There are brands and then there are cult brands. While brands work hard to make their presence felt, cult brands defy all rules/norms of marketing and create a strong community which no other can match. Royal Enfield is one such instance.
Offering a uniquely masculine motorcycle with a signature ‘thump’ sound, Enfield has pulled off a legacy brand with its all-terrain heavy motorbike – Bullet (NB: Both Ashish & I ride bullets too). Royal Enfield has a very strong network of riders, service mechanics and of designers & modifiers who offer creative customizations on the motorcycle too. An ecosystem of its own. And a very social one.
Consider this: For bullets, root access to the machine is granted allowing imagination & development from the crowd to bring about new personalized offerings and thereby score upon individual’s talent. The process allows money generation too, for many businesses thrive on customization of bullet to instantly give it a retro & cooler-than-your-mate’s look.
Harley Davidson too is a cult brand with a similar business model that allows people-driven customization & word of mouth. In essence the “open-source” process between machine & man brings about a sense of pride to join the community of owners and yet present a unique identity which others could envy. It gives a feeling of having power – to display and control at one’s imagination.
So much application of social tools, albeit offline ones for the motorcycle business. And does social media form that essential ingredient in making of a powerful cult brand? One would argue that cult brands are built over long periods of time i.e. long term survival against the tides of time without conceding much to the evolving needs of generations (i.e. retention of key elements in the identity of the product). And both Enfield & Harley Davidson have had a rich past of over 100 years with close association with the militarized era of World Wars too.
But then there are thousand other brands which too have survived well over a century without evolving much, and are not anywhere close to cult branding at all. One wouldn’t die to own packaged food by John Heinz (Heinz industries), for example. Another case to look at is that of Apple, which has existed for less than half a century. Yet Apple enjoys cult status, whose fan-boys would swear upon anything to own their piece of meat.
Is such a quick accession of Apple to cult be attributed to the convenience of internet? Interestingly, both bike manufacturers recognized social nature of internet long time back & hosted their own online communities almost instantly at the dawn of web 2.0. Owners of Harleys & Enfields can spot and display heavy gear, custom bikes, share rider experiences and tips into the community of bike owners. It simply inspires journey-takers by looking at each other.
One can liken the ‘cult-branding’ process to open-source development with premium price on mind. Cult products are normally priced well above the industry level. A Price which makes or breaks the chances of becoming the cult brand. It is damn easy to fall into a commodity group, but for the defense of price. I have a question for NextBigWhat.com readers? Do Facebook or Twitter stand a chance in becoming a cult brand (for they are social charged applications too)? Or is their any pure web-based product which is cult today?
I am yet to find one (although WSJ does ring some bells), for probably one reason: Money. It is difficult to offer a product for which one can charge premium money, and that such a product cannot be offered on freemium model by someone else. And free approach leads to commodity status, and fails the test of achieving cult status.
In essence Cult Branding is achieved with following minimum attributes:
- The user experience (Business Basics)
- Promotion of Passion/Opinions (Social Media)
- Listen to the users (Social Media)
- Branding – build an experience around the brand (Business Basic)
- Less is cool..More is uncool (Business Basics)
- And finally, the product – Robust Design (Business Basics)
- Involvement in the community (Social Media)
- Show them what you do, how you do? Example: http://www.royalenfield.com/app/IN/company/Factoryvisit_form.asp (Social Media)
- Ego – satisfy it (Social Media)
- A daring price (The thin red line)
Have you got something Cult for the internet on your mind? It would not take a hundred years to do it, for sure.