Holographic Advertising

Have everything the customer interacts with become a reflection of some aspect of your brand’s archetype.

Frederico Fellini was a critically acclaimed Italian film director who earned three foreign-film Oscars and a lifetime achievement Oscar. Many of Fellini’s films are counted among the best films ever made. His early films were part of the neorealist movement, which centered on the lower class, depicting their troubles and the moral environment of Italy. These early films had an easy-to-follow narrative plot. Starting with La Dolce Vita, Fellini’s work took a different turn. La Dolce Vita consists of a series of episodes in a reporter’s week that collectively add up to the plot.

In 1961, Fellini became fascinated with Jung’s idea of archetypes. In subsequent films, Fellini combined the style he used in La Dolce Vita—where the film consists of a series of episodes, rather than a traditional, linear plot—with the ideas of Carl Jung. This resulted in outrageous dream sequences heavy with archetypal influences interspersed with non-dream sequences throughout his films, like his most famous work, 8½. Collectively this odd mix creates a singular meaning from a series of events.

So, what does this have to do with advertising?

First, all strong brands tap into an archetype and consistently sell it over and over again. The content of the messaging changes, but the archetype remains the same. Without a consistent archetypal focus, the brand lacks continuity.

The second reason is contained in the first. During his Jungian period, Fellini’s films are a series of scenes that collectively add up to the greater meaning of the film. These films are like a hologram: each piece reflects the meaning of the whole film, but since each piece is small, on its own it may be too hard to see. Taken together, the image is bigger and clearer. And, meaning can be extracted from the whole.

This is the same way great campaigns work. Every commercial reflects the central idea of the brand. Collectively, the group of commercials makes it undeniably clear what the brand represents.

Fellini actually directed a few commercials: Campari, Barilla pasta, and a series of three for the Bank of Rome. The three from the Bank of Rome comprise the last footage Fellini filmed before dying. In all three, a man has a nightmare and then goes to see an analyst. The analyst tells him his fears will be relieved if he uses the Bank of Rome.

All three use the same premise and collectively indicate that fears customers may have about their money can manifest in different ways. Granted, the Bank of Rome commercials are a bit “out there” but they confront a real idea that a person may have in choosing a bank and do it consistently. I for one would be interested to see where Fellini could have gone given more time in the advertising medium.

Never stray from the archetype of your brand. Have everything the customer interacts with become a reflection of some aspect of your brand’s archetype. Then, your brand will be delivered to your customers like one of Fellini’s greatest films.

How to Start a Cult … Brand

Cult Brands provide insights for building loyalty that can be applied to any business of any size.

Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, Scientology, Manson Family … destructive cults abound.

Destructive cults manipulate their members and do not care about their well-being. It’s no wonder why “cult” has become a dirty, four-letter word.

Not all cults, however, are destructive. At their cores, cults are groups that demonstrate a strong commitment towards someone or something.

Many cults are benign, harmless. In fact, they can be helpful to their members’ well-being. Some cults even have the power to elevate and inspire their members.

When a benign cult is centered around a brand, we call it a Cult Brand.

Businesses that harness the power of cults—cultivating evangelical customers and cohesive brand communities—possess an uncommon competitive advantage.

These Cult Brands enjoy unprecedented customer loyalty, word of mouth, and profitability.

Is Cult Branding Right For Your Business?

Perhaps you think your business isn’t cult-worthy. Maybe you’re just not ready yet. Or, maybe you’re just not interested in the hard work it takes to develop and maintain a passionate fan base.

But, whether you’re poised to establish a Cult Brand or not, there’s a lot you can learn from the psychological dynamics of cults and how they form that can be applied to any business of any size.

For example, they instruct you on how to:

  • Build meaningful connections with your customers.
  • Be chosen more often than your competitors.
  • Get your customers to build awareness of your business for you.
  • Cultivate customer loyalty that impacts the bottom line.

Clearly, there’s a lot we can learn from cults. Let’s dive in.

5 Reasons Customers Join Groups

Before we lay out a strategy you can use to create a cult around your business, let’s briefly explore five reasons why customers join brand communities and movements in the first place:

1) Humans want to belong

From Abraham Maslow, we learned that love and belonging is a fundamental human need. Customers instinctively look for social groups they can feel a part of.

2) Humans need a sense of identity

Another psychologist, Erik Erikson, pointed out that humans reach a point in their development where they begin to form their own identities.

At this Fidelity stage, as Erikson called it, people develop the capacity to maintain loyalties and allegiances to valued institutions and ideals.

To help form identity, people associate with social groups, including brand communities, that bring importance and meaning to their lives.

3) Humans rally around shared values

Values and ideals are at the core of what people congregate around. Maslow called these values being values. They include ideals like truth, goodness, aliveness, uniqueness, simplicity, justice, playfulness, and self-sufficiency.

Different people resonate with different being values. Brands that clearly express specific being values act like homing beacons to customers who naturally seek out brands who have the same values they do.

