Early Morning Packing / Cult Brands

Vacation is over. Had a super time in New Orleans. It was a whirlwind 24 hours, but well worth it. But now, it’s time to go back to work. This morning I leave for Maryland again to finish two projects. Hopefully this is my last necessary trip back up there.

I’ll be computer-less during these next ten days, so my entries might be sporadic, but don’t get disheartened and leave my little blog for good. I promise I’ll update, if and when possible, so keep making your daily visits.

I received my latest edition of Quixtar’s Store for More catalog in the mail a few days ago. I was dissapointed that they discontinued offering a few pieces of “living room” furniture in this edition. (I’m in need of a loveseat and recliner for the new “family room” and I always liked their furniture layouts) Guess I’ll seek something offline or pay a visit to their Partner Store site. There might be something for me at one of the other Partner merchants at Quixtar.

But that brings me to the second part of today’s entry. Am I being cult-like because I chose to look at Quixtar first?

BusinessWeekOnline is running an article on “Cult-Branding”. (If you have an AOL connection, the article text is here, without registering at BusinessWeekOnline.) Why do people insist on preferring one brand over another? Do “Apple” people really buy Apple Computers because they do something different from a Windows computer? Can everyone be drinking coffe at Starbucks because it really is worth the almost 7 bucks for a cup? And aren’t there much better motorcycles on the market other than Harley-Davidson? (Well, not in my opinion)

Here’s a clip from the article:


The goal: to foster a sense of shared experience and of belonging. Starbucks Chairman Howard D. Schultz balks at the notion that his brand, which ranks 98th in our survey and jumped 12% in value this year, is about selling various iterations of coffee. Says Schultz: “The product is the experience.” His shops may sell latte, but what people really crave is the hip, relaxed ambiance, the music, even the baristas who remember the regulars’ favorite concoctions. Sounds crazy? Not to student Amy Berkman. Approach her at her favorite New York City outlet and she lets forth a stream of opinions on everything from ideal chair configurations in the store to the type of mustard they should use on their ham-and-cheese sandwiches. “Something more tangy and grainy would work better,” she says, sipping on her daily chai latte. She cares because this is where she hangs out with her friends. Berkman doesn’t like coffee; she likes the experience of being at Starbucks.

The brands that have managed to build cultlike followings have done so by being, well, cultlike, at least in some aspects. They are self-consciously different from rivals. They’re bound by a set of clearly defined and rigorously enforced values. And they fulfill a range of needs for their members — er, customers. The fastest-growing ones often project a an aura, an attractive group identity. Conjure up an image of an Armani customer or a Porsche driver and it will evoke a set of personality characteristics as much as it evokes a product preference. They also beget proselytizers — customers who will chat up the brands to their buddies, set up Web sites, attend events, and proudly identify themselves as adherents, according to strategist Douglas Atkin of ad agency Merkley & Partners, who recently wrote The Culting of Brands. Nobody has to pay them. They are owners as well as customers.

The classic example of a cult brand is Harley-Davidson. The 101-year-old brand gained 4% in value this year to $7.1 billion. Sure, there are new models like the sleek V-Rod line and fresh features aimed at wooing women, but the real buzz comes from the 886,000 members of the company-sponsored Harley Owners Group. They’re the ones who organize rides, training courses, social events, and charity fund-raisers. They pore through motorcycle magazines and wear the Harley-branded gear to feel more like rugged individualists and outlaws when they hit the road on weekends. A quarter of a million of them descended on Milwaukee last Labor Day to celebrate the brand’s centennial. No wonder more than half of new Harley sales are to current customers who are trading up. The brand is self-reinforcing.

It doesn’t take a cool category like motorcycles to yield a cult brand. Some are found in far more mundane sectors — like furniture retailing. In Shanghai, Wang Jian Shuo runs a Web blog that, among other things, delves into his likes and dislikes with No. 40 Ikea, the Swedish furniture chain that offers modestly priced, ready-to-assemble furniture with cute names. He writes about everything from the 12 cents ice cream cones in the store cafeterias to how, as a newly graduated student in 1999, he spent his first month’s salary on a “Billy Bookcase.” Notes Wang: “Ikea seems to know my life better than any other furniture brand.” Among those posting responses to his musings are a Malaysian fan who started his own Ikea forum and another who makes jokes about Swedish meatballs.

Anyway, those are my early morning thoughts, I hope to see everyone at least once or twice this week. In the meantime, Think Creative and Think for yourself.

About Dave Robison

Now Appearing in an Extended Engagement! Join Dave Robison as he takes you into his world and his daily life of reviving a stand-up comedy career. Prepare for side trips exploring Public Relations, marketing and business ethics. Enjoy some frequent detours describing his observations on life. Read the exploits of this self-proclaimed Renaissance-man and blooming blogger as you go On The Road With Dave. From Mobile, Alabama comes Dave Robison, a confessed Internet-aholic, middle-aged-married-man, who's generally a nice guy--he just has one or two issues. Stand-Up Comedy by Dave Robison is available for corporate events, college campuses, and nightclubs.
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3 Responses to Early Morning Packing / Cult Brands

  1. me says:

    Hi Dave! Love your blog. We employees here at Quixtar wish everyone felt the way you do — however you want to term it! (we tend not to like the cult word, in any context).

    My blog is quixtatic.blogspot.com. Hope you can check it out when you return from your current travels.

  2. Eric says:

    Vincent, more people feel like Dave than you may think.

    By the way, how do you, as a Quixtar employee, feel about Dave building his business completely without tools and without signing the BSMAA?

  3. Eric says:

    Oh yeah, and cult brands are great. Why so squeamish with the “cult” word? Why not embrace if it it applies?

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