I recently had the privilege of interviewing Guy Kawasaki on my 20 Minutes of Influence podcast. For those who don’t know, Guy Kawasaki was the was the chief evangelist of Apple and largely responsible for the success of the Macintosh computer. Today, he is the chief evangelist of Canva.com, the creator of the Remarkable People podcast, and a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz. In this episode, I asked guy what it took to turn customers into brand advocates. His answer was surprisingly simple: “Create great products.”

Yes, Apple makes great products, but you may still not be convinced that simply having a great product is enough to turn your brand into a cult. Lots of companies have great products, but they don’t have a fanatical following like Apple. What does Apple, Disney, Harley-Davidson, Tesla, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, Zappos, and even Oprah have in common? Certainly they are all iconic. Often they are seen as overpriced (but Southwest and Canva are exceptions, so that alone isn’t the reason).

According to Wikepedia, a brand can be defined as a cult brand if the following factors are present:

  • A superior level of customer loyalty is achieved
  • Brand loyalists perceive no true competitors to the brand as there are no substitutes for the “true” brand
  • Customers receive a sense of ownership with the brand
  • Loyalty is sustained over time (as opposed to fads which are unsustainable and short-lived)
  • Customers receive more than a product, they experience a lifestyle

Let’s explore what Guy didn’t tell me in the interview: how to create a cult brand.

  1. Challenge the mainstream. This is something that all of the brands mentioned above seem to have done. Everyone loves an underdog and anti-conformity is a powerful branding technique. Don’t be afraid to be edgy. As another one of my podcast guests, Susan Ibitz, states, “Well behaved women never make history.” The same is true with your business – don’t be an also-ran. Everyone of the companies mentioned does thing differently than their competitors.
  2. Limit your supply. By making your product or service difficult to obtain, you create an aura of exclusivity. Jeff Walker talks about using scarcity during product launches as one of the key factors to a successful product launch.
  3. Have a strong personality. Let’s face it, Steve Jobs was Apple and Apple was Steve Jobs. If you don’t have a magnetic personality, you better find someone who does. It’s tough to build a cult without a strong leader.
  4. Make Customers a Part of the Club. You must develop a purpose beyond the commercial rationale of the company. Lifestyle is a huge factor in creating a cult-like company. Customers want to belong. You must create a sense of camaraderie, community and most importantly belonging.
  5. Create myths, stories and legends to reinforce the company culture. I recently had to opportunity to also interview Sean Buvala on my podcast (interview to be released mid-August) about the importance of storytelling in sales. Stories, not facts and figures, are what sell products. Have you heard the story about the guy who walked into a Nordstrom store to return four snow tires? Nordstrom’s customer service is the very definition of above and beyond. Or what about the legend of the broken spring on a Rolls Royce? (Google it if you don’t know about this). Start collecting customer stories now and build your own legends.

Okay, now you’ve got the basics. As Guy Kawasaki says, it starts with a great product or service, but now you have to encourage cult-like behaviors. You have to start wowing customers and get them to create testimonials for you. Build customer loyalty programs, but always over-deliver. Create real value (even if you offer a premium price). Encourage customer creativity.

I remember with my first company, my kids were getting on the school bus and the bus driver was wearing one of my company t-shirts. Of course I had to ask him about it, which he had received from a friend. That same week my dad heard a news story in Washington DC where one of our resellers was talking about our software; my dad said he almost drove off the road! One of the things I encourage companies to do in my online class “Monetize Your Expertise” is to create t-shirts. But not just a t-shirt with your logo on it, rather one that encourages the lifestyle you’ve defined above. T-shirts alone won’t turn your customers into brand advocates, but it’s a simple way to get started (without asking someone to tattoo themselves!).

This was a t-shirt we created years ago and it is still popular today!

It’s one thing to have customers. It’s an entirely different thing to have devotees. What are you doing in your company to create customers that sing your praises? Send me a message; I’d love to know!