All Posts By

BJ Bueno & Scott Jeffrey

Why Women Make Kickass Business Leaders


Susan is the CEO of a national chain of fashion apparel department stores. David is the CEO of a competing brand.

Both Susan and David have been at the helm for five years. Accomplished and talented professionals, they have each earned their positions. Sharp-minded and effective executives, they are capable of leading with vision.

Although each business has its strengths and weaknesses, Susan and David’s national operations both own a comparable share of the market.

Susan’s company, however, has begun outperforming David’s at an accelerating rate.


Analyzing their businesses to find the differentiating factor proves fruitless. Both are managed by competent people. Both know how to select desirable merchandise. Both know how to create customers.

The difference lies within the minds of these two leaders: their orientation toward themselves and others.

Capitalizing on the Feminine Function

David is a quintessential analytical thinker. He runs his business by the numbers. His focus is mainly on generating the next transaction. He’s an excellent merchant.

Susan also has strong analytic capacities. She understands the importance of customer data. But she pays more attention to her feelings and intuitions.

These qualities might have appeared to be undesirable or weaknesses not too long ago.

Some people certainly tried to use them against Susan earlier in her career. But she’s the CEO now. Her authority and successful track record speak for itself.

Susan has high emotional intelligence that affords her higher self-awareness, superior management of her emotions, deeper empathy, and stellar social skills.

How do these qualities give Susan the edge?

Utilizing Emotional Intelligence in Business

Put simply, Susan is more connected with her humanity. She brings more heart, care, and compassion into the workplace.

With greater empathy, Susan is better equipped to understand her team. She is able to resolve difficult conflicts effectively. She is also able to establish trust and cultivate creative teams.

More than that, she holds a different perspective on her customers. She knows that her customers are people too. They have dreams, aspirations, problems, and needs, just like her and her employees.

Instead of fighting for the next transaction, Susan’s marketing team focuses on making meaningful connections with their customers. Emotion is a regular topic of conversation around the office.

She has moved her organization toward relational marketing. She’s not afraid to sacrifice short-term margins to build long-term customer loyalty. This approach leads to more repeat business, a larger share of wallet, and positive word of mouth.

Learning from the Feminine Powerhouses of Business

This is the power of the feminine. We say, feminine and not “women” because the feminine is a quality available in both men and women.

Female executives like Virginia Rometty at IBM and Mindy Grossman at HSN are examples of leaders who exhibit a strong integration of masculine analytics and feminine awareness.

Southwest’s founder Herb Kelleher and Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh are beautiful examples of men who integrated the feminine function into their businesses with extraordinary success.

Kelleher built an unusual airline business driven by caring and relating. Hsieh built an online retailer devoted to spreading happiness and making the organization feel like a family.

Any time you talk about company culture, corporate values, branding, communication, collaboration, or teamwork, you’ve entered the realm of the feminine.

The masculine function gives us analytical thinking, logic, and reason. The feminine function gives us intuition, feeling, and relating. Both sides are important; both provide vital information to help us make sense of the world around us.

And both the masculine and feminine function are necessary for being an outperforming leader.

How to Create Customers for Life

How do the world’s top brands create loyal customers?

It’s a question our small firm has invested long hours to answer.

Deciphering the code to undying, raving fan customer loyalty unlocks powerful strategies for market domination and long-term profitability.

Cult brands are businesses that have communities of customers that rally around them. In over a decade of research studying Cult Brands, we’ve unearthed seven specific rules they all follow.

Cult Brands don’t just follow these principles, they live them. They work hard to honor them in everything they do.

What are the seven coveted principles of Cult Brands?

If you enjoy it, please share it around the office.

Developing a Winning Go To Market Strategy


What is a Go To Market Strategy?

How does your business connect with its customers? How do you deliver your unique value to your target customers? How do you go from the initial connection with a potential customer to the fulfillment of your brand promise?

The answer to these vital questions define your go-to-market strategy.

