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BJ Bueno

Life is too short to worry about miles per gallon…Cult Brands & Classic Car Insurance

Hagerty might not be the auto insurance company for you. For example, if you’ve got a great brand-new car that you drive every single day, you’re not going to be interested in what Hagerty offers. But among classic car collectors, Hagerty’s is a top choice – in fact, Craig Fitzgerald, the editor-in-chief at Car Talk says that even though there are some limits on what the policies cover, the benefits offered by Hagerty makes it difficult to look elsewhere. 

What are these benefits? Fitzgerald calls out the Hagerty’s Driver’s Club magazine specifically as beautiful and entertaining. Additionally, Hagerty’s Driver’s Club is actually a full suite of services, including unlimited classified ads and vehicle valuation lookup – hugely important to people who are continually buying and selling vehicles and vehicle parts as their primary form of recreation. There’s also a robust roadside assistance program with flatbed towing – that’s the only kind of towing acceptable for many classic cars. And Driver’s Club members get early access to exclusive automotive events.

So is Hagerty a Cult Brand? 

While definitely not for everyone, Hagerty does demonstrate a deep understanding of their specific customer. By specializing in collectible vehicles, Hagerty is able to offer their customers lower premiums. They also offer a very different approach to compensation, in which the vehicle owner and insurance company come to an agreed-upon value for the vehicle that’s much higher than traditional insurance companies would offer. 

Additionally, and this is the benefit that really demonstrates the deeper level of customer understanding going on here, in the event of a claim, Hagerty will pay for you to do your own repairs. 

If you’re not a recreational knuckle-buster, that may not seem like a big deal. But if you know you know – it’s bad enough that your car is damaged, never mind finding someone you trust enough to work on it! Car people generally strongly prefer to do their own work, and Hagerty knows that. 

So yes, I’d say they’re on their way to becoming a Cult Brand. Other factors that caught my eye include:  

The Attention to Detail

One of the first things you see when you visit Hagerty’s website is the data collection pop-up – the typical notice letting you know that cookies are collected, yadda, yadda, yadda. But Hagerty’s pop-up doesn’t include the typical cut-and-paste text you’ve seen a million times. Instead, it’s been customized to appeal to the classic car enthusiast Haggerty is trying to attract, referencing how the site has been built to function like a finely-built motor. It’s a small detail, but only the first of many examples of how Hagerty continually reinforces the idea that they’re for car people. 

The Merch 

Where do Hagerty’s customers go when they want to have fun? To classic car shows and other events where they can show off all the work they’ve done on their car. Hagerty has a merch shop full of smile-provoking apparel for this setting. Where else are you going to get a T-shirt that says Shift Happens?

The Support of Driver Education

Hagerty isn’t just about cars, it’s about classic cars. A strongly nostalgic story, the world of classic cars often talks about the freedom and independence these drivers experienced upon getting their license and first cars. Hagerty puts a portion of the proceeds from their sales into Driver Education programming, helping their current customers feel like they’re doing something to help the next generation feel the same joy they feel. 

Will Hagerty ever have the broad, mass-market appeal we see in Cult Brands like Apple and Ikea? Probably not. They by definition are in a limited arena – but in that space, they are a dominant brand. If the Cult Brand status hasn’t yet been fully realized, Hagerty is well on the way there. 

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if there are brands you’d like me to take a look at in terms of Cult Brand potential, just drop their names in the comment below. As time allows, it would be my pleasure!

From Breakout Star to Cult Brand: Lizzo’s Journey to Intellectual Property Success

Never give up. 

Because branding is about persisting.

After her 8th attempt, Lizzo an artist with a Cult Brand following successfully trademarks her popular catchphrase ‘100% That Bitch’. 

As leaders, we can learn several important lessons from Lizzo. 

Persistence pays off: Lizzo failed to secure the trademark for her catchphrase on eight occasions before ultimately succeeding. Despite setbacks, she continued to pursue her goal until she achieved it. 

Be proactive: Lizzo recognized the value of her catchphrase and took steps to protect it. Leaders can learn from this example by being proactive in identifying and safeguarding their brands, trademarks, and copyrights before others can infringe upon them.

