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BJ Bueno

Top 5 Cult Branding Blogs of 2021

Cult Branding's Top Loyalty and Crisis Blogs of the Year

Taking into consideration your opens, shares, and clicks, below are our five most popular blogs of 2021.

We thank you for your continued readership. We wish you and your family a happy, healthy, and fantastic New Year.

BJ, Salim, and Aaron

Make Business Matter

In August, we launched our podcast, Make Business Matter with two episodes:” What is the Purpose of Busines?” and “What is Branding?”

We will return with more episodes in 2022, including some episodes featuring guests that we’re fans of.

The Power of Thank You

In a year that refocused many people and organizations on what is meaningful, it’s not surprising that our post “The Power of Thank You” was one of the most popular of the year. Sometimes simple gestures can have meaning that far outweighs the effort.

Seven Easy Ways to Make Customers You Meet Feel Important

Customers are increasingly looking for businesses that value them and their business. In “Seven Easy Ways to Make Customers You Meet Feel Important,” we reveal seven ways anyone in an organization can make customers they encounter feel valued.

How to Start a Cult … Brand

If you want to do something well, it helps to study the best. In “How to Start a Cult … Brand,” we discuss 5 things Cult Brands do to create high levels of loyalty that can be applied to any business (even if you don’t want to go full-on Cult Brand).

How to Put Archetypes to Work in Your Business

Archetypes are like software programs that come preinstalled on your computer (mind). You may not know they exist, but they are always either running in the background or ready to run after a single click.

In this blog, we show how you can mimic great brands and use archetypes to create and keep customers.

You Can’t Lead From Your Office

Get out of the office and experience the magic.

One of the most frequent questions we get from CEOs is what they can do to build an exceptional company culture. They usually expect the answer to involve costly consulting. But the best advice we can give is a simple technique that improves culture immediately without costing a penny.

Here it is: Get out of the office and experience the magic.

Get up and get out.

Go and talk to your team, connect with your advisors, speak to your people.

Talk to your customers, especially your Brand Lovers—they often know your brand better than the majority of people in the organization do.

It’s easy to get bogged down in everyday responsibilities and accountability, but in the end, it’s the small, simple things that end up mattering the most.

When was the last time you left your office and engaged with those you value the most?

The Power of Thank You

The simple “thank you” is one of the most powerful ways I know to engage people.

I noticed in my consulting work how much this means to leadership teams, to associates, and myself. I learned how at the end of a difficult project people leave with a smile because of a simple thank you. How the long, grueling days of building strategy melted away when each knows their efforts were appreciated (“Thanks, Luke, for your insights on the customer today.”). How the last interaction of the day became their most recent thought and made them look forward to coming in the next day, knowing that their contributions are helping the team get the result.

The most effective leaders I know work diligently to thank their people. The validation can come from the end-of-day departures and acknowledging extra effort on the fly, or even just thanking them for doing their routine work, giving input, or being positive throughout the day. These leaders know the value of their people, and by saying, “thank you,” they help feed the hunger people have for belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Take every opportunity to find a reason to say “thank you” as often as you can. Thanking your people for their joint efforts is a straightforward and easy way to make a powerful, lasting impression in your organization.

Try taking time today to say, “thank you.”  You will see how powerful it is at engaging people.

For those of you in the US, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

3 Steps to Level Up Your Leadership

What is required of you to lead by your values?
A question to help you improve your leadership.

Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung often would refer to the two-million-year-old self, even when speaking to a child. Jung understood that inherent in our humanity is the wisdom of the ages.   

Here are three steps you can take to start developing yourself so you can become the leader you want to be.

Step 1: Define Your Leadership

Decide who you want to be as a leader. Remember that at the heart of great leadership are deep values. Here are a few simple questions to help you start your new vision:

  • What are your top three values?
  • What is required of you to lead by your values?
  • How do you inspire others?

After you answer these questions, put pen to paper and do some journaling. Use emotive words to describe your leadership experience and how you will feel once you have become the kind of leader you want to be.

You are the creator of this experience. There’s no one stopping you from developing a vision of whom you want to be, how you want to be perceived, how you want to feel, and how you perform your role.

Step 2: Make Friends with Reality

Telling the truth is the tricky part. This move is second in the process for a reason. If you start with facing reality before you define your vision, you may get discouraged. Telling yourself the truth about where you are today takes courage.

As you look at what you want to create, assess where you are in comparison.