Your go-to-market strategy brings together all of the key elements that drive your business: sales, marketing, distribution, pricing, brand development, competitive analysis, and consumer insights.

It provides a strategic action plan that clarifies how to reach your target customers and better compete in your marketplace.

Go to market strategies can be applied to new product launches as well as existing products and services.

Benefits of a Go To Market Strategy

A go-to-market (GTM) strategy has numerous benefits. It helps your business:

  • Reduce time to market
  • Reduce costs associated with failed product launches
  • Increase ability to adapt to change
  • Manage innovation challenges
  • Ensure effective customer experience
  • Ensure regulatory compliance
  • Ensure a successful product launch
  • Avoid the wrong path
  • Establish path for growth
  • Clarifies plan and direction for all

Developing a comprehensive GTM strategy is an investment in time and resources, but it can help illuminate and ensure a viable path to market success.

What’s Inside Your GTM Strategy?

The goal of a GTM strategy is to improve key business outcomes. This is mainly accomplished by aligning to the evolving needs of your customers.

To create an effective GTM strategy for your business, you want to create a detailed plan with the following six ingredients:

  1. Markets: What markets do you want to pursue?
  2. Customers: Who are you selling to? Who is your target customer?
  3. Channels: Where do your target customers buy? Where will you promote your products?
  4. Product (or Offering): What product/service are you selling? And what unique value do you offer to each target customer group?
  5. Price: How much will you charge for your products for each customer group?
  6. Positioning: What is your unique value or primary differentiation? How will you connect to what matters to your target customers and position your brand?

If you can concisely and effectively answer these six questions, you’ll be in the position to formulate a winning GTM strategy.

An Example from Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is recognized as one of the most innovative and trendsetting companies in the cutthroat industry of commercial aviation.

Southwest was so innovative, in fact, that many larger airlines and airports tried to prevent the company from getting off the ground in the early 1970’s.

Instead of using the traditional “hub and spoke” flight routing system employed by most major airlines, Southwest opted for a “Point to Point” system.

Most airlines have “hubs” in particular major cities where most flights connect through (think of a hub on a wheel with many spokes coming out of the center). Southwest’s Point to Point system takes passengers from one to another without using any hubs.

Only about 20 percent Southwest’s passengers are connecting passengers—the vast majority are local—making the point to point system more effective for their target customers.

This is just one example of how Southwest’s go-to-market strategy help the airline stay on top and deliver what its markets want most.

Before You Begin

GTM strategies, like any corporate strategy, is a matter of asking the right questions (and in the right order).

As a business leader, it is helpful to play the role of “strategic coach” and run through the following questions with your executive team:

  1. Where are you now? What is the current state of affairs in your business? Take inventory of your current business position and the current climate in your marketplace.
  2. Where do you want to go? What is the desired end picture of this new initiative? Define your ultimate vision.
  3. What has to happen to get you to your end picture? What strategic options are available to you? Determine the best solution paths to realizing your vision.

The main distinction between an overall corporate strategy and a GTM strategy is that the latter has a greater emphasis on connecting with your customers: sales, marketing, branding, distribution, customer touch points, and so on.

How Long Will Your GTM Strategy Take to Execute?

A comprehensive GTM strategy that includes a detailed analysis of your target markets, customer segments, budget requirements, offers, positioning can take several weeks (or longer) to formulate.

Successful implementation of a new GTM strategy can take 12 to 36 months.

It is important to keep in mind that a GTM strategy is a long-term approach to building profitability, decreasing customer acquisition cost, and enhancing the customer experience.

Key Objectives of Your GTM Strategy

Your GTM strategy has several strategic objectives including to:

  • Create awareness of your offering
  • Convert your initial customers
  • Maximize your market share by encroaching on your competitors, entering new markets, and increasing customer engagement
  • Defend your present market share against competitors
  • Reinforce your brand position
  • Reduce cost and maximize profitability

As an integral strategy for your long-term business success, let’s take a look at the seven key steps for developing your strategy.

