- Courtesy of SoulCycle
It’s not easy to amass a cult following.
But some brands have managed to cultivate tremendous loyalty from their customers.
Bizarrely enough, others looking to emulate this sort of success look to actual cults for inspiration, cult expert Rick A. Ross told Business Insider.
Cults depend on strong ideologies, differentiating worldviews, and iconic leaders to hook their followers.
These brands have managed to figure all that out. There’s one brand on this list, though, that recently lost its formerly loyal following a major crisis.
Danielle Schlanger and Kim Bhasin contributed to an earlier version of this story.
- REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
The brand got a shout-out on a Harvard Divinity School document called “How We Gather,” crediting the brand for creating a strong community.
SoulCycle acolytes wait until the clock strikes 12 on Mondays to sign up for classes. There’s even an entire culture built around “earning” your way to the front row of the class.
“People talk about SoulCycle as a cult. My feeling is that SoulCycle makes you feel great,” the fitness chain’s founder, Julie Rice, told Los Angeles Magazine in an interview in 2014. “When we feel great, we become obsessed with what makes us feel great.”
- Flickr/Ali Samieivafa
Founder Greg Glassman explained to Business Insider that the brand amassed the following and community incidentally. The fitness company was featured in Harvard Divinity School’s “How We Gather” list, which pointed out notable groups that fostered strong communities. Glassman even spoke at the Harvard Divinity School last November.
CrossFit’s social aspect is very strong and is certainly crucial to its success. “The social level is a vital part of what’s happened, and it is why you might think this is a cult – you might think it’s a religion,” CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman said in an interview. “The values are simple though, and we believe they are salient lifestyle choices that will make a profound difference in your life.”
- Thomson Reuters
You don’t have to look much further than the hoopla surrounding every Apple product’s release to recognize that Apple has a very loyal following.
One way to amass a loyal following is to create a demon which the community can unite against.
“If you paint a picture of a threat from the outside – you demonize a local god or you demonize a competitor like IBM – you create solidarity amongst your community because you have to unify to fight against an external threat,” Douglas Atkin, author of “The Culting of Brands”, explained to Business Insider.
One criteria for a strong brand? To realize not everyone will like you, Atkin explained to Business Insider.
And Harley Davidson does that exactly.
“Harley-Davidson has a loyal, devoted following, because we have a 112-year history of building great motorcycles, and we’ve enabled a lifestyle that brings people together to celebrate personal freedom. Freedom is a global, human ideal that transcends age, gender, culture and race, and our customers want to experience it in their own ways through Harley-Davidson,” Mark-Hans Richer, Harley-Davidson Senior Vice President and CMO told Business Insider.
- Lululemon on Facebook
Lululemon has a tremendous following in part because it has managed to create a very strong community. Lululemon has established in-store yoga classes, organized exercise events, and its strong philosophies emblazoned across its shopping bags. Lululemon shoppers know they aren’t just wearing Lululemon – they’re a part of it.
On its website, Wegmans writes that in 2003, almost 5,800 loyal customers wrote “love letters” to the company, with almost half of the letters including pleas to build supermarkets in their communities.
One person on Tumblr posted a photo of a tattoo with the brand’s logo.
- REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Oprah Winfrey is more than a person – she’s a brand. Consider the “Oprah effect” – wherein what Oprah touches turns to (marketing) gold. Look no further than Weight Watchers. The day the media mogul invested in the brand last year, the stock skyrocketed .
Ultimately, she fosters a sense of positivity in consumers’ lives.
“Whether you like or dislike Oprah, you can’t argue with the fact that she really does care for people that are, ‘improving the lives of others.’ The halo effect the Oprah brand receives from these community activities is very real,” consulting firm The Cult Branding Company wrote on its website. “We all feel a certain warmth and quiet joy from helping others. Brands that bring about these feelings in us will almost always hold a special place in our hearts.”
WWE has a fanatical love-it-or-hate it appeal. In fact, controversial CEO of teen retail company Shopjeen Erin Yogaunsdram told Business Insider she looked to WWE’s strategy as inspiration for her company. Whether you love it or hate it, “you need to feel something about the product – they’re a really good example,” she said to Business Insider.
