In today's competitive environment, building a company is tough. While inbound marketing has created numerous opportunities to develop your brand identity, generating brand loyalty takes work.
Creating a cult-like following is part art and part science. The goal of your marketing efforts and corporate philosophy needs to provide consumers with a feeling of belonging to a family or club. This feeling gives them a sense of shared community, supported by an almost ritualistic behavior when interacting with your brand.
The Psychology Behind Brand Loyalty
When customers develop a sense of brand loyalty, they're building an emotional connection to a business. Not only do they feel like they belong, but they also get excited to represent a company in some way, as a fan and an advocate.
Human beings can be complex, which is why before you can earn this level of loyalty from your audience, you first need to better understand the psychological side of the consumer-business relationship.
From the company standpoint, you deliver value by crafting a consistently exceptional customer experience. Consumers start to develop positive associations with your brand and have a clear set of expectations every time they interact with your brand.
This powerful connection comes down to needs and actions, which is where Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Aristotle’s Seven Causes of Human Action come into play.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow's 1943 paper introduced this psychological theory on human motivation and development.
This theory suggests that human needs fall into six categories:
- Love and belonging
The concept is that these needs are hierarchical, and humans need to fulfill one category before moving up the pyramid to acquire the next need.
The first category – physiological – involves the basic essentials, like food, water, shelter, clean air, and clothing. Once you fill this need, you move to the second category, which is safety. These needs include family, stable employment, good health, and a sense of personal security.
Then, you need a sense of love and belonging, which is the third category. With strong friendships, intimacy, and other meaningful relationships with others, you're then able to seek the fourth category – esteem. This is where you cultivate confidence, respect for and by others, and feelings of recognition and freedom.
The first four layers of the pyramid are referred to as "deficiency needs," meaning if you don't have them, then you experience tension and anxiety. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, where you seek personal growth and realizing your full potential, which is a highly personal experience.
Each category becomes less essential to human survival as you move up the pyramid, but they all play a role in the human experience on an emotional level. Marketers focus on each level and strive to address these needs for consumers.
Aristotle’s Seven Causes of Human Action
What causes humans to make decisions and take action? This is a timeless consideration that Aristotle sought to answer in his treatise called Rhetoric, which dates back to the fourth century BCE. One of his most noteworthy quotes appears in this publication:
"All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire."
This applies directly to the customer experience, where you can boil down buying decisions to seven causes.
Customers can sometimes happen upon something your company offers by chance, without any fixed purpose behind it. They might stumble upon a brand and buy something without a clear motive.
Sometimes, there is a force of nature influencing a customer's decision to buy something. For example, hunger might cause you to eat at a nearby restaurant.
Often times, buyers will simply act on instinct and desire, making an impulsive decision to buy a product or service. Perhaps an irrational behavior moved someone through the buyer's journey, without any feeling of clear desire or rational thought. But regardless of the impulse, the purchase is made on their own terms, not simply by chance
Humans are habitual by nature, so sometimes they purchase things based on their previous patterns of buying. For example, if you always shopped at a supermarket nearby, you're likely to stay in that habit and continue shopping there for the sake of consistency and comfort.
At some point, a buyer makes their decision after determining the product or service will be useful for them. In other words, they've thought about it, researched it, and identified a rational motivation to make the purchase.
Emotions fuel decision making for people sometimes, so when they're triggered by an emotional experience, they feel compelled to buy. A purchase is tied to satisfying their feelings in some way.
Without rational thinking and reasoning, people can feel overcome with an intense feeling of wanting and desiring. Buyers simply want something (like a kid wanting a candy bar they see near the checkout line) and the purchase creates a positive feeling, often one of satisfaction.
These psychological theories are important to understand when you're aiming to foster loyalty. Companies that appeal to the inherent needs of humans and that touch on the causes behind action win big by developing customer loyalty and brand loyalty.
Customer Loyalty vs. Brand Loyalty
These terms, while closely aligned from a conceptual standpoint, are often considered to be interchangeable, but there's actually a distinct difference between the two.
Customer loyalty centers on the consumer and the power they have when it comes to their personal spending. Money plays a big factor in customer loyalty. If you're offering the lowest prices and best deals, customers will stick with your company.
On the other hand, brand loyalty is achieved through the customer's perception of a brand. How they perceive companies is less about pricing than it is about other important aspects – a company's reputation, the customer's experience they already have with a company, the company's marketing efforts, overall messaging, and much more.
These two concepts are equally important and have a major impact on your business as a whole. With competitive pricing and consistent special offers, you can develop customer loyalty.