Seven Steps to Creating a GTM Strategy

Here are the seven vital steps to formulating your strategy:

Step 1: Define Your Target Markets

No product is appropriate for every market. Clarifying your ideal target markets is a vital element to formulating your GTM strategy.

Factors might include demographics, psychographics, ethnographics, drivers of need, buyer personas, online/offline, and geography.

Remember you can’t profitably pursue every market so you want to determine where you can most effectively differentiate your brand and attract the most profitable customers who resonate with your offering.

Force yourself to sacrifice and focus on what matters most.

Start by brainstorming a master list of all possible markets you could pursue. Then, determine how you will assess each market opportunity. You may use metrics like market size, growth trends, ability to compete, barriers to entry, the economics of each market.


  • Which markets have the biggest and most urgent pain?
  • Where are there gaps in the market?
  • Which markets are most aligned with your corporate strategy?
  • Which markets best match your core competencies?
  • Which markets can you most easily reach?
  • Which markets have the largest market size and least competition?

Next, assess each market for accessibility, alignment, and overall opportunity. Do what you can to test or validate each market opportunity with key stakeholders.

Review feedback from current and prospective clients as well as employees on the front line. Review trend data from available sources. Try using customer surveys and external focus groups.

Finally, prioritize your market opportunities and refine them on an ongoing basis.

Ultimately, you’re best opportunities will also attract your competitors, so defining your target markets is insufficient in itself.

You will still need to differentiate your offer and position your brand. But at least now you will have the confidence that you’re fishing where your fish are.

Step 2: Define Your Target Customer

Management guru Peter Drucker reminds us, “The purpose of business is to create a customer.”

The driving force behind this step is developing customer intelligence. You want to become masterful at generating actionable consumer insights through web surveys, focus groups, one-on-one in-depth interviews, in-store interactions, and more.

Here’s a list of questions that require thoughtful deliberation:

  • Who is your business especially for? Who are your Brand Lovers? That is, who will be your most profitable customers?
  • What human needs are you trying to satisfy in your target customers?
  • What internal tensions are you attempting to resolve?
  • What problems are you trying to solve?
  • What is the ideal experience you’re trying to create for your target customers?
  • What are the emotions you want your Brand Lovers to experience when they interact with you?

Your goal is to understand who your customers are, how they behave, and what they experience. The better consumer insights you have, the better chances you have for executing an effective GTM strategy.

Step 3: Define Your Brand Positioning

Brand positioning is the process of positioning your brand in the mind of your customers. If management takes an intelligence, forward-looking approach, it can positively influence its brand’s position in the eyes of its target customers.

We’ve outlined how to create a brand positioning statement here.

Step 4: Define Your Offering

Now define your product or the product’s unique value proposition. Understanding your product’s key features and benefits is the first step. Then you must understand exactly how your product connects with your customers: the context of their use, the solutions it solves, the benefits they derive.

Here are some key questions to bring clarity to your offering:

  • What needs or tensions do your target customers need solved?
  • Which features in your offering best address these needs?
  • How will customers use it?
  • What are important attributes or benefits of your offering?
  • How is your offering differentiated in the marketplace?

To help determine the product’s unique value proposition, put yourself in your target customer’s perspective when you think about presenting your company’s offering. Consider:

  • What do you want your customers to think?
  • What do you want them to feel?
  • What do you want them to believe?
  • What do you want them to remember?

The better insights you have about your customers, the more effective you can be at defining your offering. This means you need to get to know your customers, to obsess about your customers.

Talk to them, listen to them, and get to know them. This step will also help you create more effective marketing messages later on.

Step 5: Define Your Channels

You link your offering to your customers through channels. Channels might include a retail store, Internet, a customer service call center, face to face salesperson, a trade show, a seminar, or a direct partner.’s primary channel is its website. Walmart’s primary channel is its retail chain. BWM’s primary channel is its dealerships. LL Bean’s primary channels are its catalogs, call center, and website. AT&T’s channels include its authorized dealers (partners), independent retail stores, and website.

