Cult Brands Have Loyal Customers and High Profits

By BJ Bueno (


There are seven golden rules to become a cult brand:

  1. Consumers want to be part of a group that's different.
  2. Cult brand inventors show daring and determination.
  3. Cult brands sell lifestyles.
  4. Listen to the choir and create brand evangelists.
  5. Cult brands always create consumer communities.
  6. Cult brands are inclusive.
  7. Cult brands promote personal freedom and draw power from their enemies.

Before revealing to you nine of the most successful cult brands in history, I'd like you first to know of several major brands that are not cults. They are quite successful, but don't fall into the category of cults because they don't adhere to the seven golden rules.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Microsoft, Disney, Ford, Dell, and McDonald's are huge and wealthy, but they don't evoke the fire and passion in the customers that make a brand a cult brand. Cabbage Patch dolls, Razor scooters, and Swatch watches are also brands that haven't yet earned cult status, and probably never will.

The following nine brands definitely meet all the criteria for cult brands and follow all seven rules to the letter. Just consider the power and loyal following of these nine cult brands:

  • Oprah Winfrey
  • The Volkswagen Beetle
  • Star Trek
  • World Wrestling Entertainment
  • Jimmy Buffet
  • Vans Inc
  • Apple Computer
  • Linux
  • Harley-Davidson

All of these brands started with shoestring budgets and used guerrilla marketing to the utmost. They had no venture capitalists financing them during their early years. They started at the bottom and marketed their way to the top. Not one was born with a silver spoon in its mouth. And notice how different each cult brand is from each other. The only thing they have in common is their strict adherence to the seven golden rules.

Cult brands aren't necessarily the domain of big companies only. The truth is that it's the small companies with limited resources and big dreams that have the courage to dare to be different and are willing to take risks. That's who spawns cult brands.

We've all heard the adage that quitters never win; they just quit trying. Cult brand owners don't know the meaning of quit. They're fighters and they're survivors, even when their backs are against the wall. And don't think that achieving cult status takes a lot of money. When Vince and Linda McMahon created World Wrestling Entertainment, they treated their fans to meatball sandwiches which they personally made for those fans. That's going the extra mile -- something that all cult brands are willing to do.

Our society is totally addicted to brands. We even judge people by brands -- the car they're driving, the designer label on the clothes they're wearing, even the computer they use. Brands are spheres of influence and the most powerful ones win in the marketplace.

Not only do customers buy them, they also pick them if the price is higher, if their competition outspends them, and best of all, their customers talk about them -- even rave about them to anyone who will listen.

It sure doesn't happen instantly. Star Trek was on TV for only three seasons, then was cancelled. But it became the most popular syndicated show in history. Paramount has grossed hundreds of millions of dollars from Star Trek movies for over thirty years. It all happened because many Star Trek fans became brand evangelists.

Followers of cults, both benign and destructive, are astonishingly diverse. Ranging in age from eight to eighty, they cut across all ages, races, genders, creeds, and socio-economic backgrounds. That's because they all offer self-empowerment and self-fulfillment. Cult branders know that they're not just selling a product or service, but also a chance to fulfill their customers' dreams, passions, and aspirations. Those needs are ageless and timeless. Who drives Harleys? Hell's Angels do. But so do doctors, lawyers, CEOs, accountants, and other upwardly mobile professionals.

They attract loyal customers who become walking, talking viral marketers. They thrive in highly competitive environments. The only things they have in common is a devotion to their customers and to following the seven golden rules of cult branding.

When's the best time to create a cult brand? Try right now for starters. It's never too early or too late to create the kind of following that will give your brand the characteristics of a benign cult. It's not easy. But it is possible and incredibly desirable. I write this on my Apple computer, wearing my Van's.