We have all heard of them. They are not brand loyalists. They are brand fanatics—Harley Davidson bikers who actually tattoo the company’s logo on their bare skin! And the ubiquitous “Mac lovers”! Say the magic word, “Apple”, in front of them and watch them go into rhapsodies about the superiority of the Mac over the PC!
Now, what makes a Harley Davidson or Apple user develop the kind of intense quasi-mystical belief in his brand that makes Queen Alexandra’s devotion to Rasputin seem like a schoolgirl crush in comparison?
Manish Bhatt (left) and Raghu Bhat (right).
Is it the advertising? The marketing programmes? Well, we think it’s a bit deeper than that. It probably comes from the philosophy of the creators of the brand who—somewhere deep down—want their customers to be, not just “satisfied” but, as successful and as self-realized as they themselves are.
And this manifests in their overall approach, which is focused on user experience rather than selling products. Cult brands like Harley Davidson don’t go about trying to “create” loyalty. Instead, they are engaged in a private dialogue with their customers all the time, which helps create a superior user experience.
As a result, the customers “choose” to give their loyalty. The customer is not an outsider. Brand fanaticism happens when customers approve not just of the product, but also of the way the brand runs its businesses and processes.
All cult brands understand the importance of making customers feel like family. There are also many similarities between the Macworld events, a twice-a-year love fest for Apple fanatics, and HOG (Harley Owners Group) meetings. Tens of thousands of customers gather together to share experiences, and celebrate the company and the impact it has on their lives.
Normal brands try to build a “relationship” with customers. Great brands try to build a ‘romance’. Virgin America serenades customers by making announcements that allow passengers wearing red—Virgin’s brand colour—to board the aircraft first.
Brands such as In-N-Out Burger allow fans of the burger joint to order from a secret menu that includes innovations such as “Animal Style” fries and “Flying Dutchman” burgers. In both cases, brand loyalists are rewarded by the companies they admire with special treatment, bonuses that are insignificant in terms of cost, yet huge demonstrations of intimacy between corporations and dedicated customers.
Conventional marketers need to watch out—even as companies are spending zillions introducing new brands and defending established ones, the fact is, customers are becoming less loyal. The only brands that are in with a chance are those that customers don’t just buy, but live by.
The authors are vice-presidents and executive creative directors, Contract Advertising (India) Ltd
As told to Anushree Chandran