And by staying true to your company's values and delivering high levels of quality in your products and services while serving and supporting your customers well, you earn brand loyalty. At this point in the customer experience, they don't feel a need to check out your competition because you consistently provide value for them.
When you can achieve both these levels of loyalty, your customer retention soars. You even turn happy customers into loud and proud advocates who are happy to refer other potential buyers to your company. And the ultimate level of loyalty is attained when your community of customers (and some may even call them "fans") reaches a cult-like mentality.
23 Brand Loyalty Examples
A cult-like brand is one that delivers a superior level of customer loyalty. Beyond that, customers feel a sense of ownership with the brand and its products, and no other brands can compare.
A cult-like brand doesn’t just fizzle out like a fad; its customer loyalty is sustained over time and continues to build a close-knit community of dedicated followers. In the end, these brands not only provide customers with a product, but a lifestyle they can continue to embrace for a lifetime.
True fanatics will not only remain loyal to your brand, but they will also tell their family members, friends, and social networks why. Loyalty even yields more revenue – research found that a staggering 43 percent of U.S. customers spend more with the brands and companies they are loyal to.
There are many ways to build that type of brand loyalty, from simple acts of kindness, like donating a portion of profits to organizations that are important to your consumers, to creating a social sense or organization around the brand.
Here are 23 examples of companies that embody the term brand loyalty and, in turn, have developed a following like no other.
Apple is the epitome of a cult brand. Since the beginning, they've built machines that are designed around their customers needs. They're constantly seeking feedback and engaging in conversations with customers about new products.
As a result, Apple provides users with the features they want and has built a loyal community.
Amazon has grown into the largest online shopping destination by creating a magnificent customer experience.
From allowing customers to provide feedback, to free returns and fast shipping, Amazon embraces the phrase, “The customer is always right!”
Since their beginning, Lululemon has strived to be more than just a workout gear shop. In their own words, they “wanted to create a community hub where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living, mindfulness and living a life of possibility.”
Lululemon’s ambassador program continues to support local athletes and inspirational people building stronger communities. They currently have over 1,400 ambassadors – talk about a passionate community!
IKEA designs products based on customers needs. They don't just conduct surveys; they visit people's homes to see how they live. For example, after visiting customers in Italy and the U.S., IKEA saw that U.S. customers rely on drawers for clothing storage more than in Italy.
The result? Deeper drawers in their American products.
5. Dunkin' Donuts
When it comes to coffee, there are two big brands that come to mind. One of them is Dunkin’ Donuts (soon to be renamed Dunkin’). They have been serving up their cup of Joe since 1950 and haven't looked back since.
What originated as a donut and coffee shop has evolved into much more than just your average coffeehouse. With plenty of menu offerings, it’s clear that Dunkin’ has evolved and changed with the times to satisfy their loyal customers. Their DD Perks constantly encourage customers to buy their products.
The other large coffee brand that comes to mind is Starbucks. Starbucks not only creates quality products, but they also make it easy to purchase. Their “Order & Pay” feature creates an in-app experience that can recall your favorite orders, suggest pairings, and guess where you'd like to pick it up, making it easier to get your morning cup of coffee.
Their rewards program is a strategic way to boost sales while thanking loyal customers for always choosing them. When members spend a certain amount and gain a certain number of "stars," they receive a free drink or treat (score!).
7. Jimmy Buffet
Sure, he's a musician and an entrepreneur, but he's also a $100 million a year brand! Buffet has created something larger than simply music — he's created a lifestyle.
Whether it's from his albums, concerts, or restaurants, “parrotheads” enjoy a temporary escape into the land of fun.
8. Harley Davidson
This iconic American brand uses grassroots and guerrilla advertising to make their customers feel like a part of the family. In 1983, the launch of the Harley Owners Group (or H.O.G.) was a grassroots way to connect Harley's brand and lifestyle with its most fanatic customers.
Today, this company has sales of $2.9 billion and a 25% market share in the U.S.
Since its debut in 1964, Nike shoes have been spotted on the feet of high-profile celebrities, athletes, and the everyday person.
With limited editions, collectibles, and hype launches, Nike has built a community of shoe-lovers who want to be a part of something bigger and "just do it." With the ability to customize sneaker colors on its website, everyone can walk away a happy customer.
10. Saturday Night Live
For 43 years, SNL has been creating laughter and making strong social commentaries in the world of politics and pop culture.
