Brand Purpose: The Key to a Cult Following

It’s no secret that everybody yearns to be a part of something greater than themselves, their loved ones and their work. But it does seem to be a secret to many brands.

So let us tell you: not only can brands do well by doing good; they can, in fact, create devoted, avid cults around them if they commit to a deeper mission or raison d’etre. People respond to brands that inspire, give back and work for more than profits.

Who doesn’t want to support brands that do good things within their communities or to the larger world community? Some brands that started small grew in a big way due to the quality of their product, their business practices, and their philanthropic bent. Don’t kid yourselves: all of these things matter.

For example, Ben & Jerry’s support of environmental and social causes is legendary; it goes to their earliest days and the heart of their brand. They also practice sustainability within their business and give back to the local community. The consistent quality of their product, and the innovative way in which they launch quirky new products are hallmarks of their brand. These are all of the ingredients in the secret sauce that keep a brand relevant… a brand that continues to grow and maintain a cult following.

Our friends and fellow Seattleites, PCC Natural Markets, support local and organic farming, embrace sustainability and work to establish standards of the highest quality for the food products that it offers to the community. PCC is also a major donor to the PCC Farmland Trust, a non-profit that seeks to preserve farmland and move it into organic production. The brand talks the talk and walks the walk.

It’s transparent and it’s authentic; a top priority if brands want to create a cult following. Note that PCC is also deeply committed to a cause that’s greater than doing business profitably. Even cooler: it’s set up on the co-op model with 10 stores and 52,000 members and counting, who have a stake in PCC Natural Markets. Nothing inspires a community like having direct ownership in a brand that has a larger mission.

Why B Corps Rock

We’ve always been fans of Benefit Corporations, better known as B Corps, because inherent in their brand DNA is the desire to do business at a higher level. Sure, they’re in business to turn a profit and that’s great because if they’re not profitable they’re not going to stick around for very long.

These are brands that show the value of “conscious capitalism”. They build sustainability into their business models. They support worthy local, national and worldwide causes. Many support Fair Trade initiatives and small producers locally, nationally and abroad, and in doing so help to create shared economic growth while taking better care of our planet. These kinds of initiatives resonate with consumers and employees. In a big way.

There are other benefits, too. B corps can lead new movements. They differentiate their brands from competitors and pretenders – the brands that talk in a big way but do little in reality, other than an occasional local donation to a worthy cause. B Corps also have a way of generating PR without having to do all of the grunt work themselves. And they attract and engage real talent; people who want to work for them and contribute in meaningful ways because of who they are.

There are many solid-performing B Corps aside from Ben & Jerry’s. Method, Patagonia, Etsy and Warby Parker are all rock stars within the B Corps constellation. Almost 1,000 companies, large and small, from across the globe are certified B Corps, and the movement continues to grow.

New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado is a new breed of B Corp. Founded in 1989 by Jeff Lebesch and his wife, Kim Jordan, they set out with a core mission of crafting world-class beers while being environmental stewards. The company states that they “Look for ways to be less wasteful, be more efficient, recycle and reuse”. Reducing waste and water usage while lowering energy costs are cornerstones of the brand. Employees and owners work together to give grants to organizations that support sustainable agriculture, environmental advocacy and water conservation, among other worthwhile causes.

To top it off, New Belgium Brewery became 100% employee-owned in 2012 after the company set up an ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Program and is all about full transparency in its business dealings and financials. Quality and innovation are equally important. To reiterate: all of these things taken together are components of the cult brand value equation. And it’s proof that you don’t have to be the size of a major corporation to create a cult. Local and regional companies, small and mid-sized, can create their own rabid fan bases.

Corporate Karma

There’s no mystery as to why brands like these create enthusiastic cults around themselves, right?
Their uniqueness starts on the inside and draws attention and devotees from the outside, making these brands grow exponentially.

You know the adage: “It’s better to give than to receive”. Ironically, those who give the most tend to be gifted in a far more significant way. We call it corporate karma.

And, hey, if your brand is lacking the richness and core meaning that lead to creating a meaningful cult and greater value, no worries. It’s never too late to reinvigorate your brand with a deeper purpose and mission. If the guys at Unilever are reevaluating their business model and becoming more community-oriented, why aren’t you?

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Founder, President, & Chief Strategist
David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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