4) Humans want peak emotional experiences

Emotions give us a sense of aliveness. Although modern humans tend to rely more on thoughts and reason, emotions give life texture and provide meaning.

People gravitate to groups that provide them with emotional experiences they can’t get on their own. (Try replicating, in the privacy of your living room, the elation fans experience at a Jimmy Buffett concert or a Star Trek convention.)

5) Humans seek hope

Life is difficult. Customers seek out groups that provide relief from life’s challenges.

Cult Brands create movements that provide the promise of a better tomorrow. Star Trek offers hope of a peaceful future. Harley-Davidson offers hope of freedom on the open road. Life is good offers hope and optimism for the good life.

7 Steps to Create a Cult, Tribe or Movement

The main thing you need to understand about customer communities is that your customers create them on their own. That said, here are seven steps you can take to increase the likelihood:

Step 1: Determine what needs your business fulfills

Figure out which human needs your business naturally fulfills. Then, determine how your brand fulfills these needs for your customers in a way no other business does.

Step 2: Identify your symbols

Determine what your business symbolizes in the minds of your customers. These symbols are also called archetypes.

The Harley icon, for example, showcases a flying eagle, a dynamic symbol of power, choice, and freedom.

Step 3: Discover your emotional targets

Uncover how your customers are emotionally connected to your brand. When the symbol enters their mind, what do your target customers feel?

Nike’s swoosh symbol may evoke feelings of determination, competitiveness, and triumph for its customers. Apple’s symbol may evoke feelings of creative self-expression, possibility, or truth.

Step 4: Clarify your brand values

While core values are internal to your organization, brand values are external. Your customers may never know your corporate values, but if you are effective, they will have a clear perception of what you stand for (your brand values).

All Cult Brands have clear brand values that attract like-minded people to their business.

The Life is good Company stands for optimism. Oprah stands for self-empowerment.

Step 5: Design your messaging

Ensure that your messaging promotes the fulfillment of your core needs, highlights your symbol, triggers your emotional targets, and captures your brand values.

That is, leverage these customer insights to develop more effective media.

Consider how companies spend billions on advertising without clearly understanding any or all of these psychological insights that drive advertising effectiveness.

Step 6: Target your messaging

Make sure your messages are in the appropriate market channels. Cult Brands know their customers, which means knowing where they hang out and what they like to do.

Energy drink Red Bull, for example, initially avoided traditional media, opting for grassroots marketing by handing out samples on college campuses. Then, they began sponsoring extreme sporting events where their target market congregated.

Step 7: Set up your environment

Provide people the tools to form their own groups. Whenever possible, create a space where your customers can meet and interact with one another—either in person or online.

Establish social events that reflect your mission. Star Trek conventions, Jimmy Buffett’s concerts, and Harley’s HOG Rallies are excellent examples.

Set up conditions for a fun, playful environment where friendships can be forged. The stronger the bond members have to one another, the stronger the bond members will have with your business.


Remember, never attempt to control your community. Instead, participate as a co-creator.

Okay, now it’s your turn to go start a movement, establish a tribe, create a Cult Brand.

How Cult Brands Create a Magical Experience For Their Customers

Turn Shared Values into a lifestyle.

As human beings, we have many different kinds of relationships. The relationship you have with your boss is probably very different than the relationship you have with your romantic partner, and both of these relationships are different from the relationship you have with your favorite baseball player and the kid who was your best friend in third grade.

We not only have relationships with other people, but also with ideas and philosophies. Identifying yourself as a skeptical person or an Evangelical Christian, for example, will impact the way you view and interact with the world.

We also have relationships with inanimate objects, such as cars or roller coasters. You’ve surely heard people proclaiming how much they love (or hate) their cars. Space Mountain, one of Disney’s flagship rides, is so beloved by some people that they have their weddings there.

Brands are a unique combination of a set of ideas and inanimate objects that serve as an ideal platform for relationships.

A Cult Brand is born when a group of individuals rally around a brand’s beliefs and values and the lifestyle that supports those beliefs and values. These brands spark a magical participation with their customers.

When people feel bound to a group or community of shared beliefs, at least part of their identity is tied to the group.

Allowing Customers to Express A Deeper Part of Themselves

You can be a corporate attorney running frantically from meeting to meeting, but when you enter a Jimmy Buffett concert you morph into a Parrot Head; litigation, conference calls, and the stress of daily life slide into shadow.

Now, life is all about taking it easy. The most important things on your agenda are burgers, cocktails, and connecting with friends in the paradise of Margaritaville.

Cult Brands are successful because they allow people to be who they want to be—not the person they’re forced to be to meet the demands placed on them personally or professionally.

Cult Brands provide a route to self-expression that feels natural and intuitive to their Brand Lovers.

Cult Brands provide an experience and a community where Brand Lovers feel like they belong.