Consistency is key: Lizzo’s catchphrase was associated with her and her music by consumers because of her consistent use of it. Branding leaders can learn from this example by being consistent in their branding and messaging, which helps to establish a strong connection with customers and reinforce their brand identity.

Stay up-to-date: Lizzo’s trademark was granted in part because there was no evidence of prior use of the catchphrase before she popularized it. Executives can learn from this example by staying up-to-date on industry trends and changes in intellectual property laws to ensure that they are not infringing upon the rights of others or allowing others to infringe upon their rights.

The persistence, proactivity, consistency, and vigilance that Lizzo displays in protecting her brand and intellectual property rights offer valuable lessons for organizations to safeguard their own brand. Remember when Harley Davidson went to court to protect their sound? What elements of your brand are worth protecting? This is something your cult branding playbook should always have in sight.

How successful have you and your teams been in protecting your brand? We would love to know your story.

The Secret Ingredient in Honest Eggs Co.’s Recipe for Transparency and Happy Hens

This ad is so clever! 

We love how it uses technology and humor to create a unique selling proposition for the brand. 

By placing fitness trackers on their free-range chickens and printing their step counts on the eggs, Honest Eggs Co. is not only promoting transparency but also engaging with consumers who are conscious of the environmental impact of their shopping habits. 

The use of humor in the product name “FitChix” and the campaign slogan “chooks on the move” adds a playful element that resonates with consumers and makes them remember the brand. 

Want help finding innovative and creative ways to showcase your unique selling propositions and engage with your target audience? Reply here and tell us your big idea.

Is Amazon a Cult Brand: Making the Case

In our ongoing conversation about identifying existing and emerging Cult Brands, it’s impossible to ignore the giant in the room: Amazon. 

Founded in 1994 as an online bookstore, Amazon quickly became the world’s largest retailer. Since then they have expanded exponentially in many directions. Amazon Prime was launched in 2005, changing the way Americans thought about online shopping and delivery charges. Subsequent other brand extensions include streaming video, grocery, pharmacy, and health care services, and most recently, a newer, better web browser. 

But are they a Cult Brand? Are people passionate about Amazon, or are they just so omnipresent that shoppers choose them out of habit? 89% of Americans report they will buy from Amazon before any other e-commerce site; is this love?

Is Amazon a Cult Brand? The Signs That Make Us Say Yes

Named for all-powerful, ever-conquering warriors, Amazon has positioned itself to capture a dominant place in the world of business and in the public’s imagination. Key to achieving Cult Brand status is conveying a story that the public can understand and identify with. Amazon chose the narrative that they’re unstoppable in every field – and they then set out to make this true. 

From a branding perspective, the smile-emblazoned cardboard box is brilliant. It clearly articulates the emotional experience Amazon wants its customers to have – even if they’ve just ordered some toothpaste and new socks. 

Amazon has gathered tremendous amounts of data and creates its offerings based on meeting real customer needs. Their expansions into grocery, healthcare and banking speak to their commitment to meeting consumer needs at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Watch this recent ad – ( directed by Olivia Wilde and debuted during the Oscars – to see how Amazon strives to show its customers it can help them meet their higher order needs for love and self-acceptance. 

Perhaps one of the strongest signs that Amazon is a Cult Brand was the ease with which they established Prime Day as a major shopping holiday for the average consumer. In two days in 2022, Prime Day sales topped $12 billion. People plan their purchases knowing Prime Day is coming, in an effort to save money. There’s also a great deal of excitement associated with Lightning Deals and other timed discounts. 

Is Amazon a Cult Brand? The Signs That Make Us Say No

While Cult Brands certainly don’t do everything perfectly all of the time, they generally do exhibit a high degree of transparency regarding their operations. Amazon is engaged in long-term disputes about the working conditions in their facilities, and there are many credible allegations about Amazon’s efforts to prevent workers from unionizing. 