Your goal isn’t just to identify your channels, but to ensure that each channel is as seamlessly integrated with each other as possible.

Customers should be have a consistent brand experience no matter what channel or touch point through which they interact with you.

The key questions in your channel analysis are:

  • Where do you reach your target customers?
  • Where do your target customers buy?
  • Where will you promote your products?
  • What is the right distribution model?
  • How do you develop the right distribution channels?
  • Does the channel fit your offering?
  • How does your offering fit with your target markets and channels?
  • How would customers desire to interact with you?
  • What level of interaction do your target customers require?
  • Can you create a competitive advantage?

You want to make sure your offering fits your channel. For example, it is difficult to sell complex services or certain high-priced products over the web.

Step 6: Build Your Budget Model

Once you’ve defined your channels, you’re ready to build a budget model. Here you’ll want to define your product pricing and estimate costs associate with your GTM strategy.

To develop your pricing model, consider:

  • What is the value your offering to your target customers?
  • Are there existing price expectations?
  • How do you price your product relative to your competitors?
  • Is there a way to create a competitive advantage with your pricing model?

Channel economics is an important to consider. For example, most airlines, like JetBlue, charges a $25 booking fee when you book a flight over the phone while charging no fees for online booking. There’s little variable cost for web transactions, but call center representatives are expensive.

Your goal might be to develop a revenue model based on anticipated market penetration, average transaction size, number of transaction, and so on.


  • Based on your market definitions (step 1), what are your primary goals for market share penetration?
  • What are your estimated margins over the next one-, two-, and three-year horizon, factoring in startup and ongoing expenses?
  • What are the human resources requirements for the first year of execution?

To help mitigate risk, it is advisable to identify the economic, competitive, and internal risks associated with executing this strategy. Outline the biggest risks that may affect your ability to reach your goals and develop strategies to address how to overcome them.

Step 7: Define Your Marketing Strategy

Now it’s time to put all of the pieces of this massive puzzle together. You’re going to want to develop a unique marketing strategy for each target market you’ve identified in step 1.

Your marketing mix will be determined by your strategy in each market. Starting with your brand positioning, your goal is to create competitive advantages for your product offering.

To develop your marketing tactics, consider:

  • How do you reach the economic buyers and influencers of your target markets?
  • What messages will motivate them to consideration and purchase?

Keep in mind that your marketing objectives and strategy might change throughout the product lifecycle so be ready to adapt.

Be sure to measure and track your key performance metrics on a weekly and monthly basis so you can make adjustments to your strategies, investments, and human resources.

Now It’s Your Turn

As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

An effective GTM strategy is based on the art of delighting your customers and surprising your competitors. Consider how hard Apple used to work to keep the the plans of their new iPhone secret until “the right moment” to go to market with their new product.

Once you are in the process of rolling out your strategy you won’t have time to plan as you’ll be more reactive due to your deadline pressures. Thoughtfully and thoroughly walking through these vital steps gives your organization the greatest chance of success.

Contact us to discuss how you can better prepare for what’s ahead. We can help you identify ways for your organization to tap into the power of cult branding, create value, and ultimately thrust your performance.

Best of luck in your go to market journey!

52 Proven Marketing Strategies for Attracting Customers

As Peter Drucker noted, marketing and innovation are the two primary drivers of any business. Developing marketing intelligence is vital for organizational leadership.

Knowing the various marketing weapons at your disposal will help you explore new ways to approach your customers.

We put together a list of 52 different types of marketing strategies you can use to build awareness and attract new customers.

Take a look at this deck to spark new ideas for your marketing efforts >>

At The Root of Powerful Consumer Insights


Building analytic muscle to learn about your customers is a top priority for today’s outperforming chief executives. Big data is an unquestionably powerful tool to improve your knowledge about your customers.

