The Cult of Personality of Sports and Outdoor Brands

02.07.13 / Diana Fryc

“Build it and they will come.” That’s what many brand owners think. Producers and retailers hope that cash infusions, quality products or glitzy retail environments, and a marketing campaign are going to result in fame, fortune and fandom.

Hope isn’t a strategy.

Glitz, glamor and gimmicks are short lived memories, and will not result in an indelible brand identity. The best way to get a cult status for a sports and outdoor brand is to employ a tactic of disruptive branding. Employ a surprising and fresh strategy and follow through.

There’s real potential with so many consumer and retail brands—that ought to be rock stars—so why don’t they make it to the top? The answer: too much competition and way too much sameness. It’s up to the game changers out there to step up to the plate; to change the world or stand apart from it. What’s at stake: making a huge mark or accepting mediocrity.

This is all about finding the very heart and soul of the brand, the true differentiator, and shining a spotlight on it, by conveying this difference to your customers. . But it doesn’t just happen. There needs to be a collusion of ideas and key identity component to come together. Think: synergy. We’re talking a soulful, one-of-a-kind branding and positioning. Bought into from the C-Suite, trickled down to every employee,leading to a seamless, holistic brand strategy and all-encompassing design strategy. One that covers packaging, marketing communication, advertising, promotions, and store environments. All in unison. A mesmerizing brand voice to its fan cult.

All of it leading like the Yellow Brick Road to a magical Oz of unforgettable customer experiences. The kind that turns customers into rabid fans (read: fanatics.) The kind that creates buzz that spreads like wildfire, attracts more fans and forms a religion around the brands that get it right.

  • the difference between the average yoga clothing brand and Lululemon
  • between Cabela’s and the myriad of discount sporting good stores

Why aren’t scads of yoga gear brands as hot as Lululemon? Yoga’s hotter than hot; most yoga brands are not. Why is that? Lululemon’s selling pricey yoga apparel and gear. Sure. But the focus—like a laser beam—is on total customer experience. Hosting yoga classes (retail environment as an ongoing destination) filled with yoga fanatics and moms dabbling in the art. But it’s the way Lululemon does it. Weekly classes are free just like the “gift” of well-being to its fans. Local yoga teachers preach the Gospel of Lululemon to their flocks.!

Lululemon’s holistic brand wears its heart on its sleeve and bares its soul: inspiring and invigorating its fans, who need and want Lululemon and consciously make it a lifestyle choice. Translation: they totally identify with the brand. They belong. They’ve formed a special community with like-minded souls, themselves rabid fans: it’s a cult.

This is so basic, so human and so universal; it makes us wonder why many totally ignore it.

Then there’s Cabela’s, the self-described “ World’s Foremost Outfitter of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear” with a unique brand, offering unforgettable experiences for outdoor enthusiasts. Its retail stores are destinations and worlds of their own. Museum-quality displays of wildlife, large aquariums, indoor mountains, and archery ranges educate and entertain; meccas for a cult of outdoorsmen who share experiences and knowledge with each other. And with informed, avid staff who share their passions and  help them to outfit for their next outdoor adventures. The story-telling and the legend grows. There’s the magic.

The unique brand experience is seamlessly delivered in retail company catalogs, online and now in specially designed mobile apps. There’s the science behind the magic. As the Cabela Cult moves to new outdoor experiences, the brand is everywhere the cult is. The legend grows. . .

What’s best part about the Cabela’s brand?

The remarkable, fanatical devotion to consistently deliver the brand vision of its founders—since 1961. How many outdoor brands have that staying power? We all know the answer to that question. Moral of story: got a great brand that delivers extraordinary customer experiences? Maintain it. And keep on sharing it with your loyal fan base through strong stories, meaningful symbolism and well designed experiences.

So your brand isn’t Lululemon or Cabela’s. What to do?

Should other brands become imitators of the leaders? Never. Every brand is one of a kind. Getting to the heart and soul and projecting it in a unique brand voice: it’s a galvanizing call to fans.  Digging deep and telling the story turns fans into a brand cult. But only when fully engaging them in memorable experiences: that’s what makes magic. It’s all done with the science of branding and the art of design. Coming together– in perfect harmony.

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