Amazon also gets a side-eye for its use of anti-competitive practices; poor policing of counterfeit and dangerous goods; and other environmental and social concerns. While some of these issues are addressed on a case-by-case basis, overall, Amazon tends to protect their own interests rather than putting customers first in these scenarios. 

What Do You Think?

If you’ve been reading my work for a while now, you probably have your own idea of what a Cult Brand is and isn’t. Under your definition, would Amazon qualify? I’d love to hear what you think!

The Newest Cult Brands: The Organizations We’ve Been Keeping an Eye On

Over the years that we’ve been researching and assisting Cult Brands – companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Kohl’s – it’s become clear that there’s a reliable process for identifying organizations that have the potential to achieve Cult Brand status. 

It’s this process – illustrated with examples drawn from the current class of emerging Cult Brands – that I’ll be writing about over the course of the next few weeks.  I’m doing this because while it’s relatively easy to spot Cult Brands when they’re on top, it can be challenging to discover them before that. 

Additionally, I think it’s important for leaders and brand managers to understand that Cult Brands are deliberately created. There’s a series of decisions that Cult Brands have to make and consistently implement in order to achieve and maintain strong customer relationships. Cult Brands don’t just spontaneously happen – they choose to exist. 

Then, Now, Forever, Together: The WWE’s 40-Year Legacy as a Cult Brand

Two years ago, the WWE updated its tagline. They changed “Then, Now, Forever” to “Then, Now, Forever, Together”. In Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon’s statement about the change at the time, we find the following language:

“WWE has always been about inclusivity. … We are all about bringing people together, putting smiles on people’s faces, and creating moments and memories that last a lifetime.” …  “No matter who they are, no matter what they do for a living, no matter where they live, no matter how much money they make, they belong, they are a part of WWE and that’s the inclusive nature of our community and the bigger WWE family.”

This focus on the customer relationship is at the heart of every Cult Brand. Without this aspect, achieving Cult Brand status is impossible. However, the WWE has over the years done many other innovative things to continually attract new customer interest & render their competitors irrelevant.

Are You Ready to Rumble: Wrestlemania & the Customer Experience

Prior to Vince McMahon founding the WWE – then called the WWF – watching professional wrestling was a somewhat fringe experience, held in cheap venues not generally of the sort you’d bring your family to. 

McMahon was the first promoter to put the event focus on the customer experience. Everything became much more theatrical. Entrance music, pyrotechnics, and a consistently high caliber of ring talent delivered an exciting experience people wanted to be part of. The first Wrestlemania was revolutionary, putting the fun right in the middle of Madison Square Garden.

Pay Per View was another innovation the WWE made good use of. Giving the fans a way to access the fun while removing the need to travel a great distance or spend lots of money was very smart. Fan groups gathered to watch PPV matches, strengthening their bond to each other and the brand.

Flash forward twenty years, and the WWE still has a loyal, strong fanbase. After launching a fairly successful independent WWE network, they’ve recently made the migration to Peacock, one of the largest streaming platforms. The fanbase is now global – India in particular has many fans – and a widely reported yet currently uncompleted sale to the Saudi government is in the works. 

What’s next for the WWE remains to be seen, but if they maintain their focus on the customer relationship, providing a superior level of entertainment, and remaining flexible and adaptable as new technology becomes available, we see no reason why they shouldn’t be considered fully as a Cult Brand. 

What do you think? Do you consider the WWE a Cult Brand? Can you name any of their competitors? How would you explain the multi-generational nature of their fans? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A Community of Collaboration, Connectivity, and Capital – SCALE Global Summit 2023

A few years back, I had the pleasure of meeting Victor Oviedo, one of the co-founders of the SCALE Global Summit. During our conversation, he shared an innovative idea that he, Kelly O’Connor, the CEO of SCALE Global, and Tony Hsieh had been working on. This idea aimed to create a community where people from diverse backgrounds could unite and foster growth in their personal and professional lives.

Their vision was to create a conference that would foster connections and provide the necessary resources and support for individuals to thrive. In this community, attendees could learn from industry experts, exchange ideas, and gain insights to fuel their growth.

Why today, I wanted to share some exciting news with you. 