Providing The Means for Self-Expression and Belonging

Now, as a result of the pandemic, people are hungry for ways to connect with each other. Bringing customers together has always been important—it’s arguably the hallmark of a Cult Brand—but the need is even greater at the current time.

Keep in mind that finding ways to help customers express themselves is vital to your cause.

Below are a few fun ways to cultivate brand loyalty for your business by helping you attract great customers and build lasting relationships:


Not all your customers have the time or energy to gather together, but some of your customers would actually enjoy gathering together to share ideas, learn, and be together. Apple, in its humble beginnings, hosted Mac user groups where programmers would band together to form small companies to develop software for the startup.


Once you have reached a critical mass of Brand Lovers, it might be time for the festivity. Harley-Davidson hosts annual events that bring together over 1 million bikers from around the world. Many people are familiar with event marketing, but if you take that concept to the next level you may be destined to have your own festival, and possibly a unique story will emerge about you in your customers’ minds.


A very interesting fact about Cult Brands is that they tend to share food with their customers. This fact is most likely connected to the idea that if you’re going to have people come together, humans need (and love) to eat. But this simple act of doing what we do each day has a hidden power of influence that makes us like those people that we eat with. Some researchers have shown that judges are more lenient on the offenders after their lunch break. So if it works on those of us with the strongest opinions, it can work for your Brand Lovers who already like you too.


What beliefs and values do your customers identify with?

How can you build a community to reinforce a lifestyle aligned with those beliefs and values?

The Paradox of Creativity

Creativity doesn’t blossom when it’s a free for all. Creativity needs constraints.

Educational systems tend to place an emphasis on a way of doing things, rather than giving the tools necessary to complete the task. I remember several arguments with my high school English teachers. They would insist on a particular interpretation of a passage—usually heavily influenced by Freudian interpretations that reduced everything to a narrow range of possible meanings.

In retrospect, it’s probably not surprising. My English teachers were educated in an age where deriving meaning from text and subtext was heavily influenced by Freud. Their teachers probably gave them the standard readings and expected them to repeat them on the tests. They weren’t encouraged to find their own interpretations, so how could we expect them to act any different towards us?

In biology, at a conceptually opposite end of the education spectrum, the experience is generally no different. Most people get a job in a lab, then pursue PhD research along the same lines and end up carrying the mantle of whatever researcher they apprenticed under. It’s not surprising that the majority of biologists are researching some protein eight steps down a cascade chain, waiting for the next new thing to open up in their field so they can jump on discovering protein four of that cascade. Generally, there is a lack of big ideas.

The Apple Tree Problem

Imagine a tree on a hill accompanied by a group of people who have no knowledge of botany or horticulture; they can only describe what they see. A person observing the tree from a distance will be able to say it looks like a tree of such and such a height, the leaves are green, and the trunk is brown. A person a bit farther up the hill will say well a certain section of the leaves are brown, and the trunk has ridges. As people get closer and closer to the tree they will only be able to better describe things they already know about. But no matter how close they get, they can’t get any truly new information about the tree. They’re stuck in a single way of looking at the tree: get closer and closer until you can describe it better. This is pretty good analogy of the way science generally operates.

Now imagine a new person looks at the tree, but instead of getting closer, they step around the other side. What do they see? A red, spherical object. This is something new that no one could describe before and never would if they never bothered to look at the other side of the tree. The person is still solving the same problem (the same box)—describing the tree—but they’re taking on a differerent perspective, leading to new solutions.

This is the way most creativity works: making associations to create ideas that weren’t there before. In this case it’s applying “walk around the object” to a domain where people are only using “walk toward the object.”

In Search of Big Ideas

At the other end of the spectrum is “out-of-the-box” thinking. This was championed in many circles, especially business ones, as a way to unleash creative impulses and come up with the next big thing. When you think out of the box, anything goes.

But, the truth is that it’s as ineffective in generating great solutions as is giving people a single set of tools to solve problems. When anything goes, it tends to block people from generating any ideas as they don’t know in which way they should start thinking about a problem.

Creativity doesn’t blossom when it’s a free for all. Creativity needs constraints.

The Creative Paradox

Creativity is a paradox: it requires an odd blend of open idea generation but with the restriction to a specific problem with specific constraints. It requires new ways of seeing the same problem.

Great Cult Brands are exemplars of creativity, giving us new ways to think about old businesses: Harley-Davidson gave us new ways to think about motorcycles, Apple about computers, and Oprah about talk shows. They moved beyond business as usual and industry status quo, and in doing so, they entered into their customers’ hearts.

What sort of boxes are you using in your organization? Are they turn-by-turn roadmaps or do they allow people to map their own course to the destination, with room for detours on the way?

When Branding Works

A major misconception is that only the marketing department is responsible for building and managing the brand.

In 1901, Ivan Pavlov rang a bell and a dog began to salivate.

His famous experiment explains much of the mystery behind branding: connect a product or service with the customer’s need and branding occurs.

