From Laptops to Lattes - How Big Brands Create Cult Followings

We’ve all heard of fandoms, communities united by their shared passion for a specific element of pop-culture. But, perhaps more notable for marketers, are the communities united by their love of a brand… the brandoms, if you will. Lots of brands, like Nike, Starbucks and Apple have amassed cult followings (or brandoms) across the world. But what makes these brands so special? 

Well, they’ve each shaped a new community and culture. Take Starbucks who delivered American coffee-culture to the world, changing the way coffee was drunk from France to China. They introduced the notion of the coffee house, a place in which to relax, work and socialise, a simple concept that now dominates the mainstream. Of course, whilst being an innovator is a great way to gain fans, it’s also about how you nurture your fans as your brand evolves. We’ve taken a detailed look at Starbucks, Apple, Red Bull and Nike to discover how they keep their brandoms coming back for more.

For more tips and tricks on how to build brand communities, download our You Are What You Buy: Marketing to Global Tribes guide now. 

Starbucks

While some might argue that Starbucks’ heyday is behind them, the brand still has a huge global following of fans who’ll only drink Starbucks on their coffee break. These loyal customers can often be seen on Instagram, showing off their names scribbled onto a Starbucks paper cup.

Good Coffee Made Glocal

A huge part of the brand’s appeal, is that customers know exactly what they’re getting when they walk into a Starbucks, whether they’re in Beijing or Berlin. The look and feel of their stores, and the taste of their coffee, remains consistent. However, Starbucks also know how to appeal to local tastes. For example, in Canada, Starbucks sell a Maple Macchiato, made with Canadian maple syrup, and in Australia they’ve put Aussie Beef Pie on the menu.


Seasonal Selling

Customers love a change of season because it brings both a fresh start and familiar, comforting traditions. Starbucks tap into this, varying their menu with seasonal drinks. In fact, they’ve had a particular impact on autumn. How? The iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) which has become a marker for the start of autumn around the world. Starbucks play this up, building up to the PSL launch dates, posting PSL social content to celebrate the drink, using an ownable hashtag (#PSL) and creating new versions of the drink (Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew anyone?). Starbucks has become synonymous with the cosy, comfort of autumn, and this emotional marketing ensures that customers flock to Starbucks from September to September.

Local Digital Community

Starbucks implement strong community management strategy on social, especially on Instagram where they’ve created separate channels for each of their target markets (@starbucksuk, @starbucksrussia and @starbucksargentina for example) This means the content is tailored to each region, allowing everyone to feel represented. The content on their general Starbucks account is also a clever mix of community driven and brand focused. In between their designed posts, they repost UGC which keeps their feed looking authentic while nurturing thee community. All in all, customers feel part of the brand and therefore stay loyal.

Related Read: #BrandStrategy: Creating a Digital Community For Your Brand

Apple 

We’ve all been there, you try to tell your friend that Android is better than iPhone, but they won’t listen. At all. They’re an Apple fan, and these fans are hardcore. They’ll quite literally set up camp outside the Apple store in anticipation of the latest product release (even if their current iPhone is working perfectly fine.) So, how does Apple’s marketing strategy keep this community so keen?

iCollabs

To market their AirPods, Apple turned to influencers like dancer Hope Boykin. Boykin showcased the functionality of the headphones’ in-ear design by sharing content of her dancing freely while using the AirPods to provide a soundtrack. This collaboration felt relevant and genuine, something modern consumers demand. Also, by using a micro-influencer rather than a celebrity, Apple were able to tap into Boykin’s more focused following, ensuring their products made an impact on the right people.

Clean and Simple

Apple have always understood their target market, it’s the everyday people (students, teachers, creatives, business professionals etc.) who want to pursue their passions, making and doing great things with their tech. These customers like their tech products to be innovative, but not fussy. Apple adopts a clean and simple look and feel across all of their products, stores and marketing, ensuring that they always appeal to their customers’ tastes.