Many executives are talking about “big data” these days. Another popular term associated with big data is “consumer insights.” The implication seems to be that statistics garnered through massive consumer data will yield consumer insights. Not necessarily.

Genuine insight is a deep, intuitive understanding into a person or group of people. IBM’s SPSS and other exciting technologies provide us with tremendous analytical prowess. But they don’t tap into our intuition. And they can’t interpret the meaning behind the numbers.

To truly unearth consumer insights we must go deeper than analytical tools can go. We must access our shared humanity—our deeper nature—that binds us together as human beings. We must endeavor to peer into the hearts, minds, and souls of our customers if we are to mine for authentic consumer insights.

I know, this might sound a little too “soft” or abstract; it might sound like a lot of work too. But it’s meaningful work that translates to hard results. It helps us connect more deeply with the lifeblood of our businesses—our cherished customers. It can also influence our company’s culture as it too is made up of human beings with dreams, feelings, desires, and needs.

There’s another unspoken reward that comes from taking a humanistic approach to customer intelligence: In endeavoring to understand your customers as individual human beings you may learn a thing or two about yourself.

Analytics is a tool, not an answer. Get genuinely curious about learning about your customers. Connect with our shared humanity. It will bring your consumer insights to life.

Branding Defined, Cult Branding Revisited

What is a Brand?

Brands are funny things. You can’t just go to the store and pick up a pound of brand. There’s no brand app to download. You can’t go to the Brand Store and buy brands to make your organization more appealing to your customers.

Brands have to be created, and you might be surprised to find out that you’re not the one doing the creating, at least, not the only one.

A brand is a relationship, formed and shaped by all the emotions and ideas that the customer associates with a product or service that create a distinct customer experience. The stronger and more unique the customer experience is, the more robust the brand becomes.

A brand is a co-authored experience—a mutual relationship that lives between the customer and the brand.

The company sets the intention of the brand, and customers interpret their own meanings based on their experiences.

The ultimate definition of your brand is determined and owned by your customers when they evaluate their experiences with you.

How Customers Perceive Your Brand

Your customers’ perceptions of your brand are far more multi-dimensional than you ever imagined.

Everything is in there, including all things real or perceived, rational or emotional, physical or sensory, thought or felt, whether in form or function, planned or unplanned.

You could say a brand is all the good advertising you run, all the bad advertising you regret, your best and worst customer service stories—virtually everything that your enterprise does and the public’s perception of those actions.

This includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. Collectively, this conglomerate determines the customer experience and, therefore, the marketplace’s perception of your brand.

You do not control your brand. You can control what your brand does, but how your brand is perceived is entirely up to your customers.

Your brand’s messaging and actions define the parameters of your customers’ experiences, but your customers come to you with their own frameworks of education, experience, and emotion which influence how they interpret your brand and feel about your organization. The combination of your actions and your customers’ perceptions is your brand.

What is a Cult Brand?

Cult Brands have mastered the art of building meaningful, long-term relationships with their customers. Cult Brands exist in every industry.

Successful brands need to be consistent. Cult Brands need to be consistently amazing.

Cult Brands understand that their brands belong to the customers, and only the customer’s voice counts.

Rather than engaging in a meaningless attempt to dictate to the customer what they should want, a successful Cult Brand embraces its customers by anticipating their basic human and spiritual needs. As a consequence, Cult Brands achieve a level of customer loyalty unprecedented in traditional business.

A Cult Branding Secret: Serving Your Best Customers

Cult Brands—companies with unusually high levels of brand loyalty—have learned to serve a special group of customers. Harley riders, Mac users, Parrot Heads, Trekkies, MINI drivers, and the like represent a core group of people at the heart of each brand. We call this special breed of customers Brand Lovers.

