Star Trek vs. science fiction. Green Bay Packers vs. the NFL. Macs vs. personal computers. In each pairing, the former is an example of the latter, yet fans of a specific “brand” may have little emotional attachment to the broad category. They may even be dismissive or hostile to other entities of the type. These brand enthusiasts know what they like and no substitution will do. They also expect to be customers for life.
Wouldn’t you like to have such partisans supporting your business; customers who will ignore your competitors’ promotions and who can be counted upon to defend your brand against all skeptics? It might be possible.
However, you’ll never attract intensely committed customers if you yourself don’t sincerely feel your offerings are special in some very important way. After all, you are the first evangelist for your business and if you’re not a believer, how can you expect to attract any followers?
Once you have the necessary mindset—and quality offerings—the necessary steps to developing a cult-like following will then require fostering an “us vs. them” mentality among your customers. If that sounds a little creepy, understand that you’re simply respecting your customers’ superior ability to understand and appreciate the exceptionality of your work. So, whether they realize or not, they are truly special. You’re only helping them accept their unique group identity. Here’s how you can start:
- This may sound counter-intuitive, but you should create a slight barrier to someone becoming a customer. The obstacle shouldn’t be too hard to overcome, but significant enough to cause a little inconvenience or minor discomfort (such as registering, or paying a little more). It’s the same principle as hazing a prospective fraternity member. By requiring a special “commitment,” customers will be less inclined to walk away after they’ve “joined” an especially dedicated group. (Example: Chick-fil-A’s premium prices and being closed on Sundays.)
- Within reason, develop a unique vernacular to associate with your products and services. This will serve three purposes: it will increase the distinctiveness of your company; it will create a “common language” among your customers and your business; in time, it will make competing products and services sound alien. (Example: The “Genius Bar” instead of “service desk” at the Apple Stores.)
- Provide for direct customer engagement and communication, not only between you and your clients, but also among the customers themselves so that they can more easily function as the unique community you want them to be. Social media is a great place to start, and you may also want to establish dialogues on your website. (Example: Customer product ratings at Amazon.)
- Reward customer loyalty with exclusive offers and opportunities to heighten their sense of belonging to a special group, as well as providing an ongoing incentive for remaining a customer. You might establish levels of “achievement” for your customers—statuses such as “gold, silver … etc.—creating a competition among faithful members. (For many years, Phillip Morris encouraged Marlboro smokers to save and redeem Marlboro Miles for branded merchandise.)
- Make your brand prominent, its imagery attractive and easily accessible. Think of it like a flag that your customers can wave with pride, or wearing a team jersey. As part of this effort, you might want to give your customers opportunities to possess things like clothing and other knick-knacks emblazoned with your logo. (Harley Davison does this very well!)
- Seek feedback and creative input from your customers. People who use your products or services will have the best insights as to how to make them better. Plus, such involvement will help transform a typical client-business relationship into a feeling of ownership on the part of your customers. (While more of a monopoly than a cult, Microsoft demonstrated this when it promoted features of Windows 7 as coming from customer suggestions.)
As you see, it requires extra effort to convert typical customers into walking, talking (and buying!) brand advocates. And your value proposition may not be one that easily lends itself to cult-like devotion (example: super convenient store hours). But if you get the feeling that your business may be one that naturally attracts a distinct market—one that’s open to a personal connection with a trusted brand—you may find a lot of profit in cultivating an intensely loyal customer base.