Here is something that, as CEO and leader, you should consider attending. The upcoming SCALE Global Summit brings together some incredible speakers who will provide invaluable insights into the current economic landscape and what lies ahead. SCALE is a global ecosystem that brings together investors, thought leaders, and business-builders to discuss the macroeconomic conditions, geopolitical trends, and investment opportunities for the year ahead. 

This community fosters collaboration, connectivity, and capital within the alternative investing and entrepreneurial ecosystems. The connections that you will foster are unlike any other event. My good friend Tony Hsieh used to say this is where the top and elite investors let their hair down. 

One thing I love about SCALE is that you’ll sit amongst your peers, including market-moving CEOs, investment icons, and industry luminaries, who are transforming today’s ideas into the innovations and investments of tomorrow. You’ll engage in conversations with solution-orientated, intellectually-curious, and purpose-driven game-changers coming together to address critical issues.

The platform at SCALE is designed to inspire learning and innovation, catalyze growth and opportunity, access meaningful sources of deal flow and capital, and network with the world’s brightest minds. You’ll have access to a community of like-minded individuals who are all working towards the same goal: building their capital – financial, strategic, social, and human.

SCALE is more than just a gathering; it’s a movement that promotes the democratization of access, ideas, and opportunities. It’s about breaking down barriers and creating a level playing field where anyone can succeed. By joining this community, you’ll be able to scale your business to new heights while positively impacting society.

SCALE is the perfect platform for CEOs and leaders looking to take their businesses to the next level. It’s a global ecosystem that provides access to capital, innovation, and purpose while fostering collaboration, connectivity, and community. So, if you’re ready to join a movement that promotes growth, opportunity, and positive change, then SCALE is the place for you.

Some of the notable speakers at the event include:

  • Michael R. Pompeo, 70th U.S. Secretary of State (2018-2021)
  • Hillary Clinton, 67th Secretary of State (2009-2013)
  • Boris Johnson, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2019-2022)
  • John Sullivan Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia (2019-2022); Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State (2017-2019) and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce (2007-2009)
  • Sheryl Sandberg, Founder, Lean In
  • Jewel Kilcher, Singer/Songwriter; NY Times Best Seller; Mental Health & Mindfulness Advocate
  • Margaret Hoover, Host, Firing Line
  • Mark Wahlberg, Actor, Producer & Entrepreneur
  • Joshua S. Friedman Co-Founder, Co-Chairman & Co-Chief Executive Officer, Canyon Partners, LLC
  • Howard Marks Co-Chairman, Oaktree Capital Management

It’s an awe-inspiring list; you can see all the speakers here.

Each speaker brings a unique perspective and wealth of experience to the table. Their insights will help you connect the dots and move markets, whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur, or business leader.

The perspectives shared at SCALE will be precious to you and your business. Please consider attending this year’s event and take advantage of this unique opportunity.

I hope you can join me there.

Onwards and Upwards! 

Bolivar J. Bueno 

The Cult Branding Company – Founder

How One Brand Revamped Their Appeal with an Immersive Metaverse Adventure for Gen Z DIYers!

As a top business with a passion for growing your brand the right way, I wanted to share with you a recent innovation from The Home Depot that has caught my attention.

The Home Depot, a household name in the home improvement industry, has launched a new Virtual Kids Workshop experience in Roblox’s Redcliff City. This immersive metaverse experience challenges young gamers to collect materials to build projects, introducing them to the joy of building and home improvement.

This investment in the future of interconnected experiences combines The Home Depot’s in-person Kids Workshops with the discovery, problem-solving, and fun that Roblox is known for. By meeting their young audience where they are and embracing new technology, The Home Depot is building a loyal customer base for the future.

As a top CEO, I know that you understand the importance of innovation, adaptability, and customer engagement in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. This new metaverse experience provides an excellent opportunity to connect with younger audiences and ignite your brand in a whole new way.

I encourage you to explore this exciting new development and consider how it could apply to your own brand. You never know where your next breakthrough idea might come from.

Are Cult Brands Recession-Proof?