Said another way: create an association in your customer’s mind between what you offer and what they desire, and magic happens.

Despite the simplicity of this concept, most businesses fail in their branding efforts for one reason: they assume that branding is created exclusively through marketing efforts like advertising.

When Branding Fails

A major misconception is that only the marketing department is responsible for building and managing the brand.

The core of a brand, however, doesn’t exist in an advertising campaign, but in the company itself. When a brand fails, it means the customers never embraced the whole business, going to the competition to meet their needs instead. Brands fail at an organizational level, not because of a single department.

Customers buy the whole business—not just the pricing, distribution, or even the look and feel of the brand. Branding is only a word used to describe the customer’s experience.

When Branding Works

For your organization to achieve long-term success, the entire organization must be an expression of the brand.

Each member of your organization is either building the brand or weakening it. To ensure positive momentum, each team member must clearly understand how he or she contributes to the customer’s experience.

Four Critical Questions for Brand Building

The key to effective brand building, then, is to align your entire organization with your brand’s vision. Before you do this, however, you must have clarity and direction.

Be sure you know the answer to these four questions:

  1. Where is your business today
  2. Where does your business want to be tomorrow?
  3. How does your business define success?
  4. What has to transform in your company in order for your products and services to embrace your best customer?

While these four questions seem simple, they can be difficult to articulate and can always be refined with greater clarity and insight. These critical questions must be clarified by any business committed to cultivating their brand.

Five Strategies on Selling-in to Your Organization

Here are five ways to help forge a stronger connection between your employees and your customers.

Inspire through conversation. If you want to grow quickly, start having meaningful conversations about your customers with your people—formally and informally. Soon you will find those conversations will fill everyone’s mind with inspiration.

Educate your teams. Some executives write important messages down in a memo and expect their people to do something with them. Every brand needs advocates—people who defend it and teach it. Make sure you are teaching your brand to your people and not just hiding it in the printed word.

Bring the brand to life. Create a video, post pictures of your best customers around your office, pass on compliments from customers to the entire staff, and so on. The more ways you have for bringing your brand to life and illustrating its growth, the more connected your team will be to the brand. When they’re connected, they will know what to do next.

Bring your customers to life. Get in the mindset of your customers and try to understand a day in their lives. Show everyone on your team what it might be like to be the customer. Have everyone imagine this day and how your product plays a part in their day. Next, ask each person to think about how he or she affects the customer’s day, even though oftentimes the customer doesn’t know it.

Create a customer definition. Define the customer your business best serves. By giving your customers a face—with feelings, needs, tensions, and aspirations—your team can have more empathy for them. Once everyone in your organization is consciously serving your customers, much of your branding efforts happen spontaneously.

A Living, Breathing Vision for Your Brand

To be effective at selling in to your organization, you must create a vision to which your entire organization is willing to give their passion.

When you sell in, you are setting up the most important part of your marketing plan: having your people ready to serve your customers and create a brand that means something to them.

How to Ask the Right Questions

Answering big questions can also help you reveal unspoken customer desires: desires customers can’t even articulate themselves.

I’m continually struck by how often companies conduct research without asking any big questions. 

Companies conducting research tend to ask a lot of questions with the belief that, from the mountain of data, they’ll be able to find a big answer.

But,, what they usually end up with is just a bunch of data that gets read in a report and then tucked away in a drawer that houses piles of past research efforts. If they’re lucky—and it usually is more luck than intent—they’ll glean one or two pieces of information that they can see themselves possibly applying, someday.

Data doesn’t reveal answers, questions do. To conduct effective research, you have to start by asking the big questions and then using research questions to attack those big questions from multiple angles. And, those big questions have to target something that can create action.

Knowledge is only power if it can be transformed into action.

Asking The Big Questions

Research that can’t be turned into action wastes time and money. Company time is wasted conducting the research and then spending countless hours digging through the data to try and find the secrets within. Customer time is wasted because customers spend time answering surveys in the hopes that their answers will create change in the company, which it rarely does. And, finally, company money is wasted because the research rarely results in actionable results.

Even if you get some useful answers from a survey just by asking a lot of questions, you’re likely to wish that you asked a few other questions that clarified what you found in the data. 

This is why you need to start with the big questions before you create survey questions. 

Determining the big questions to ask isn’t easy. It takes time. But, it makes the end result more effective and saves time and money in the long run.

The difficulty of asking the big questions is one of the reasons why demographic research is popular: demographics are easy to accumulate without asking any big questions as they’re based on numerical, census-style, generic questions, and they generate obvious answers: what groups are we serving and what groups aren’t we serving. The inevitable result is that we need more of some age and economic group. These are poor questions, not big ones.

As Einstein said, if he had an hour to save the planet, he’d spend 59 minutes coming up with the question that needs to be answered, and 1 minute solving it. Marketers I’d guess would spend 1 minute coming up with the question and then 59 minutes solving it, only to determine that it requires annihilating all males in the 30-40 age group as they’re polluting the planet the most.

