The influencer secrets we can learn from cult brands

- June 14, 2023 4 MIN READ


Cult brands like Peloton, Lululemon, Apple and Cartier are more than just the sum of their products. As cultural institutions in their own right, they are elite, enduring and highly desirable. These are brands that inspire next-level obsession amongst a core group of devotees who go on to create an entire social phenomenon with the brand as its beating heart, explains Jason Steel, founder of Hello Mother.

It’s no wonder then that reaching cult status is the primary objective for countless businesses. After all, who wouldn’t want to be in their position?

The power of a cult following is in its ability to self-replicate its appeal through word of mouth and social influence. This deep sense of loyalty and the capacity for cult brands to connect with audiences on a deeper emotional level has been the subject of myriad academic disseminations, yet the exact formula for achieving cult status remains elusive.

The psychology of cult followings

What leads consumers to catapult a brand to such stratospheric heights on a massive scale? The first rule of cult followings is to show a united front – a consistency of messaging across all channels that presents a compelling, highly desirable proposition that is impossible to ignore.

Cult brands speak to a higher ideal self; the best version of you. In the absence of religion, cult brands tap into the human need for belonging, drawing in followers to form a community of like-minded acolytes devoted to a certain lifestyle or identity. Ironically, those who join cults do so out of a desire to differentiate, not conform. The comfort and validation of finding your tribe, connecting over shared values and vision, is what resonates beyond the noise of marketing.

Cult followers will proudly reference the brands they love in conversation with friends and family, and they will have adopted it as part of their overall identity somehow – think Harley Davidson riders or Thermomix lovers. Not only will followers leave glowing reviews online, they’ll also encourage others to join the gang. From that point onwards, every pop culture reference, celebrity endorsement and product placement on movies and TV act to doubly reinforce the brand’s desirability and exclusivity.

Peloton is a prime example of this dynamic in play. As the world’s leading at-home on-demand exercise equipment brand, Peloton has established itself in the cultural lexicon. From Sex and the City to social media, the brand is leaps and bounds ahead of its competitor Nordic Track as the top choice for influencers. The genius of the Peloton subscription model is that the brand multiplies its opportunities for connection through live classes, curated training programs and more, creating a club within a club for different training styles.

brands peloton apple lululemon

Like Peloton, Lululemon connects its brand to the aspirational values of its customers. As the leading activewear choice for a new generation, Lululemon is inclusive, accessible and speaks to a particular lifestyle. Having mastered the art of influencer marketing through its Lululemon ambassadors program, the label has become the go-to choice of activewear for the masses. With a forecast of $8.111 billion in revenue this year, it’s undeniable that Lululemon has earned its place among the most sought-after brands on the planet.

Associating with these brands implies a certain level of success, that you have limitless resources and an enviable lifestyle. The feeling of belonging to an elite category is what drives consumption of these top shelf brands. Research shows that 37 per cent of global consumers fit into the aspirational segment (most commonly Gen Z and young millennials), making it one of the most lucrative growth sectors around.

The mechanics of brand obsession

What defines cult status in a brand is centred around what it is not. This point of difference is a marker of originality, and how the brand is able to transcend its key function and move into the realm of symbolism and social status.

Just as people desire recognition for their individuality, cult brands demand to be perceived as unique personalities complete with their own language, social set and values.

Other traits of cult brands include exclusivity, community and an emphasis on the customer experience. Cult brands invest in nurturing relationships, communicating with their base often to keep the connection strong. A deliberate approach is needed to build brand personality by incorporating brand identity in every piece of marketing.

Brands must decide how to present in all aspects, from ideology to logos and brand voice. Who they choose to align with is another important point of difference, with chosen causes and ambassadors playing a role in crafting a distinctive personality.

With consistency comes trust and loyalty. Having a brand personality makes it easy to communicate with customers – rather than speaking as a business, cult brands approach customers from a friend-to-friend point of view.

Connecting customers to their ideal selves

Cult brands are the bridge to the ideal version of ourselves; the lens through which customers see themselves not as they are, but who they want to be. Brands that fulfil this deep emotional need are indispensable to the consumer, and they’re willing to pay a premium to access the privileges they grant.

By aligning their insights into what really motivates consumers with a consistent brand strategy, brands are able to inch closer towards the coveted cult status.

Though the most effective strategies to achieve cult status don’t require deep pockets or extensive manpower, they do take time, genuine relatability and a commitment to understanding the needs of customers. Add in the magic dust of aspirational marketing, influencers and celebrities, and brands are well on their way to establishing themselves as the head of the pack.

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