While the cast may be the backbone of the show, and they've had some weak seasons, their use of special guests has worked to keep the brand relevant and credible – and their fans have stuck around for decades!
SoulCycle's mission statement says it all: "At SoulCycle we believe that fitness can be joyful. We climb, we jog, we sprint, we dance, we set our intention, and we break through boundaries. The best part? We do it as a community."
When you work out at SoulCycle, you are a part of an inner circle that has the same interests and goals. Everyone from the staff to the other members are on your side.
SoulCycle also takes customer feedback very seriously. According to co-founder Elizabeth Cutler, customer feedback has influenced everything about how SoulCylcle looks and functions, and even how the studios smell.
Another fitness business with a cult-like following, CrossFit reaches their customers through great marketing.
And like SoulCycle, it taps into their members’ desire for community. Their messaging reads more like a “movement” that encourages ownership in their brand.
13. The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Ok, Ellen might not technically be a business, but since 2003 this multi-millionaire has built an unbreakable bond with her audience, and tuning into her show has become a lifestyle for millions of viewers around the world.
Her joyful attitude, love of scaring celebrity guests, and constant giveback to the community and those who are striving to make it better has gained her a following like no other TV host.
14. Southwest Airlines
For Southwest, brand loyalty starts with their employees. In fact, they're profitable because of them. Customers on Southwest are treated well, and the employees’ state of mind and attention makes them feel like they're a part of something bigger.
As a result of their employees, Southwest experiences fewer lost bags, fewer delays, and more loyal customers!
15. Dollar Shave Club
This is a relatively new addition to cult-dom. Dollar Shave Club has built their brand into every product they sell. From their logo to their emails to their packaging, they are consistent across all media.
They sell a message that hits home and builds brand loyalty... quality products at affordable prices.
For decades, Coca-Cola has garnered a following through its ability to bring happiness to people around the world every day. With 50 million worldwide Facebook fans, Coke engages with them in a quest to find a way to make the world a better place.
Its “Share a Coke” campaign actively encourages a positive community of people who get along – you can even order Coke cans with customized names on it, meaning no one is excluded from this community.
GoPro makes high quality, easy-to-use video cameras. By adding user-generated content on their website, it has given users a sense of ownership and built a huge following of loyal fans.
GoPro's social media presence resonates with its audience and inspires adventure and creativity.
18. Star Trek
Star Trek has produced nine motion pictures, five different TV series, dozens of books, and hosted endless conventions. None of this would have happened without the support of the fans.
To date, the franchise has grossed hundreds of millions of dollars based solely on the efforts of their fans. Talk about a loyal customer base!
19. Dos Equis
The most interesting man in America is a brilliant campaign that created quite the following for Dos Equis. Their messaging speaks directly to the buyer's need of self-actualization and esteem.
All men envy and strive to emulate this character. His life is rich in stories and experiences, and consumers want to relate.
20. Volkswagen Beetle
One of the best selling automobiles of all time didn't start out that way. When first introduced to America, the Beetle was not well received.
In the 1960s, Volkswagen took a novel advertising approach. While the big three were all advertising their vehicles with slick ad copy and boastful claims, VW's ads were frank, honest, and direct, winning consumers with their approach. As a result, VW became a magnet for those who saw themselves as being “different,” and an icon was born!
21. The MINI Cooper
Taking a page from the VW playbook, MINI set themselves up as “something different.” In a world of gas guzzling SUVs and cars getting bigger every year, MINI came along and prided itself on being smaller. They've positioned themselves as a cult brand by celebrating individual drivers and building customer communities to bolster the brand experience.
22. The Motley Fool
Lovers of this brand are committed to saving for retirement and managing their money responsibly, but they are loyal thanks to the culture of freedom and fun this brand brings to the process.
23. Ben & Jerry's
From the humble beginning, Ben & Jerry's has grown to a worldwide brand. But they create more than just delicious ice cream.
The brand's consumers love the ice cream, but thanks to the company's eye on progressive causes and social awareness, they also enjoy the message being delivered.
Earning Cult-Like Followings Through Brand Loyalty
Whether it's building a sense of community or providing outstanding customer service, each of these 23 brands have built quite the following. And that community building takes a lot of time and resources.
When thinking about how your brand can stand out from the crowd, look to these methods and brands for inspiration. Brush up on the psychological needs and emotional triggers that dictate how your target audience makes decisions and how they purchase products or services they need.
Hitting the right notes throughout the buyer's journey and customer experience helps foster customer loyalty and brand loyalty. Get started on turning your happy customers into cult-like advocates.