The Danger of Easy Questions

Many years ago I was sitting on a bench at Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia when a man approached me and asked if he could ask me a few questions. He showed me the trailer to National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets and asked me questions concerning my age, what I thought of the actors and director involved, would I see it in the theater, and what age group I thought would be most likely to see the movie. I told him I had no intention of seeing it in the theater but that I thought the most likely group to see the film was my age group. He looked puzzled: how could I not want to see the movie but think it’s most appropriate for my age group?

Think about it for a second: If a friend asks you whether or not you think he would like a comedy that just came out, would you say to yourself: “Well, he’s between the ages of 30 and 40, male, earns $50,000 a year, Hispanic, single, heterosexual, and lives in the Midwest, so I don’t think he’d like it.” Or, would you think about the type of humor he likes, what other movies you know he likes and make your recommendation based on the way you see him as a person, instead of numbers?

If you didn’t bother to collect the proper information to solve the real problem, you’ll inevitably end up with a bad answer, unless by chance you happen to capture what you need. 

The only way to be sure to collect the proper information is to start with big questions.

Down The Garden Path

When you ask big questions, you’re forced to translate it into multiple questions that tackle the problem from several angles. Big questions potentially have multi-dimensional answers; they are unlikely to be answered by a single data point.

In fact, single data points can lead you down a garden path.

Imagine a hypothetical, underperforming lawnmower manufacturer is trying to decide what percentages of red and green lawnmowers they should ship to Lowe’s. They analyze last year’s data and see that nine green lawnmowers sold for every red one. The company changes it’s production to make 90% of their lawnmowers for Lowe’s green and 10% red. When it came time to look at sales, hardly any of their lawnmowers sold.

Repeated statistical analyses show no cause for the increase in sales of red lawnmowers. The company hires a consumer insight firm to discover what went wrong. The firm looks at the Lowe’s stores and the purchasing decisions of Lowe’s customers. Looking at the stores, the firm finds that the previous year Lowe’s displayed green lawnmowers at the front of the store. But, this year there wasn’t a display at the front of the store. When asking the customers what color they wanted their lawnmower to be most customers answered red. But when the insight firm showed customers different colors and asked them to select their favorite lawnmower color from the group, 80% said orange—a color no lawnmower company was making. The next year the company released a slew of orange lawnmowers and outsold all other lawnmower makers in the Lowe’s stores.

Analyzing the manufacturer’s data would never have revealed anything. Sense was created from nonsense by coming up with questions to ask that answered a bigger question about customer behavior.

Before you start gathering data, ask yourself what you really want from the data and plan accordingly. If you don’t, your conclusions, if you have them, are in danger of providing inaccurate results.

Existing Data ≠ Hidden Desires

Answering big questions can also help you reveal unspoken customer desires: desires customers couldn’t even articulate themselves.

In a 2004 talk for the TED conference, Malcolm Gladwell spoke about his friend Howard Moskowitz, an experimental psychologist and president of Moskowitz Jacobs, Inc., a consumer insights research firm. Moskowitz conducted research for Prego to discover the best type of tomato sauce. His research was influenced heavily by a study he conducted years before for Diet Pepsi: how much aspartame should be added to the mix to create the ideal Diet Pepsi. The Diet Pepsi experiment was inconclusive; the data was all over the place. Years later Moskowitz made sense of the data. There isn’t an ideal Pepsi; there are only ideal Pepsis. In other words, there should be multiple categories. It’s this thinking that he took to Prego and resulted in the creation of the much-beloved category of chunky tomato sauce.

Just because a lot of data is out there doesn’t mean anyone has ever collected the relevant data. This is exactly what Howard Moskowitz discovered with tomato sauce: no focus group from Ragu or Prego ever came up with the idea of chunky tomato sauce as a type of sauce they would like until they were given the option. And no amount of data would reveal the observation that green lawnmowers were displayed at the front of the store the year before.

 Only by understanding the customers can we give them what they want. On their own, they don’t know. This has been a guiding force for Steve Jobs at Apple: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new. … If we’d given customers what they said they wanted, we’d have built a computer they have been happy with a year after we spoke to them—not something they want now.”1

Observation and questioning gives us insight into what customers want. Statistical analysis only shows what they’re doing and is best used as a check and balance system to make sure the observations you made and the questions you asked were the right ones. Don’t let anyone try to fool you into believing it’s the other way around.

Big Questions, Big Answers

Too often research is conducted just because companies believe it should be done. In our consulting work, I’ve watched companies spend immense sums of money on research that didn’t tell them anything they didn’t know before. And, I’ve watched companies spend immense sums of money creating reports that didn’t translate into any action. Both could be corrected by starting with big questions before thinking about the questions that get asked in the survey.

