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Zombies contribute approximately over $5 billion dollars to the US economy every year. If you were to look at Klingons, Muggles, Ewoks, and Optimus Prime from as an economic line item you might find in the accountant’s ledger notes – “So long and thanks for all the merchandise!”
Why is that some Brands can capture an almost cult-like status while others remain undistinguished and indifferent in their ability to engage emotionally with consumers?
In the 1970’s InterBrand, a global brand consultancy that today publishes the internationally referenced “Best Global Brands List”, was born out of an Economic Value Add methodology that saw a direct financial value of a brand’s relationship to the final purchase decision. The concept that a brand could be placed on the books as an asset and quantified, regardless of market, based upon factors that included it’s ability to “influence customer choice, engender loyalty; to attract, retain, and motivate talent,” indicated that there was value in brands developing human-centred emotional relationships.
Franchising more than any other business model works on Brand Value being a key determining factor in selling more franchises. So how can companies capture the “cult-like” brand devotion of civil consumers that can slay zombies in a 5K run on Saturday and breed devoted Franchisees on Monday?
You can start with these 7 Tenants of what “Cult Brands” have in common:
1. A community united by a transcendental story
‘A Long Time ago in galaxy far, far away’ – there is not a fan around that does not get goose-bumps when they see this blue text fade in on a black screen. Regardless of whether you dress up for Comic Con or not, you just know there is something epic happening next and forever after. Every Brand needs the larger story so the community of people following it can get on-board in an emotional way.
2. A Code or Set of Governing Principles
Part of knowing the story is also knowing the context, because if you want to be in the club you should at least know the “Prime Directive – No Starship May Interfere with The Normal Development of Any Alien Life or Society.” It is like knowing the secret handshake and you suddenly have privileged knowledge. It also makes it way easier to have exclusive Twitter parties, Instagram Shares and engaging promotions if everyone has a ‘secret’ mission in common.
3. A Culture and Lexicon
You know that Jim Croce song “You don’t pull the mask off the Lone Ranger & You Don’t Mess around with Jim – Jim Kirk that is.” – Every highly devoted fan-bases self identify with the vocabulary, the roles and culture of conduct that knit Brand engagement together. It is a way to self-regulate the community keep it organized, authentic, familiar, safe and pure. In a nutshell you need a background, a meeting place around communication in order to have a meaningful relationship with the Branded Universe.
4. An Initiation
There comes a time that every brand follower will cross the line and enter into a full on engagement and thus a new level of loyalty. When it comes to Apple they have this mastered this after the point of purchase. Remember opening up your iPhone box for the first time, where did you stick the white Apple sticker when you were done? It is just a matter of time after this before you decide to take the Red Pill, are heading to Palo Alto for your “I visited the Apple Campus. But that’s all I’m allowed to say.” T-Shirt. To have loyalty you need on-going rituals to deepen the attachment people have to the Brand.
5. A Hierarchy
From your customer’s viewpoint – They are in. They made it. Now it is time to set goals. You’ll need to help your newly initiated consumer figure how to position themselves within the community. Are they a Muggle or A Wizard? At this point offering a Brand vocation survey may be in order to determine what group your consumer needs to align with in the Brand community. Do they follow the Brand on Twitter, Facebook, do they Pin about it… Are they a real fan that is going up-hold and carry the community or just a quiet observer that works in the background? Regardless at some point the customer hopes they’ll be called-out for all their hard work – think FREE Brand stuff – and now they have a perceived status that could be greater than the one they have outside the Brand Community.
6. A Set of Governing Archetypes
Archetypes were identified by Carl Jung and are symbolic representations of common characters that are used throughout mythology and story. They are important because people often see themselves as The Hero, The Rebel, The Princess and so on. – This is the critical point where individual Brand Followers become your beloved Brand Influencers and turn their relationship into a long-term commitment. Once a customer can visualize your Brand fitting into their persona, the emotional connection is forever forged. Think Nike – the Athlete. Think Harley-Davidson - the Rebel. Think Star Wars – the Jedi Master.
7. A Vision For The Future
Finally, people want the Brands they emotionally invest in and bring into their lives to be part of a larger picture. By selecting the Brand, the story, the characters they are essentially choosing to be part of this larger vision the Brand stands for. The strength of the vision – such as the Star Trek’s equality for all – allows the Branded Franchise to transcend generations, cultures and thus add to it’s extended longevity. Purpose driven organizations that are creating meaningful solutions and experiences for the greater good automatically transfer that into their Brand. Who would not want a future that embodies the best that our culture and humanity can achieve?
A great Brand is great business – just ask George Lucas, Disney, NASCAR… Great Brands have iconic characters. The how and why an organization builds its Brand goes beyond the 7 Tenants listed above but certainly understanding some of the moving parts is a good place to start to understand the translation of brand engagement to brand equity. May the force of branding be with you!