Step 3: Build a Plan to Close the Gap

As a leader, you need to be a good planner. There’s no better way to test and train your planning abilities than to start with yourself. Your plan includes shoring up your weaknesses, developing new skills, and building empowering habits.

What kinds of accountability systems do you need so you can measure your results, course-correct, and celebrate your accomplishments?


You were chosen to lead because of your character, your initiative, your work ethic, and other excellent qualities.

You don’t have to wait if you have an entrepreneurial mindset to commit to your leadership journey. No matter how much you invest in yourself, that investment is never wasted; it always gives you a return.

Sometimes the best insights can come from setting aside time away from the busyness to reflect on your own. Having a close group of trusted advisors is powerful but it should not be a substitute for introspection and reflection.

How Inclusive Is Your Brand?

Each new customer segment needs to be invited before they will do business with you.
Cult Brands Are inclusive and actively make customers feel welcomed

In Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia, the Macedonian King upset his military compatriots and childhood friends by marrying Roxana.

Roxana was the daughter of a minor Persian baron. That is, she was not from Macedonia; she was not of Greek blood.

This outraged Alexander’s men who felt that he was disrespecting his homeland. But, Alexander didn’t identify himself exclusively as Macedonian or Greek. This great military strategist had a grand vision to create an empire that united the world as one people.

Alexander understood one of the fundamental principles of Cult Branding: Be Inclusive.

Inclusive vs. Exclusive

Destructive cults are exclusive. You are either in the group or you’re not. It’s a classic “us versus them” mentality that plagues humanity with feelings of superiority, specialness, judgment, and prejudice. If you’re in the group, you’re special. If you’re not, you’re nothing.

Benign cults—and Cult Brands in the commercial world—operate in the opposite fashion: they are inclusive. That is, they are open and inviting to anyone that wants to join the fun.

This doesn’t mean that a Cult Brand is for everyone. Since Cult Brands are distinct in the market—another of the principles of Cult Branding—they stand for something. They have a core set of ideals. As such, they only appeal to certain people who resonate with the ideals.

Cult Brands Are Inclusive

The ideals of Vans shoes, for example, probably aren’t going to speak to you if you’re not in the skateboarding community.

The annual, week-long Burning Man event now attracts around 70,000 attendees to the Black Rock Desert each August. Anyone is able to participate. As written in their ten guiding principles, “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”1

And the wide range of attendees—from artists to billionaires, hippies to Silicon Valley CEOs—demonstrates that Burning Man is true to its word.

Big businesses like Google and Walmart also understand the power of inclusivity. Google seeks global inclusivity, a drive that only gets thwarted at the level of national governments. Walmart is inclusive of every neighborhood it builds a store, finding ways of working with as many local demographic and ethnic groups as it can.

Every organization, like every individual, has its limits and boundaries set by its beliefs, opinions, and worldviews. Inclusivity is not easy and it’s a challenge for any organization committed to this path.

How To Be Inclusive

Brands with loyal customers don’t alienate customer groups. They strive to be as inclusive as possible, constantly learning how to reach new customer segments.

The more inclusive you are, the more customer groups you open your business to and the larger your market potential becomes.

To become a more inclusive brand requires diligence. Being inclusive means gaining insights into new customer groups and then collaborating with your teams to discover ways of relating these new customers to what your business stands for, and serving them with respect.

Each new customer segment needs to be invited before they will do business with you.

How inclusive is your business today?

How inclusive do you want your business to be tomorrow?


How Fairy Tales Can Help You Improve Customer Communication

When we know what stories are near and dear to our customers' hearts, we know how to BETTER communicate and connect with them.

What are fairy tales? Simple stories to keep children entertained in the nursery, perhaps—tales of giants and princesses spun out of simple fancy and wayward whimsy? Perhaps, they’re something more. 

Fairy tales are some of the oldest stories in existence.  These are tales that have been told since the beginning of time. In one form or another, these stories have been told time and time again to entertain, but also to teach.

The details vary from culture to culture: Europe gave us Hansel and Gretel using their wits to get away from a ravenous witch, whereas Brer Rabbit and his tricky antics originate in the antebellum American South. But, the underlying messages remain the same: there is no obstacle that can’t be overcome if we’re smart, steadfast, and not above being strategically committed to objective truths.

Brand Lovers and their Cultural Stories

Another way to refer to fairy tales—and other old, eternal narratives—is as cultural stories. Although we seldom articulate our connection to cultural stories—the rare exception, perhaps, being the prom or bridal dress shopping experience that leaves us “feeling like a princess”—the truth is that these tales play a pivotal role in our decision making.