When designing customer insights research, you need to start by brainstorming one or a few big questions you want to answer. And, then spend time brainstorming multiple questions you can use to attack those big questions from multiple angles. Just using the questions that are currently popular in market research is unlikely to answer the questions that are unique to your company.


How Mystery Can Engage Your Customer

Mystery engages customers and drives them to create a strong relationship with your brand.

Humans are obsessed with the unknown.

Although our psyche fears the unknown, that fear is balanced by the innate drive of curiosity: we want to uncover the wizard behind the curtain.

This sense of mystery is present in all great storytelling: you can’t wait to hear what happens next. When you hear someone say, “I saw the ending coming,” you assume they didn’t enjoy the movie and that it’s unlikely you would either. Without mystery, our interest fades.

The same principle holds true in business. Everyone has heard the local car dealership advertisement where nothing is left untold: “No credit, no problem. Every car, every model.” You could probably figure out what they’re going to say as soon as the ad starts.

Not everything needs to be directly presented to your customer. This is counter to many modern marketing practices where companies constantly try to expose different aspects of the brand in the hope that something might stick. Enticing customers to discover positive things about your brand on their own creates a deeper relationship and increases the chances that they will talk positively about you.

The VW Beetle

Creating mystery is something great advertising has been doing for decades. But, the form was different.


In 1960, Bill Bernbach led art director Helmut Krone and copywriter Julian Koenig to create one of the most famous and successful ads in marketing history: a photo of a VW Beetle with the declaration “Lemon.” It’s almost impossible not to think: “Why is this car a lemon? It looks perfectly fine.”

And, you’re compelled to read the next seven paragraphs of the ad to find out why. In reading them, the consumer develops trust for the brand and ends up feeling closer to the brand—spending time (a valuable commodity) with a brand creates a stronger relationship.

The Man In The Hathaway Shirt


In 1951, David Ogilvy used the same tactic when he created the first ad in his “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt” campaign. In the photo, he placed an eyepatch over Baron George Wrangell. How can you not wonder: “Who is this man and why does he have an eyepatch?”
Rather than explain who the man was, in the longform copy he explained what type of person would wear Hathaway shirts. And, how could you not want to be that type of person, one who evokes an air of mystery?

In the first week, all of the Hathaway shirts in New York sold out and a small, unknown 116-year-old company became a major competitor.

The Most Interesting Man In The World

You may be thinking that there is no way the modern consumer would read seven paragraphs of copy in your ad. But, that’s really an irrelevant question. You have a much easier job: you have the Internet. On the Internet, consumers can easily interact with the brand in multiple dimensions.

The key isn’t the long-form copy, but rather to actively engage customers in positive ways with the brand.

In 2006, Dos Equis launched its nod to Ogilvy’s Hathaway man with its highly successful “The Most Interesting Man In The World“ campaign. Throughout a decade of commercials, Dos Equis slowly released fantastic information about the man: he lives vicariously through himself, mosquitos refuse to bite him purely out of respect, his two cents is worth thirty-seven dollars in change. Inspired by his crazy accomplishments and debonair appearance, people jumped online to learn more about him: What actor plays him? Where is he from? What other things has he done?

In exploring The Most Interesting Man in The World, you can’t help but develop positive associations with him and the brand. And, not only do you end up wanting to be like him, but he’s also like you—he doesn’t always drink beer. Even though he’s fantastic, he’s easy to identify with.

The strong relationship The Most Interesting Man In The World created with consumers resulted in strong sales: they shipped 116.6% more barrels in 2013 than 2008, making them the fastest-growing beer brand.1

Create Your Own Mystery

Mystery is a powerful marketing tool: it engages customers and drives them to create a strong relationship with your brand.

When thinking about how mystery can work for you brand, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How can I capture the imagination of my customers and compel them to learn more?
  2. What should they find when they start to dig deeper?
  3. How does what they find contribute to positive associations with the brand?
  4. How does what they find contribute to their identification with the brand?

Stay mysterious my friends.


5 Ways to Cultivate a Collaborative Organization

Each employee has knowledge and information that can serve the organization.

Management guru Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” in 1959.1

He differentiated knowledge workers from manual workers, forecasting that new industries will employ mostly the former.

Late in his life, Drucker wrote, “The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of KNOWLEDGE WORK and the KNOWLEDGE WORKER.”2

Knowledge work emphasizes the need to solve an ever-changing host of problems. This non-routine, problem-solving ability requires an individual to be a creative thinker who can assimilate new information and share it with others.

Today, every employee can and should be perceived as a knowledge worker—part of the creative class. Each employee has knowledge and information that can serve the organization. Everyone has ideas that can uplift the whole.

A Shift Toward Collaborative Cultures

The traditional organizational structure with clearly defined positions and a hierarchy of command-and-control, however, inhibits the free exchange of ideas. Here, some individuals are paid to think while everyone else is paid to carry out orders.

Without broad input—without the sharing of knowledge among the collective—decisions are made in a vacuum. And, as a consequence, value creation suffers.