The Cult Branding Company pointed to WWE as a stellar example of a successful brand with a loyal following because it listens to its fan base, no matter how successful it gets.
- Ride Apart
People who love Vespa flock together – or try to find ways to hang out with each other.
On Meetup.com, there are dozens of groups in North America dedicated to Vespa riding and culture.“The San Diego Scooter Squadron” and“NYC Scooter Chicks” are among the groups inviting prospective members to join them for bike rides and tip-sharing.
- @chickfila on Instagram
Chick-fil-A has a tremendous following. People were willing to sit outside in New York City for a chance to win a year’s worth of free meals. Chick-fil-A runs this promotion at all of its new locations.
Chick-fil-A’s advantage is that it’s a cut about regular fast food, but it’s not in the same category as fast casual. “We tend to see ourselves as being kind of a premium fast food,” David Farmer, Chick-fil-A’s vice president of product strategy and development, said to Business Insider.
- angryjuliemonday via flickr
Coca-Cola, one of the most iconic brands ever made, has one really strange branding aberration: “Mexican Coke.”
Though branded the same as Coca-Cola, Mexican Coke enthusiasts swear that this version is far better than its American counterpart; perhaps this is because Mexico’s Coca Cola is made with sugar, while the American kind is nearly always sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.
There are a number of Facebook groups devoted to the superiority of Mexican Coke (including this one with 9,000 members) and those committed enough to finding this version stateside can sometimes score it at convenience stores catering to the Mexican community.
Vans has cultivated an entire lifestyle brand – look no further than the Vans Warped Tour. Vans also operates skate parks, which allows the brand to cultivate community amongst skaters.
“Vans uses the parks to continue to build an environment of collaboration and openness: Vans takes input from its customers about what it’s doing right, what it’s doing wrong, and how it can improve,” the Cult Branding Company wrote on its website.
- The Coca-Cola Company
Surge, the Coca Cola-made soda modeled after a Norwegian soft drink, has maintained its following, even though it was pulled from shelves in the early aughts. In its short, six-year lifespan, Surge was able to win over the hearts and taste buds of action sports enthusiasts (think Mountain Dew’s target audience).
Some loyalists are still actively campaigning for Coca Cola to have Surge make a comeback. “The Surge Movement: Dedicating to saving your favorite citrus soda,” a Facebook group and a website, urged members to call Coke’s headquarters in support of the soft drink.
- Travis Okulski / Business Insider
The Mazda Miata, a small, two-door convertible, is pretty bare bones in terms of amenities. But the $25,000 roadster enjoys a true cult following.
A 2001 Forbes article shared an anecdote where Reverend James S. Massie, Jr. presided over the “wedding” of 250 devoted drivers and their beloved Miatas, where car-owners promised to “love, honor, clean and provide after-market accessories for their vehicles.” At the end, Massie pronounced the duos “car and driver.”
- Instagram / Shake Shack
Shake Shack has an extremely loyal following – look no further than the long lines at the original location in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park in the summer – and the ferociously loyal commenters when Business Insider’s Dennis Green tried to find out if Shake Shack or In-N-Out reigned supreme.
Chipotle used to have an extremely loyal following…
- Flickr/ Collin Messer
…But it appears that consumers’ love for the former fast casual dynamo has eviscerated since the company has struggled with food safety issues recently, namely an E. coli breakout – to the point that sales have plummeted (same-store sales nosedived 29.7% in the first quarter of fiscal 2016). Arguably, die-hard fans felt betrayed by their beloved burritos (or they just didn’t want to run the risk of getting sick).
Prior to this downfall, people were absolutely obsessed with Chipotle – largely for how it proudly boasted its salient commitment to fresh, sustainable food. And who can forget Andrew Hawryluk, the man who ate Chipotle for 153 days straight (and had a pretty buff body to show for it)?
At Chipotle’s pinnacle, The Huffington Post highlighted “17 People who Took Their Love for Chipotle too Far” – including someone who ate a Chipotle burrito while skydiving, a baby dressed as a burrito, and a couple who went to Chipotle on their wedding day.
The once-loyal following could help, though. Tushar Parashar, marketing strategist at Vivaldi Partners Group, told Reuters that “People who are seriously loyal are easy to win over,” but for everyone else on the fence about the brand, “A free burrito is not enough to get you to come back.”