Cultural stories connect us to our ideal selves. These are symbolic road maps we use to navigate our way through life—strategic touchstones to reference as we move forward from where we are to where we want to be.  Cultural stories provide the framework we see ourselves in, both as individuals and in relationship to others.

It’s critical for brand managers to read this narrative and understand that our customers do the same thing. Consciously or otherwise, the tales we learned as children play a pivotal role in guiding our responses to things that we can’t understand.

Why Fairy Tales Are Important

We use cultural stories to help us understand life experiences.  We also use these cultural stories to guide our actions to better navigate what life throws at us.  This is where cultural stories guide purchasing behavior.

For example, the man who feels trapped and without choices in a complex world may identify deeply with and long to be the rugged hero who rides out and takes on the unexplored frontier, ready and able to meet the challenges of the world, always confident and capable. 

In an effort to alleviate internal tensions—feeling powerless, yet being desirous of change—he may “take on” aspects of this strong hero, in the hope that following the example may endow him with some of the qualities he most admires. Lighting up a Marlboro may deliver a satisfying smoke, but it also lets the zero become the hero. There are twenty opportunities in every pack to be bold, to be fearless, to be the agent of change in one’s own life, to step into the spotlight and star in the story.

What are the cultural stories that most influence your customers? When we know what stories are near and dear to our customers’ hearts, we know how to better communicate and connect with them.

Behaviors That Influence Cult Brands

Leaders may struggle to create brands that are still relevant in today’s culture due to the high but ambiguous expectations they must achieve. Consider the tried-and-true method of identifying and aligning around a compelling brand promise. This is critical when comparing your brand’s performance to its objectives. The “should” behavior of a brand may be established across all touchpoints, although there may be inconsistency. 

It’s much easier said than done.

Pointing to a single feature of the brand and expecting results isn’t going to cut it. Despite this, corporations spend billions of dollars on training programs as an obvious “cure” for brand behavior. According to HBR, $160 billion is spent in the United States alone on ineffective training programs. Bad conduct endures in the absence of proof that these interventions improve organizational performance.

Blaming it on external circumstances is also not an option.

It is not the customers’ fault if the brand fails to deliver on its promises. If the market changes and customers do not respond as they did in the past, the brand’s behavior must be adjusted.

To truly ignite change, a thorough approach that examines behavior both inside and outside the business is required.

1. Obtain an outside viewpoint

Change in brand behavior occurs from within, but top-down change is extremely impossible to ignite from within. According to a recent HBR article on leadership development, “HR managers and others find it difficult or impossible to approach senior leaders and their teams with an uncomfortable truth.”

Using an outside agency to help identify the shifts in behavior that the brand needs to make and establish a clear strategy can ignite the behavior change in a far more productive way than if the job is tasked to internal leadership.

2. Begin at the top

Begin by engaging with senior management to identify the brand’s values and strategic direction with the help of an external team. Then, identify the shift in behavior in your leadership team and commit to making changes that are in line with the strategic direction. The brand’s promise should act as a guidepost in determining the type of behavior that needs to be altered.

3. Examine and reorganize roles and responsibilities

This must occur at all organizational levels in order to represent the brand’s promise and encourage change. It is vital to ensure that the brand has the infrastructure in place to support its promise. A brand that is built on its exceptional customer service, for example, must have the right team and people in place to execute.

4. Evaluate day-to-day behaviors

Evaluating day-to-day actions outside of job descriptions assists workers in identifying the specific things they can do to better reflect the brand. At the end of the day, the simple things that a brand performs should reflect its promise.

5. Measure Change

Setting new behavioral expectations is one thing. Another is to hold the individuals behind the brand accountable for the new conduct.

6. Alter and adapt

In order to sustain new behavior, it is critical to constantly adjust and adapt your processes and procedures. Set a timetable for change and commit to reevaluating what works and what doesn’t within that time frame. There is always room for advancement.

If the brand needs to change its behavior to improve its reputation, following these six stages will assist to ensure that the change is widespread and long-lasting. When done correctly, it can boost employee engagement, sales, and people’s perceptions of your brand and organization.

How Retail Therapy Helps Customers and Retailers

Every organization has the opportunity to identify points where they can let their customers do the driving.

What do you know? It turns out you can buy happiness.