Embracing Your Brand Lovers

Brand Lovers aren’t born. They’re made. Cult Brands are deliberately, continually engaged in building strong, meaningful relationships with their best customers. While brands that have the Merchant Mindset chase the next sale, Cult Brands chase the next conversation.

Cult Brands look for ways that they can play an integral role in their best customers’ lives. They embrace their customers like members of a loving family, providing a safe community for them to be who they really are. These brands are bold and courageous—often disliked by many, but loved by a precious few.

A Precious Few Is More Than Enough

A small legion of Brand Lovers will do more for the growth and sustainability of your business than all the transactional customers in the world. Not convinced? We’ve found that Pareto’s Law (the 80/20 Principle) generally holds true. As little as 20 percent of your customers can drive roughly 80 percent of profitability.

For many businesses, it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than keep an old one. Most importantly, the customers who love you the most—your Brand Lovers—spread the word and create new customers for you (just ask anyone who owns a Mac or an iPad).

Before you can embrace your Brand Lovers, you need to know who they are. Are all of your customers contributing equally to your profits? It’s unlikely. There are certain customers who choose you more often and purchase from you over a longer period of time (customer retention). These precious few are the lifeblood of your business.

Do you know who your best customers are? Without this knowledge, you can take yourself out of business or your competitors will do it for you. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to start cultivating brand loyalty and transforming your company into a Cult Brand with all the power and profitability that comes with that position.

Develop a Brand Lover Strategy For Your Business

As we’ve seen, there are many different types of marketing strategies. Naturally, different marketing strategies are appropriate for different businesses at different times and in different marketing conditions.

In our firm, we mainly focus on brand loyalty strategies because we have found (with the help of our clients) that this strategic focus works well in up and down markets. By focusing on your best customers, you continuously learn about your business is especially for and find ways to better serve these special customers.

These Brand Lover Strategies, as we call them, helps you differentiate your brand and make your competition irrelevant while guiding your business towards greater profitability. Put simply, it works.

The Brand Loyalty Affair


Marketing is the practice of allocating resources to gain awareness and consideration from future customers for purchase of a product or service. Marketing is about creating customers.

A brand is a relationship, formed and shaped by all the emotions and ideas that the customer associates with a product or service that create a distinct customer experience.

A brand is a co-authored experience—a mutual relationship that lives between the customer and the brand. Branding is the process of cultivating relationships with your customers on tangible (logos) and intangible (emotions) levels.

Brand loyalty occurs when your branding efforts are effective.  Your customers develop an emotional bond with your brand. They become loyal to your products and services. (Degrees of loyalty vary, of course. See “Brand Loyalty Continuum” section here.)

Why Building Brand Loyalty Is Important

When you help develop a strong bond between your brand and your customer, magic occurs. You can naturally increase customer retention. Frequency of purchase often goes up. You command a greater share of wallet from your customers as you become more meaningful to them and more worthy of a business relationship.

If you’re successful at building brand loyalty, your customers will help you grow your business themselves, helping you harness the power of word of mouth.

Do you need another reason? It can actually makes your business practices more fun and engaging as you’ll be building relationships with real human beings. It can make you feel more human too!

Attend Our New Marketing Seminar on Brand Loyalty

Building brand loyalty rarely happens by accident. Cult Brands are skilled at creating customer evangelists, but you don’t have to be a Cult Brand to reap the benefits of brand loyalty. You can model the marketing and branding strategies of Cult Brands by understanding the psychology of your customers: what drivers the behavior behind customer loyalty.

We’ll be exploring this topic in greater detail at our next Winter Marketing Seminar on December 6th at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando. This intimate seminar, “How to Build Brand Loyalty: The Art of Getting Your Customers to Love You,” will explore ways your brand can develop stronger emotional connections with your customers.

You’ll meet other like-minded marketers and exchange ideas to help you grow your businesses in this fast-changing marketplace.

Former Chief Marketing Officer of PetSmart, Ken Banks, will also be sharing how your company can develop a more resonant brand and reach more customers by understanding the four “Buying Styles” your customers have.

