Social Media Week: Cult Brands Breed Community

For brands with cult followings, it all comes back to the community.

At a Social Media Week panel this morning, Ron Faris, founder and chief executive (CEO) of Virgin Mega, compared a brand’s loyalty to that of a church. While spiritual leaders spread the word of their respective religions, brand influencers do the same, he says.

“It comes from these young start-up brands not having the money to buy their way in,” Faris says. “They have to be a lot more resourceful in breaking through and it really starts with the community.”

SoulCycle, whose fanatical following certainly qualifies it as a cult brand, largely stays away from paid media. Instead, the fitness company relies heavily on word of mouth. According to Spencer Rice, vice president of marketing at SoulCycle, that strategy has worked so well because people are ultimately happy with the experience.

Social media makes these brands that much more accessible to consumers and is the most obvious way to connect with them. But it’s not enough in and of itself. Piera Gelardi, creative director at Refinery29, points out that content that isn’t quality or consistent with the brand will most likely get lost in the shuffle.

“It’s so important for us to be in constant communication with our audience,” Gelardi says. “Social media has made it easier for you to get that audience but at the same time, there’s so much noise out there that you have to have a strong point of view and a strong brand to stand out on the Facebook feed.”

While SoulCycle, Refinery29, and Virgin Mega have their loyal fans, detractors are inevitable. Leading the discussion, Lauren Crampsie, global chief marketing officer at Ogilvy & Mather, asked panelists how they deal with “haters.”

Rice believes the brand’s loyal fans hold the power when it comes to converting a detractor. During Movember, when men raise awareness for prostate cancer and other men’s health issues by growing mustaches, SoulCycle launched #NoMoExcuses. The campaign focused on five archetypical males – including “I’m too busy,” “I’m too tall,” and “I’m too much of a bro” – who are unlikely to go to a SoulCycle class.

“Let’s try and identify a broad group of ‘haters’ or people who wouldn’t ride with us and use members of our community to address these people, tag them on Instagram, and say, ‘Dude, this is so you!'” Rice says.

In Faris’ opinion, tapping into the fan base is a powerful motivator. A good example of this, he says, is the way Nike used its Path platform, which allows users to “like” their friends’ run routes to do something that’s more about the community than the corporation.

“Giving tools to allow people in the community to reward people in the community – I think that’s the future,” Faris says. “It’s not going to be, ‘Danielle goes to SoulCycle and gets a discount.’ It’s going to be, ‘Ron gives Danielle a discount because SoulCycle’s platform made that possible.'”

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