Tag Archives: brand loyaltying strategy

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

by James D. Roumeliotis


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There are brands that tout their 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 with 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 which 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 to 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 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 which 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 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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The Anatomy of Brand Loyalty

by James D. Roumeliotis

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It’s no secret that there is a strong relationship between customer experience and brand loyalty. A recent Forrester Research report revealed that customer experience leaders have a 14 percentage point advantage in encouraging their customers’ “willingness to buy more, reluctance to switch, and likelihood to recommend.”

Function, features and benefits are an integral part of a product. However, they don’t matter as much as the perception of use value inherent in the brand’s promise.

Today, even online retailers have undertaken to create customer-centric strategies that drive brand loyalty. With a plethora of competition and better educated consumers, this has become more critical than ever before. However, how does one create and execute engaging customer experiences online or offline that will maximize brand loyalty?

Negligent Brands

Many brands are myopic to the point that they unintentionally and unknowingly allow their dissatisfied customers to go away without a thought. Front-line staff is either not trained properly and/or lacks the proper attitude to handle clientele appropriately.

During the industrial era, consumers would simply purchase what was produced, shopping where that product was available and paying the price the retailer demanded. In essence, the manufacturer and the store were in position of strength.

As products and consumers have changed over the years, the concept of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘consumer insight’ came about. As we progressed into the new millennium, the transparency and unrestricted information available on the internet has changed all of that. Today consumers are not only better informed but they are also in control. They can make or break a brand through their actions.
So what does this say about listening?

Consumers will no longer refrain from informing companies on what may have gone wrong ─ whether it’s a particular brand or a competitor’s. With the numerous platforms for consumers to make their voices heard online, brands have to be very reactive and not allow anything to chance. In an age when the consumer’s outcries and influences spread quickly, the results can signify lost sales and a deterioration of brand loyalty.

By listening attentively – especially through the various online social venues, should keep a brand from becoming the next Netflix, Tropicana or Gap ─ each one with their costly blunders.

As for low prices, though they may seem attractive to shoppers, prices can only go so low. Retailers, whether in bricks & mortar or not, need to look beyond the quick sale and start to focus on building brand loyalty. Commodities find it hard to maintain loyal customers.

What contributes to Brand loyalty?

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A study (2004) conducted by brand expert J. N. Kapferer reported that brand loyalty contributes to successful marketing programs, sales initiatives and product development.

The key aspect of brand loyalty is the consumer decision — which can be made both consciously and unconsciously to repurchase a brand continually. A consumer makes this decision that the brand is perceived the one that offers the right product features, identity or level of quality at the right price, thus establishing a positive image of the brand. Since brand loyalty leads to future purchases, it can be considered a valuable strategic asset for companies.

Brand loyalty requires trust as it’s a key factor in the development of brand loyalty. An additional and often overlooked principle in brand management is this: When a brand is successful, it’s because customers value an emotional experience more than a functional benefit. When the brand delivers on client expectations – and beyond, trust is earned, strong connections are made and ultimately, brand value grows.

As 2011 began, the top three U.S. coffee brands, when it comes to their own customer’s report of their degree of brand loyalty and engagement, are:

1. Dunkin Donuts;
2. Starbucks;
3. McDonalds (McCafe)

In Mr. Schultz’s new book, “Pour Your Heart into It,” he describes how the brand was built “one cup at a time.” This could not have been further than the truth as every brand thrives through a constant repeat of individual positive transactions. Unfortunately, many brands take consumers for granted once a business or new retail location is up-and-running.

Branding in the Luxury Sector – the Differentiators

Luxury brands rely on committed customers, who often provide “walking advertisements”/brand ambassadors ─ also known as indirect marketing. Evidence from academics suggests that this phenomenon has a strong presence in the luxury sector and may have a double positive effect on enhancing a brand’s overall image and status.

Consumers who trust a brand and its name are more likely to trust the quality of new and existing products. This leads to faithfulness, repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.

With luxury retailers, emphasis should be placed on providing a service or an experience that causes the luxury shopper to shift his/her spending from one brand to another. Giving your customer prestige or special recognition for buying your product or service should be a standard offering.

Simply thanking him/her who just spent $1 million at your luxury boutique isn’t adequate. A generous and memorable offering should be made rather than something that can be duplicated and repackaged by a competitor – whether online or offline.

Rewarding points, for example, will no longer make a large impact in demonstrating appreciation as it has become quite ubiquitous. It may be utilized toward buying an item he/she would have gotten anyway. But an “invitation-only” evening, for example, with a top designer can have much more of a positive impact.

Brand Loyalty: B2B Sector v, B2C

Brand loyalty in the B2B sector is higher than in consumer goods markets because companies in the commercial and industrial segments seek long term relationships as any experiment with a different brand will have impacts on the entire business. Therefore, it’s wrong to assume that marketing solely applies to consumer goods brands.

Among Interbrand’s 10 most valuable global brands, Microsoft, Intel, IBM and GE all generate far more B2B revenues than sales to end consumers. Consider, for example, that GE and Microsoft are hybrid brands with some direct-to-consumer sales that have helped to build the reputations of what are primarily B2B firms.

Although enterprises are selling to businesses, they want to be in touch with end consumers, with their aspirations and their needs. That is a source of competitive advantage in driving their innovation agendas can capture a larger share of channel margins and as a result, build loyalty.

The Impact of Social Marketing

Social media is proving a fertile ground for breeding brand loyalty. Recent research by eMarketer has shown that social media sites like Facebook are where consumers go to keep abreast of a brand’s products and promotions.

This is where consumers are converging and where online retailers should engage. Building a community around a brand not only increases exposure and traffic to a website, but also a very effective means of creating brand evangelists who will spread the brand’s message to a wider audience.

Starbucks has made effective use of social networking and micro-blogging such as Twitter and Facebook in interacting with their customers and measuring their interests and opinions on new branding activities. As of the beginning of 2011, the company had 1,237,169 followers on Twitter and more than 19.4 Million on Facebook.


When consumers are delighted by a particular 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.

Consumers will often purchase a brand for the first time due to its reputation. The brand, therefore, adds value and certainty to an otherwise unknown product. The stronger a brand’s reputation, the higher the value of the brand and the greater revenue it will drive for the business.

Brand loyalty has a strong presence in the luxury segment because luxury goods consumers identify with the personality of the luxury brand and see no need to search for alternatives.

B2B marketers are realizing that developing brand awareness among their customers’ customers can capture a larger share of channel margins and build loyalty that can protect them against lower-priced competitors.

Using social media to build brand loyalty to a brand’s long-term success as it creates a digital holistic platform where loyal customers converge and whose voices are heard and spread beyond.

Those merchants winning the race are delivering the kinds of recognition that make these shoppers feel truly remarkable, even in their privileged surroundings.


Article based on extensive research that has been conducted for an MBA dissertation based on the topic ‘The Influence of Brand Identity on Brand Equity in Luxury Segment’ by Violetta Ihailanen who has over 15 years of practical retail luxury experience with renowned fashion brands including Burberry amongst others along with an entrepreneurial stint.

Chaudhuri (1995)
Jacoby and Chestnut (1978)
Kapferer (2004)
Phau and Cheong (2009)

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Filed under Branding, Business, Luxury, Marketing