Ultimate Store Experience

Wherever you are in the world, the nearest Apple store always seem to packed with customers, and it’s easy to see why. From their New York store built under a glass cube, to their Barcelona store characterised by a minimalist take on Spanish lime-stone, Apple stores provide some serious architectural inspiration. And even if fans are just popping into a generic Apple store in the mall, a positive experience is still expected; the bar of Apple Geniuses are there to help, spacious and organised layouts don’t overwhelm and the free-to-use range of Apple products on display mean customers are always entertained. All in all, fans are kept happy by a great store experience.

Red Bull

So much more than just an energy drink, Red Bull have created their own community of curious adventure-seekers who want to experience all the world has to offer. And while it makes sense that this type of consumer might require an energy drink at times, why does Red Bull resonate with them so potently?

The Bigger Picture

More than just adrenaline fuelled action, Red Bull provides its community with a vast range of inspiring content. In fact, like Nike, Red Bull taps into lots of global subcultures and tribes, providing a platform for the voices of different cultures and communities around the world. They share personal stories about music, art, events and travel, therefore cultivating a mass community of curious thinkers.

Exciting Events

Red Bull Soap Box Race, Red Bull Cliff Diving, Red Bull Music Festival, Red Bull Gaming Sphere… Red Bull have taken the trend of experiential marketing to another level. Red Bull provide their community with amazing events for every occasion, all around the world. Many of their events are breaking world-records, like Red Bull Stratos, which saw the first human break the sound-barrier without using an engine. Thus, the Red Bull community is full of thrills, meaning fans never grow bored. 

 

Strategic Sponsorships

Of course, alongside other tribes, the extreme-sports enthusiasts are also more than catered for, especially since Red Bull aligns itself with some of the most exciting sports, sponsoring events like Formula 1, and supporting athletes like snowboarder Katie Ormerod. 

Nike


With one of the most recognisable logos and taglines in the world, it’s no wonder that Nike have amassed a huge cult following. You only have to walk down the street to see the ‘swoosh’ being worn with pride. So what’s the secret behind Nike’s brandom success?

The Power of Purpose

Nike claim that purpose moves them. Indeed, their marketing seems to be driven by a strong purpose, empowering people through sport, and thus makes an emotional impact on customers. Take the 2018 Just Do It Campaign, where Nike partnered with Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who refused to kneel during the national anthem in protest against racial issues still prevalent in the USA. Nike created an emotive ad campaign, with copy reading: ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.’ Whilst some railed against it, for many, this was a powerful move that captured the positive power of sports.

Related Read: Keeping it Real: How to Achieve Brand Authenticity

Nothing but the Best

Nike have collaborated with the best in the business from Michael Jordan (who promoted the ever-popular Air Jordans) to Tiger Woods and Cristiano Ronaldo, and that’s just naming a few. These famous faces are global icons and the top in their respective fields, meaning they help position Nike as a trusted brand. Shoppers therefore feel loyal to Nike, as buying their products means equipping themselves with the best.

Tapping into Tribes

More than just for sports, Nike has recognised the growing global trend of sportswear in fashion. Their @nikesportswear Instagram account celebrates the fashion aspect of their products, which resonate with the young, urban consumer tribe whose uniform is heavily influenced by sportswear. Equally, Nike are making waves with the gamer community, by live-streaming content on the hugely popular gaming channel Twitch and collaborating with Esports teams.

Key Takeaways:

  • Have a brand purpose
  • Collaborate with relevant influencers 
  • Cater to relevant global communities
  • Resonate both globally and locally
  • Make the most of seasonal marketing
  • Provide a one of a kind store experience
  • Make waves with exciting events
  • Look after your digital community

 

If you enjoyed this article on engaging nostalgic audiences, download our latest guide – You Are What You Buy: Marketing to Global Tribes. It’s packed full of marketing insights, including how to resonate with global communities, like fandoms and gamers.

 

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Natalie Thomas
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