By Daniel Hickey
I have people ask me all the time, “What is it that allows huge brands like Apple, Starbucks, Beats by Dre, and countless others to create such a cult-like following?” While I could spend weeks talking about the many things that these brands do well, the simplified answer is this: The most successful brands in the world do not settle for having customers. Instead, they strive to take the relationship one step further by turning their customers in to converts.
The problem with having customers is twofold. Here’s the first part: Customers buy your product once. When they need a replacement, they purchase it from the newest, least expensive or most convenient provider. Here’s the second problem: Customers purchase your product, but they have little marketing value.
Now, let’s talk about what allows huge brands to create their cult-like followings – not by striving to create customers, but by focusing their attention on creating converts. We have all seen (and heard) Apple converts who have Apple computers, an iPhone, iPad, and just can’t wait for the release of the new iWatch in 2015.
I say “seen and heard” because these are people who are so outspoken about their belief that Apple products are superior that they resemble walking billboards for Apple products. Apple didn’t create these converts by focusing on the features and benefits of its products; it created them by appealing to an entire generation of creatives. Rather than going to market by telling the world about the processing speed and technical specifications, Apple focused on connecting with an entire group of individuals longing for something different out of their devices.
Furthermore, Apple sought to solve simple problems. Take the stylus, for instance, which always got lost by letting you use your fingers to interact with the original iPhone. Or, to eliminate the difficulty of importing your music to an MP3 player, Apple allowed you to connect iTunes directly with the device. They created a magnetic cord that wouldn’t break your device, should you trip over the cord in a coffee shop. The list of simple problems that Apple solved on behalf of techies all over the world number into the hundreds.
Where other great computer companies have only been able to gain single purchase customers, Apple has been successful in creating converts for life – and it all comes down to branding. The Apple brand appeals to those who view themselves as creative, innovative and cutting edge. When your brand appeals to people by saying, “Hey, our brand is just like you,” it is much easier to create a long-term convert who will help spread the message to others and keep that client for life. Simply saying we have the fastest processor or the brightest display may work for a while, but as soon as somebody one-ups your one-up, that customer will jump ship because they were not a convert.
Starbucks also gets it right when it comes to gaining converts. The brand knows that when people invite others to Starbucks for meetings, hangouts, dates, etc., talking about their coffee is the last thing those people will be doing. When you look at their genius advertising campaigns, they are not talking about the features and benefits of their coffee; they are appealing to the very nature of the converts they are seeking to create. The entire Starbucks message is based around being involved in connecting people over a cup of coffee, rather than the coffee itself. The idea of connecting is one that college students looking to have their study groups off campus understand, an idea that business networking professionals understand, and everybody who is looking to meet with a smaller time commitment than a meal understands. Because Starbucks created a brand around connecting people, it had an appeal far beyond that of a standard coffee brand.
Beats by Dre took the music scene by storm by introducing a product that wasn’t so much about the sound as it was being a part of a group of easily identifiable group music enthusiasts. People flocked to the brand because it was created by a music producer instead of a group of engineers in a lab. By branding the product as a wearable statement about your role in music, Beats by Dre was able to avoid the louder, clearer, tougher game that all other headphone brands were playing. When somebody is wearing Beats by Dre, they are saying they are a musician, involved in producing music, or a music enthusiast that is so serious about music that they are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a product that makes that clear.
In summary: If you want to create a cult-like following, stop trying to gain clients and start trying to gain converts. After all, what does Monster Energy or Red Bull have to do with extreme sports? Nothing – but by sponsoring and appealing to extreme athletes, those brands now enjoy tons of status among aspiring extreme athletes. There is a lesson to be learned here: A great product can gain customers, but connecting a group of enthusiastic techies, social butterflies, music enthusiasts, or extreme athletes can gain you converts who will spread your message to the world.
Daniel Hickey is the President of Hickey Marketing Group LLC and can be reached at (909) 851-2383 or at email@example.com.