With leading economists fairly confident that the recession will occur in the US during 2023, it seems prudent to discuss what brands can do to stay strong and vibrant during economic downturns. My work with Cult Brands goes back over twenty years now, and in that time, we’ve witnessed the following:

Brand Loyalty transcends economic circumstances. Organizations that stay loyal to their customer by delivering the best possible experience even when those customers aren’t necessarily in a position to buy are rewarded with customers who love them. When the funds are available to make a purchase from a favorite Cult Brand, it’s often seen as particularly meaningful or as part of a personal comeback.

During times of hardship, people need something to believe in. Right now, with trust in government and media at very low rates, the public is transferring its need to believe onto brands. The relationship between the individual and the brand can feel fairly equal, especially given the instant reach social media gives both fans and critics. Cult Brands thrive by meeting this need for trustworthy consistent performance. When people are uneasy about their finances, they’ll pay more for a brand they know won’t let them down. They will be less willing to take chances on lesser-known brands, even if those brands offer lower pricing. 

Cult Brands thrive by staying the course. Economic pressures can lead brands to consider cutting corners or cheapening the experience, but that’s not how Cult Brands do it. Instead, Cult Brands navigate recessions by doubling down on those aspects of their operation customers love the most. Focus on the best, most essential portions of the customer experience – this allows for cost control while maximizing customer retention. 

Cult Brands may not be entirely recession-proof, but they do a good job of weathering tough times. 

So what if you’re not a Cult Brand right now? It’s not too late to start shifting to the mindset and techniques that help strengthen the love and loyalty your customers have for you. We know a recession is coming, soft landing or not. Anticipating and planning a strategic response to this recession can result in a stronger and more resilient organization in the long run.

We Won’t Say We’re Trustworthy on the Record: Red Ventures Squanders CNET’s Excellence

We all have our favorite news sources, and over the years, I’ve come to appreciate CNET’s excellent, in-depth coverage. But recently, things have changed, and now, distressingly, I know why.

Red Ventures acquired CNET in 2020. At that time, CEO Rick Elias told the staff that there’d be a red line separating advertising from editorial. 

However, that has not proven to be the case. As reported by the Verge, reporters have been pressured to alter reviews to be more positive in cases where Red Ventures has a financial relationship with the products in question. Additionally, journalists have been asked to create sponsored content – a request that directly calls their integrity into account. 

On top of that, CNET’s early adoption of AI-written content has led to more than 70 articles needing correction. The AI not only plagiarizes, but it also makes errors in fact – things you would think would be unacceptable in a publication devoted to truth-telling. 

Consider this in Context: Americans Don’t Trust the Media

Reuters, one of the stalwarts of the news business, commissioned research in 2021 to see how the public felt about the media. At that time, the US ranked last among 46 surveyed countries in terms of trusting the media. Political polarization was thought to be a significant cause – 75% of respondents who identified as right-leaning felt the news did not reflect reality accurately, for example – but it’s not the only issue. 

The introduction of AI-generated content complicates an already messy situation. And the fact that people in general don’t want to pay for their news content puts additional pressure on media outlets to find ways to boost revenues. Sponsored content and maintaining lucrative business relationships are not unique to CNET, which highlights the trouble they’re currently in: by participating in behaviors thought to be inherently untrustworthy, Red Ventures has thrown away what made CNET special.

Can CNET come back from this? Re-establishing trust is hard, and frankly, once the staff is talking about the pressures they’re under, I’m dubious that the brand can thrive again without a change of leadership. But what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Power of Inclusivity in Marketing: Lessons from Nike’s ‘Beyond’ Ad

The most important lesson a CEO can learn from Nike’s Jordan Brand portrayal of an aspiring female baller in their “Uncommon” ad is the importance of inclusivity and representation in marketing.

The ad features a young girl who dreams of becoming a basketball player, despite the odds stacked against her. By highlighting her struggles and triumphs, the ad sends a powerful message about the potential of all athletes, regardless of their gender or background.

In today’s world, where consumers are increasingly demanding more diversity and representation in the brands they support, the lesson for CEOs is clear: inclusivity and representation should be a core component of their marketing strategies.