The Merchant Mindset, Brand Loyalty, and The Ferengi

An exclusive focus on the short-term bottom line is the hallmark of brands that will never be great. We call this the merchant mindset.

As long as your operation is too tightly focused on generating the next transaction, from the perspective of building brand loyalty, you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Let Go of the Merchant Mindset if You Want to be a Cult Brand

It’s good to be a Cult Brand, very good, indeed. But we’re not going to kid you: Transforming your organization means making some fundamental changes, starting with the way you think about your company and your customers.

Just as there are certain traits, qualities, and practices that unite Cult Brands, there are pervasive unifying tendencies that define companies that aren’t nearly as successful.

The big one—the stumbling block that sits directly in the middle of the path to greatness—is known as the Merchant Mindset.

(Star Trek fans, we can make this easy for you. Everything we’re about to say in this next section can be summed up with a Star Trek reference. The Merchant Mindset = The Ferengi.)

Winning the Battle, But Losing the Brand Loyalty War

There are people who will tell you that brand loyalty is a myth, a lie, a sheer figment of the capitalist imagination. These people (we hesitate to call them experts, because that implies a certain level of value in what they have to say) will tell you to do whatever it takes to squeeze one more sale out of your customer.

If that means cutting prices, cut prices. If lower prices necessitate lower quality, so be it. Customer service and support are expensive endeavors—operate both at bare-bones levels so you can be as profitable as possible. Nothing is off the table when you’re battling for the next sale.

This is all really, really bad advice. Sun Tzu said it best: “If a battle cannot be won, do not fight it.”

If you’re battling for the next transaction, you may win the day, but in the long term, you will lose everything. Customers who will choose you based on price will leave you for the same reason.

Kmart is standing on that battlefield right now. The retailer is notoriously famous for their cost-cutting strategies. Historically, they invest less in the shopping experience than any of their competitors, and it shows in their stores.

Kmart (and Sears, their parent company) are ranked #7 on 24/7 Wall St’s “Worst Companies To Work For” in 2013 list in part due to their low compensation and miniscule raises.

This cost cutting has resulted in prices that are comparable with Walmart. Yet, in market after market, customers have demonstrated that they’re willing to drive past Kmart to shop at Walmart, even if that decision added as much as 20 miles to their trip!

Kmart has the Merchant Mindset. Walmart doesn’t.

Businesses with passion and heart build relationships with their customers. There are decision-making factors that far exceed price, selection, and location.

A company like Walmart has been masterful at connecting with customers and offering them an intangible benefit they can’t get anywhere else.

Walmart made the customer its boss: this was founder Sam Walton’s personal philosophy and it’s been a fundamental principle guiding the company as it’s grown. Today, Walmart is the world’s leading retailer.

Kmart, on the other hand, isn’t. The brand’s market share has dropped off precipitously, going down faster than a Winnebago over the side of the Grand Canyon.

The Cult Brand Alternative

A pivotal moment happens in the life of a company when its leadership realizes that the Merchant Mindset is no longer serving the best interests of the brand and the long-term value of the business.

It takes courage, vision, and dedication in order to successfully change how your business operates. History has proven that it’s a worthwhile investment.

What Are Cult Brands?

Cult Brands have mastered the art of building meaningful, long-term relationships with their customers. Cult Brands exist in every industry. The list of Cult Brands includes companies that have absolutely nothing to do with computers or smartphones:

Did you notice: In each of these examples, we explained to you what the Cult Brands do. In every instance, the explanation was very likely totally unnecessary. You don’t need us to tell you what these Cult Brands do. They are generally so well known that both their branding and offerings have become part of our cultural knowledge.

Simply saying these Cult Brand names tends to evoke an understanding of the visuals and values associated with the brand. This is an understanding that transcends all of the barriers humanity uses to categorize itself into groups: socio-economic, cultural, even language.

