The Loyalty Continuum

Most companies try to build brands that no one will hate instead of brands some people will love. Most marketers live in a world where they are constantly searching for the flashy, the splashy—in short, the trivial, often-meaningless brouhaha that has very little to do with the core of the brand.

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

To help illustrate, let’s map various brands on The Loyalty Continuum:

No Brand Land: No Brand Land is wrought with challenges, and this is a place most small businesses find themselves. Companies in No Brand Land are often stuck working in their business rather than on their business, and they don’t ever develop a solid idea of who they are, what they offer or stand for, or how they can improve their customer experience. These companies tend to change what they offer—and who they are—at the first sniff of a new or different (often perceived as “better”) opportunity, and they don’t have any goals related to the customer relationship; their business is typically “all about them”—their service offering, the “extra buck” they can make, or the new challenge they want to conquer (without regard for how it affects their niche in the marketplace.

Leaky Brand: These companies have set up the basic identifiers: they have a name, a recognizable logo, a tagline, and perhaps a few other pieces of business collateral (brochures, etc.), but ultimately, they haven’t discovered ways of being distinct, memorable, or necessary to their customers.

Average Joe Brand: Here we enter the world of large companies who have marketing departments that actively advertise and sell to their customers. They often take their brand messages in too many directions, which dilutes their brands because of inconsistency and confusion to their customers.

Iconic Brands: Iconic brands are all around us. We shop them and love them—they are part of our culture. They’re easily recognized by their logo. These brands usually spend a lot of marketing money and are constantly monitoring their image and public perception. These iconic brands are top of mind brands and often dominate market share of a category: McDonalds, Microsoft, Dell, Coke, Pepsi, and American Airlines. Many national retail chains have loyal customers, but they don’t occupy an irreplaceable position in the consumers’ hearts.

Cult Brands: Cult Brands are in class of their own as they have mastered the art of building lasting and meaningful relationships with their customers. In the world of Cult Brands, the customer is not only king, but is part of the family. When you buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle, you are not just getting a bike—you’re getting a membership into The Club. These brands have no competition. They rule their customer-defined category. There are no substitutes for Oprah, Vans, Linux, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Harley-Davidson, Apple, Star Trek, Jimmy Buffett, and Volkswagen Beetle. These brands are profitable even in the most adverse market conditions because of the powerful relationships they’ve forged with their customers.

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