be construed as propaganda, earned media, which is what PR is considered, offers to help boost brand awareness, increase credibility and expand reach. Earning media on trusted outlets and news publications not only validates the content created but gives a brand for a nation third-party credibility. PR comprises any publicity or media that is not generated by the country (or city) or any of its agents, but rather by a third party ─ an agency along with organic methods via the targeted audiences, social media fans, journalists, and/or bloggers.
 
Corporate branding leveraging nation branding
Inherent connections exist between a nation’s brand and the corporate brands that operate within. Both rely on each other, thus leveraging each other’s fortes to build and further their reputation. One corporate sector that typically has close ties to a nation’s brand creation is the airline industry. For example, national carrier airlines such as Emirates in Dubai, Singapore Airlines in the island country of Singapore, and Turkish Airlines in Turkey, have been highly successful in leveraging their respective countries’ image, culture, and values in order to market their services, as well as act as nation brand representatives globally. The experience for visitors begins with the inflight experience.
 
The task of building soft power, along with a positive image of their nation, is one that policymakers throughout the world are becoming ever more concerned with. The soft power strategy has become popular in Turkish foreign policy. Turkish Airlines, a well-known international airline brand, has evolved into a tool for Turkish soft power because of this appeal and the momentum Turkish public institutions gave Turkey in its pursuit of soft power.
 
Case Study: Repositioning Greece
In today’s globalized world where national identity loses a step, a country willing to compete must have a brand. This brand should communicate to the world audience Greece’s characteristic values that make up her essence. The louder and clearer this message is broadcasted, the better Greece will emerge among the nations.
 
Greece is, in fact, easily recognizable globally, as a country mainly for its beautiful landscapes (especially its numerous islands), its history, food, hospitality, and some are even aware that besides tourism and agriculture industry respectively, the country is also known for its powerful merchant shipping domain. Greek shipowners control one-third of the world fleet. However, the fact that Greece enjoys a powerful image overseas does not necessarily mean that the country has a brand, at least not in a brand in the modern meaning of the word. Other countries have successfully built their own brands, but Greece has not, or at least not well enough, other than its Greek Tourism Organization with its annual tourism advertising campaigns (with a different theme and slogan every year).

Greece’s competitive positioning should be entrenched in both the leisure destination as well as an environment full of opportunities inspired by its residents’ lifestyle, boosting the business environment and merging the country as an attractive investment destination. The aim should be to create a country recognized worldwide (especially in the nontraditional international markets) for its unique lifestyle, talented people, innovation, and entrepreneurial culture but certainly without losing its destination branding features within the tourism and hospitality markets. Moreover, Greece can take advantage of its rich culture (philosophy, language, athletics, etc.) to improve its international image and cultivate cooperative relations even with countries that have no direct interests.

Greece should be able to gain competitive advantages over other nations. Being considerate of the nation’s image at home and abroad is paramount for this to transpire. Promoting a specific brand would definitely help.

In the end
Evidently, positioning or repositioning a destination is not an easy task. Effective promotional campaigns and shrewd diplomacy can be utilized as a means to achieve strategic objectives. In doing so, a country or city/town, like a product or service enterprise, should think analytically, target specific audiences, create a unique value proposition, and aim to establish a global brand that resonates. This requires conceptualizing nation branding as a form of national soft power. 

Futurebrand publishes the Country Brand Index every year, which includes an overall ranking of the 75 countries and rankings by dimension, FutureBrand collected quantitative and qualitative data from Approximately 2,500 opinion-formers and frequent international business or leisure travelers in 17 countries (USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, UK, Germany, France, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, UAE, India, China, Thailand, Japan, Mexico, and Australia). complete perception dashboards for the top five country brands, regional leaders, and ‘ones to watch’ for the future. Futurebrand tests a global research sample based on the Hierarchical Decision Model (HDM) which involves determining an individual’s awareness, familiarity, association, and preference toward a country’s brand. In their 2018-19 ranking, the top 5 nations’ brands were (ranked from first to fifth) Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Sweden, and Canada. (Source: Wikipedia)
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