Cult Brands aren’t born: they’re made. They all started life in relative obscurity. Steve Jobs planted the seed that eventually became Apple by selling computers he hadn’t built yet in order to raise the money to pay for the parts he needed to build the computers.

The first year that Harley-Davidson was in business, they sold three motorcycles.

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, went into business with a handful of matches he’d bought cheaply in Stockholm.

John Deere started with a single steel plow in Illinois.

Lots of companies have humble beginnings, yet few make the journey to greatness.

The Benefits of Being A Cult Brand

Being a Cult Brand gives businesses significant competitive advantages:

  • Cult Brands are perceived as being the high-value option within their industry; generally, they are the standard that their competitors are judged against.

  • Cult Brands tend to command premium prices, which has an obvious positive impact on profitability.

  • Cult Brands attract new customers at a higher rate than their competitors, and they keep those customers for a longer period of time.

  • Customers tend to do more business, more frequently, with Cult Brands, and they enthusiastically recommend the brand to their family and friends.

  • Cult Brands are the brands customers buy “automatically”: in many cases, they are not only the default option, they are the only option in the minds of their customers. Cult Brands command such fanatical loyalty that when, for whatever reason, they are not available, a customer might wait rather than switch to another brand.


Cult Brands Have Staying Power

Do you remember Beanie Babies? What about Mortal Kombat or TickleMe Elmo? Do Furbies ring any bells? What about America Online?

There’s a difference between fads and Cult Brands. People often get the two confused, but they’re really two very distinct phenomena.

Fads are short-lived bursts of extreme consumer enthusiasm, generally for a specific product or product line. Fads are typically youth-oriented, appealing mainly to teenagers and young adults. Fads have short lifespans, ranging from a few weeks to a handful of years.

Cult Brands enjoy sustained extreme consumer enthusiasm. This enthusiasm is not tied to a specific product or product line, but instead tends to extend to the entire organization, including their iconography and messaging.

Brand Lovers of Cult Brands can be any age. The appeal of Cult Brands endures. Many Cult Brands have been in existence for more than 40 years.

Cult Brands Are Not Infallible, But They Know How To Recover

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about what Cult Brands are, but it’s very important to understand what Cult Brands are not. Cult Brands are not perfect. To err is human, and business is fundamentally a human enterprise.

Every brand we talk about on this blog, and look to as an example of how to do things right, has also done things wrong—in some cases, really, really wrong.

Harley-Davidson is a great example. If you’re not a biker, you might think that Harley has always been a major player in the heavyweight motorcycle industry, and that they’ve always had the sterling (or perhaps chrome!) reputation that they enjoy today. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The sixties were a tumultuous time for America, and they were a terrible time for Harley-Davidson. There was a veritable flood of Japanese motorcycles entering the marketplace, featuring low prices and superior quality. At the exact same time, Harley motors, as a result of a cost-cutting sourcing decision, were becoming notorious for their poor performance and unreliability.

This was not a sustainable situation. Harley-Davidson was headed for that Great Big Junkyard in the Sky, but luckily for bikers everywhere, the brand had a strong core of Brand Lovers who were willing to step up and try to save the company they loved.

CEO Vaughn Beals, joined by a dozen of his colleagues, went all in to save Harley-Davidson. Their $81.5-million leveraged buyout was a bold move, and a big gamble. Would they be able to make the changes the brand had to make in order to recover the customer enthusiasm that had been lost?

You know the answer to this question. Today, Harley-Davidson is a dominant player in the heavyweight motorcycle industry. They control more than half of the domestic marketplace, and a third of the global. The company’s current valuation is $12.4 billion. Not a bad return on $81.5 million.

The Seven Golden Rules of Cult Brands

How did Harley-Davidson’s leadership team create this turnaround? They followed the Seven Rules of Cult Brands. We’ll be illuminating those Seven Rules in the weeks ahead. So stay tuned.