The goal, then, is to create a collaborative culture that promotes the sharing of knowledge. Here, information flows in multiple directions simultaneously and all employees are skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge.

An organization that is successful in accomplishing this difficult feat will have an unprecedented edge over the competition.

5 Ways to Promote Learning in Your Organization

To accomplish this goal, leaders must establish and foster the conditions necessary for supporting their knowledge workers and become learning organizations.

Here are some of the necessary conditions for an environment where knowledge workers thrive:

1. Promote Employee Autonomy

Self-determination theory highlights that human beings are driven to be autonomous. This means fostering an environment where employees are self-directed and self-managed.

The responsibility for productivity must fall on the knowledge worker. As Drucker suggests, “Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.”3

2. Commit to Constant Learning and Improvement

Knowledge is perishable. “If knowledge isn’t challenged to grow,” Drucker explains, “it disappears fast.”4 Unlimited information access and full transparency are necessary but insufficient. Knowledge workers must also be empowered to leverage the free exchange of information, transforming it into higher understanding and the creation of new knowledge.  

How can your organization design an environment that promotes new knowledge creation and collaboration where employees challenge each other (in nonconfrontational ways) to build on each other’s ideas?

3. Establish Psychological Safety

A consistent theme in humanistic psychology is that positive mental health and creativity are cultivated in environments where individuals feel psychologically safe. When employees fear being cut down or marginalized for disagreeing with a colleague or a manager, learning stops. When people are afraid to ask naive questions or own up to their mistakes, they shut down.

Corporate cultures that unconsciously promote a fear of failure can not develop a learning organization. Individuals must feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings about their work. (Tools like the Six Thinking Hats Method can be helpful in this regard.)

Addressing this issue is no small task. Fear of conflict runs rampant in most organizations. The importance of building trust among employees and cultivating emotional intelligence are prerequisites that can’t be overstated.

4. Celebrate a Beginner’s Mind

This concept from Zen philosophy reminds us to adopt an attitude of openness to new ideas. Leaving preconceived notions and beliefs at the door when you enter into a dialogue or brainstorm with colleagues, helps individuals seek out new ideas and novel approaches to problems.

When employees are encouraged to adopt a beginner’s mind, they are more prone to explore the unknown and take risks.

5. Enable Time for Reflection

Learning and change can only occur when your people are given time to reflect. They need to have the time freedom to experiment and tinker around with new ideas and perspectives.

In a society that obsessively promotes “bigger, faster, better,” such reflective time is rarely valued. Instead, employees are overwhelmed or overstressed by deadlines and other pressures, which impairs both analytical and creative thinking. As a consequence, opportunities are missed, problems are misdiagnosed, and learning is compromised.

The 21st Century Learning Organization

You have an organization of knowledge workers. Taking steps to promote a learning organization will allow your company’s greatest asset—your people—to shine.

Today, it’s an imperative initiative for any business leader committed to competing and thriving in the years ahead.


The Secret to Creating Customer Loyalty

loyalty programs may support loyal customers,  but they don’t create them.

All brands want more loyal customers. The reasons are clear: more repeat business, more positive word of mouth, and greater customer lifetime value.

Customer loyalty for many national brands is in decline. Switching brands in the digital age is easier than ever before.

But, that’s not the real reason loyalty is on the decline. More likely, loyalty didn’t truly exist where many believed it did.

Many executives believe that loyalty programs (think branded credit cards or loyalty points) are a primary strategy for building loyalty. Although loyalty programs may support loyal customers, they certainly don’t create them.

THow Cult Brands Win the Loyalty War

All major brands try to get their customers to be loyal to their brands. This should be called brand loyalty.

Cult Brands focus on being loyal to their customers. This should be distinguished as customer loyalty.

Do you see the difference?

Brand loyalty and customer loyalty are often used interchangeably, but they truly refer to two very different orientations.

Cult Brands focus on serving their customers; they earn their customers’ loyalty by creating superior experiences for their customers. The more devoted an organization is to its customers, the more loyal its customers will likely be to the brand.

Loyalty is a result—a consequence—of better serving your customers than anyone else. You don’t need to create new loyalty initiatives. Instead, you need to align your organization with the needs of your customers.

THow to Create a Customer-Centric Organization

But how? How do you align your organization with your customers? How do you inspire your people to want to build and grow the company around your customers?

You begin by adopting the right mindset.

You can’t do it with a transactional mindset. With this mindset, your organization’s focus is exclusively on making another sale. Promotions may drive sales for the next quarterly report, but they don’t affect loyalty.

A relational mindset, in contrast, helps you appreciate the subjective state of your customers. Relationships are based on emotional connection. If you aren’t connected with your customers on an emotional level, it’s not possible to create loyalty.

A relational orientation toward your customers also helps you break free from the short-term focus on the financial markets. Loyalty doesn’t follow a quarter-over-quarter agenda. Loyalty is a play for the long haul.