Okay, I might be overstating the case—but only a little. Nearly a decade ago, researchers Scott Rick, Beatriz Pereira, and Katherine Burson found that retail therapy—going shopping specifically to lift the mood, a behavior typically characterized as negative by the majority of observers—may actually have a therapeutic benefit.1

It is by delving into the unconscious psychological and social factors that influence customer behavior that we, as retailers, learn how to better please our shoppers. Rick, Pereira, and Burson have given us valuable insight into some of the factors that influence customers who come into our stores specifically for retail therapy.

What are these shoppers searching for? Over the years, many theories have been put forward, including the thrill of the hunt for the novel item or bargain price or a more basic alleviation of boredom. What Rick, Pereira, and Burson’s research shows is that retail therapy customers are motivated by a desire to restore some element of control to their lives.

The act of choosing between various types of merchandise empowers the customer—even if they have no intention whatsoever of making a purchase. The time the customer spends shopping is time that the customer occupies a powerful position: ultimately, they’re in control of the transaction. They are the decision-maker.

Let us contrast this experience with the rest of our customers’ lives. The evening news broadcast is consistently full of headlines designed to evoke feelings of powerlessness. There’s an invisible enemy causing a global pandemic. War and revolution are everywhere. Crimes against the most vulnerable continue to escalate. The planet’s getting warmer, the ice caps are melting, and from the weather report, it looks like Mother Nature is doing her best to kill us all. There is nothing—not a single solitary identifiable action—that an individual can do to solve any of these problems. It’s a frustrating situation that forces one to confront their own position in the universe; a position that all too often resembles complete irrelevance.

Retail’s Mysteries Revealed: Toward a More Humanistic Business Model

If you had to choose between feeling like an all-powerful, omnipotent decision-maker or a frustrated, powerless spectator to overwhelming series of distressing events, which one would you pick?

Your customer thinks the same way. If we want to attract the retail-therapy-seeking customer into our stores, we need to find ways to fulfill their need to be in control. Every organization has the opportunity to identify points where they can let their customers do the driving.

An empowered customer is an enthusiastic customer.

That’s how retail therapy helps retailers. If you want to see how this is working out in your store, keep an eye on the headlines and your sales numbers over a designated period of time—two weeks to a month would be ideal— and see what identifiable patterns emerge. The decision to actually make a purchase is the ultimate power held by the customer. The points when they feel most powerless or overwhelmed is when they’re most likely to self-medicate with retail therapy, shopping, and buying more.

Putting Customers First means understanding the world our customers live in, and how the events that take place there impact their everyday purchasing behavior. If we can do that, we can build brands that thrive.


Seven Easy Ways to Make Customers You Meet Feel Important

Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, "Make me feel important." —MARY KAY ASH

One of the most pernicious and underappreciated difficulties in businesses is the fight to feel valued. But What happens when customers feel devalued? In almost all our research, three things happen:

  • Devalued customers destroy your brand’s reputation.
  • Devalued customers don’t come back.
  • Devalued customers will make your competition stronger.

Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, “Make me feel important.”Mary Kay Ash

  1. Put away your cell phone.
  2. Notice something good about your customer.
  3. Connect with the eyes. Eye contact signals interest.
  4. Ask good questions. Good questions are more important than selling.
  5. Seek input and advice from the customer. Ask, “What do you think?”
  6. Be kind.
  7. Do your best.

How might you let your customers know they are important today? 

Because I know you enjoy learning, check out these additional articles to round out your knowledge:

  • 11 Simple Ways To Make Customers Feel Valued (Forbes)
  • The Little Things that make Employees Feel Appreciated (HBR)
  • Why Every Company Needs a Chief Experience Officer (HBR)

How To Push Your Brand In Positive And Productive Ways

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.

Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.Mark Twain1

Growing your brand can be challenging, but we don’t experience the growth we ultimately expect if we don’t take on new challenges. So here are three dimensions and three sets of questions to help you and your teams discover new ways to build a stronger brand.

Three questions to discover your customers’ motivation:

  1. Why did you choose to purchase from us?
  2. How delighted are you with our product or services?
  3. What is your perception of our brand?

Three questions to find your brand’s style:

  1. Why do your customers trust you?
  2. How are you different?
  3. What tensions (pain points) do you solve?

Three questions to improve your brand strategy

  1. Who is your dream customer, and how do you speak to them?
  2. What brands do you admire?
  3. What is the purpose of your brand in today’s society?

Cult Brands outperform their competitors because they have a deep understanding of these dynamics. For best results, answer these questions continuously, and your brand will gain an edge that you can take to the bottom line each day.