Brands with Cult Followings: Perfect Products or Perfect Marketing?

November 5, 2018 Victoria Pallien

What does it take to create a loyal consumer base — so loyal, in fact, that they’ll camp outside shops to get the latest tech or search online and pay three times the retail price to get their favorite drink?

Starbucks, Apple and Coca-Cola’s Tab know what it’s like to cater to cult-like followings because these brands strategically cultivated obsessions for higher sales and publicity.

Read on to learn about the history of captivating marketing for Starbucks, Apple and Tab.

Starbucks: Mobility and Convenience

Starbucks Mobility and Convenience marketing followings

Starbucks, founded in 1971, is a beloved American favorite when it comes to strong coffee and sweet pastries. From Pumpkin Spice Lattes to Maple coffees, Starbucks provides consumers with delicious caffeine and helpful convenience, thanks to their mobile app.

In 2009, Starbucks introduced their My Starbucks loyalty program and their mobile payment option to entice consumers and simplify the payment process. The app allows consumers to pay without needing their wallets and provides the entire menu in their pockets. When the menu is just a tap away, why not order a coffee?

Plus, the more consumers spend, the more stars they receive for their loyalty. When consumers reach a specific number of stars, they are rewarded with free drinks.

Five years after mobile payment was introduced, Starbucks gave their audience Mobile Order & Pay, which allows consumers to order and pay before stepping foot in a Starbucks location. This enables loyalty members to skip lines and beat the rush, another privilege of the My Starbucks program.

But don’t forget about Starbucks’ limited-time drinks, like the Holiday Flat White, Gingerbread Latte and many others. Consumers line up for the drop dates, excited for their seasonal coffees, similar to the way consumers wait on the edges of their seats for the newest iPhones.

Apple: Experience and Minimalism

Perhaps because of their passion for flawless user experience, Apple is another brand with a dedicated and loyal – in other words, cult-like – following.

apple iphone x marketing smartphones

Apple, first founded in April of 1976, has marketed their products as an experience. With minimalistic ads, left uncluttered by technical terms or where and how to buy the product, Apple created a seamless marketing strategy and positioned their brand as technology-driven, clean-cut and easy-to-use.

When marketing their smartphones, Apple displays their products as the next step in “the iPhone experience” — they’ve created an experience that many consumers want to be and are actively part of, which welcomes immersion. The idea is: when consumers pick up Apple products, whether it be an iPad or a Macbook, they’re consumed by the technology at the forefront of the computer industry.

Undoubtedly, Apple plays a role in surprise releases. Before big reveals of the latest smartphones, consumers don’t know what to expect. Apple often announces a release date and holds a large briefing, where reporters and tech enthusiasts alike can learn all about the latest devices. The brand wins crowds and revenue with the surprise factor.

Tab: Beauty and Individuality

In 1963, the Coca-Cola Company debuted Tab, their first sugar-free, diet soda made with saccharin. The new cola was advertised to a predominantly female consumer base as a way to enjoy cola while staying thin. Although saccharin was rumored to cause bladder cancer, Tab didn’t lose its fans and was continually advertised as the soda “for beautiful people.”

coca-cola soda tab marketing diet coke

When Coca-Cola introduced Diet Coke in the 1980s, there were rumors Diet Coke was meant to replace Tab and fans became suspicious.

According to the New York Times, in 2011, only three million cases of Tab were manufactured while 885 million cases of Diet Coke were produced. Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, Coca-Cola’s largest independent bottler in the U.S., recently admitted to pulling Tab from 14 states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., to focus on other low-calorie Coca-Cola products.

But Tab drinkers already have a plan in place. The soda fans created Facebook groups and crafted other communications where they share retail locations that carry Tab and when those locations get new shipments. Fans bribe grocery store managers and pay $40 to online retailers for just a single case, reaching a new level of dedication to cola.

One fan justifies her obsession with Tab saying, “It’s the closest thing to a real cola taste without the sugar.” Clearly, Diet Coke doesn’t compare for her.

While Tab consumers are nearly addicted to the soda, Apple fans have to own the latest tech and Starbucks drinkers are impatiently waiting to taste their winter coffees. Whether it’s caffeine or technology, brands can develop cult followings with strategic marketing like surprise drops and exclusivity.

Reimagining your cult-followed marketing win?

Contact Digital Media Solutions today.

About the Author

Victoria Pallien

Victoria Pallien is a Marketing Communications Writer at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest growing independent agency focused on performance marketing. Since its inception, DMS has evolved into a full-service performance marketing company that services firms within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, automotive, jobs and careers. DMS has achieved incredible year-over-year growth, which has earned recognition on the Inc. 5000 list in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

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