TFour Strategies for Fostering Customer Loyalty

Here are four strategies that can enable you to build an organization that creates loyal customers:

1. Cultivate a Humanistic Organization

That is, focus on the human element. Your employees are people. Your customers are people too. Start there. All of a sudden, principles like respect, dignity, and core values become relevant and meaningful.

A life-supporting work environment that promotes vibrant individuals takes center stage. Freedom, humor, trust, and mindfulness spontaneously become practical management discussions that can transform an organization.

2. Get to Know Your Best Customers

They are the lifeblood of your business. They are already the most fiercely loyal customers. In their eyes, you’re already doing a lot right. You should learn about them and how they perceive you. It can clarify a great deal for you.

Talk to them, and above all, learn to listen. Customer insights about your existing Brand Lovers are perhaps the most powerful business assets that most chief executives never access.

3. Tap into Hidden Needs and Higher Values

This a secret of all world-class Cult Brands. Any business can meet a customer’s basic human needs. It takes a special enterprise to dig deeper into the unrecognized higher-level needs of their customers.

And these organizations don’t just do that for their customers, they support the higher-level needs of their employees too.

4. Find Ways to Serve Them Better Than Anyone Else

It takes a special kind of organizational culture to be able to exceed the expectation of today’s demanding consumer.

A competitive marketplace challenges us to consistently look for ways to innovate and improve our products and services, to wow and delight our customers. Only a company with a thriving culture can play for loyalty—inside and outside the organization.

TThe Fruits of Loyalty

Loyalty is attainable. You can create a partnership with a special breed of customers: your Brand Lovers

And when you succeed, your business will join the ranks of an elite few who enjoy the fruits of this worthy endeavor that transcends “business as usual.”

It is possible to create loyal customers, but not through conventional practices. It requires a different mindset and a special kind of organizational leadership.

Two Human Needs Every Cult Brand Masters

higher needs motivate and inspire humans to grow and reach their fullest potential.

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs?

Biological needs. Safety and shelter needs. The need to belong and to feel loved. Self-esteem and the need to feel good about oneself in relation to others.

These are basic human needs. Every human being has them.

Every customer is constantly looking to meet these needs. And every business—consciously or not—attempts to help their customers meet at least some of them.

Meeting customers’ basic needs is the starting point. Your company needs to constantly develop new and superior ways to meet these needs.

But, meeting customer needs and base level desires isn’t enough. Your competitors can probably meet your customers’ basic needs too.

There are two areas of Maslow’s hierarchy that differentiate Cult Brands from other businesses. And it is these two areas that hold the secret to customer loyalty and prosperity.

The Need to Belong: A Driving Force in Human Motivation

From the moment we are born, we are partly defined by the communities we belong to. Even the smallest baby is part of multiple communities: she is part of a family, an ethnic group, even a nation.

As we grow and develop, we make choices that expand our identity. One way we do this is by joining or associating with various communities or social groups.

We join communities by our actions. We join communities by sharing a common belief. Joining groups makes us feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves.

Cult Brands tap into this driving force by giving their customers the sense that they belong. The values and beliefs of the brand become part of their customers’ own identity.

The need to identify with a group and feel a sense of belonging is so strong that some customers go so far as to “brand” themselves with the logo of the company they identify with. Brand tattoos, then, provide membership into a social group.

After interviewing Brand Lovers of many of the world’s quintessential Cult Brands—like Apple, Linux, Vans, Harley, Life is good, Star Trek, Oprah, and IKEA—a common theme we hear is the feeling of family.

Cult customers feel like they are part of the collective. Cult Brands make their Brand Lovers feel included, important, special.

Higher Needs: The Key to Everlasting Loyalty

Now we jump to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. Above, we listed all of the basic human needs. But Maslow’s real brilliance was in how he articulated that humans have needs beyond the basics.

We have higher needs, or spiritual needs.

Higher needs include:

  • Cognitive (meaning, knowledge, and self-awareness)
  • Aesthetic (beauty, form, balance)
  • Self-actualization (personal growth and development)
  • Transcendence (spiritual values)

All of these needs are human too. Everyone has them, but only a small minority of companies seek to help their customers meet them. Those that do tend to create legendary businesses.

These higher needs motivate and inspire humans to grow and reach their fullest potential. The more time we invest meeting these needs, the happier, mentally healthy, and creative we become.

Want to link positive emotions and associations between your customers and your brand? Help them reach their higher needs.

There are many ways to do this:

  • You can help them express themselves like Apple does.
  • You can help them achieve their most important goals as Google does.
  • You can help them celebrate a sense of aliveness and playfulness like Jimmy Buffett and Star Trek do.
  • You can inspire them with the call for freedom like Harley-Davidson and Oprah do.  

How can you elevate your customers? How can you help them become greater versions of themselves? How can you help them reach their highest goals?

This is the gift you can offer your customers. Loyalty and higher profitability is what they give you in return.