Do You Have What it Takes to Become a Cult Brand?

Do You Have What it Takes to Become a Cult Brand?

Have you ever wondered why certain brands seem to generate fanatical followings that remain steadfast over time and in the face of stiff competition?

Let’s look at some well-known examples and then explore what makes them so special.


Back when Apple first debuted the iPhone in mid-2007, it was arguably the best (if not only) one of its kind. Sure, the Blackberry and several other lesser-known and less-capable brands preceded it, but the iPhone was “must have” technology. It was sleek, sexy, easy-to-use, and represented the cutting edge of the smartphone frontier.

A lot has changed in seven short years, though it’s hard to remember what the world was like prior to the iPhone. Nowadays, however, the iPhone’s performance and specs clearly make it “inferior” when compared to other smartphone options readily available at lesser prices, yet it remains at the top of the smartphone heap with a customer base as devoted and loyal as ever.

What Apple has created is not just a product; it’s not just a brand: it’s a cult brand.

Download the eBook 'How to Build a Cult Brand' Now!


Another example is Starbucks. In a blind taste test done by Consumer Reports back in 2007, McDonald’s coffee beat both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Tasters described Starbucks coffee as “strong, but burnt and bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open.”

Ouch. That had to hurt, right?

We all know the story. Starbucks ranks consistently as one of the world’s best-known and most valuable brands.

So what gives, what makes them so special? Why do these brands win with what seems to be an “inferior product?”


Like Apple, Starbucks has its own specific language, behaviors, and rituals. There’s an order to how they do things. Buying a coffee from Starbucks, much like owning an Apple iPhone or other Apple device is an experience that transcends the traditional merchant-customer relationship.

There’s a loyalty with customers that’s fanatical, that can’t be bought. There’s a sense of community, of belonging to the tribe.

When you arrive at a Starbucks, you know it. When you pick up an Apple device or visit an Apple store, you know it. There are certain sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and visuals you associate with each brand.


Linux is yet another example of a brand that’s “more,” especially for those who operate in the B2B space. For anyone unfamiliar with the Linux story, it’s an operating system created in 1991 by Linus Torvalds. It’s neither Apple nor Microsoft, but its own flavor.

Developed as open source and written entirely by volunteers, with programmers donating their time to maintain and develop it because they like it and believe in it so much, Linux has grown into one of most popular and well-known operating systems in the world (Amazon uses Linux, the White House, and the Department of Defense among other notables). It’s now found on 1 of every 3 Web servers worldwide—a true “David and Goliath” story (with Microsoft playing the role of Goliath), if ever there was one.


Clearly, it’s good to be a cult brand. While non-cult brands may enjoy high preference among their customers, they lack the devotion and loyal following cult brands enjoy. Their customers can be bought—at least their brand preferences can be. Show them a better product at a better price, and they just might switch. Not so with cult brand devotees.

What kind of brand would you prefer to be?

In a series of upcoming blogs, we’ll look at how cult brands build their loyal followings . . . and how you can too. In the meantime, if you’re ready to explore ways to create a cult brand, contact Elevator today.


More In This Guide: Cult Brands

Developing a Preferred Brand

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Frank Cowell
About the Author
Frank Cowell@frankcowell

Frank Cowell is President at Elevator, a digital brand strategy agency based in the San Diego, California area. He works regularly with CEOs, CMOs, and VPs of Marketing who are looking to create amazing brand experiences while driving inbound leads. A self-taught programmer with a deep understanding of technology, Frank enjoys a unique blend of brand development and marketing savvy that enables him to offer fresh perspectives on often-complex marketing concepts that he distills into actionable, easy-to-understand language. An energetic and entertaining speaker, Frank presents regularly to regional and national organizations on topics related to branding and digital marketing.

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