Time To Create a Cult?

Way back when Apple was still a baby fruit, I got firsthand experience working on the Apple II.

It was a breakthrough at the time – with a 9” monochrome screen and the dual floppy disc drives. I first learned about programming there and quickly discovered it was best left to others with more of a technical nature. I just loved it for all the potential it held.

That was 1977, and 33 years later Apple is now all grown up and the Iphone has more power than a city full of those old Apple IIs.

They made it through the days when no one thought they’d survive.

And now enjoy record breaking growth and a MASSIVE following.

Mac is one of the greatest Cults you can ever learn from

They leverage their Cult to sell boatloads of tiny little technology wonders like the iphone and ipad….

“Apple has been able to generate over $75 million in revenue in one day on a product that 99.9% of purchasers haven’t touched or for that matter, even seen in person,” said Victor Castroll, an analyst with Valcent Financial Group.

…now THAT is power.

You see it all over the news every time they bring out a new product. Their ‘converts’ clamor over each other trying to find the leaked photos of the new product. They line up for days outside stores in rain, snow or shine to be fitst in line to pay twice th going rate for a similar tool from a competitor.

But wait… is there really such a thing
as a competitor in the Apple world?

If you ask the media, they compare sales numbers and year over year market share growth. Basically pegging Nokia or RIM against the iPhone in the cell phone world.

But, if you talk to an actual iPhone owner and Cult Convert…

… RIM who?
Nokia… aren’t those 5 year old technologies?

In an Apple Cult… competition disappears.

Doubt me?

Then just go ask a Mac User, an iPhone junkie or a recent iPad buyer to switch over.

Then stand back for the verbal and physical lashing you might get.

I personally am not a Mac user… but I have had an iPhone for a couple years… an iPad for 6 months or so… and I get it.

Apple is different.

They do cool stuff that no one else in the tech business is doing.

Both in their products and in their marketing.

Apple is the best there is in the tech world for Cult Building and racking up the revenues.

From Wikipedia:
Sociologists still maintain that unlike sects, which are products of religious schism and therefore maintain a continuity with traditional beliefs and practices, “cults” arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices.

Which I think defines the Apple experience.

Novel beliefs and practices about their business and products.

To Apple converts: the Apple products are just better… in every way, their packaging is a lesson in itself, their ease-of-use is unparalleled, their ability to lead the industry on technologies that users actually want is unmatched, and they are THE coolest company out there in the tech world… heck, in the ENTIRE world.

And to be a member in this Cult, their converts are MORE than willing to plunk down their paychecks and do anything they can to pay twice the going market rate for a (gasp) competitive product.

The other day I was in renting a movie for my daughters and saw a sign on the store that the iPhone 4 was sold out (way up here in Canada we were a few months behind the big launch in the US). I asked the young guy behind the counter about the iPhone sales.

Even he was amazed at what people were willing to pay for this new phone (up to $700 or so). People who obviously sacrifice food, showers, clothing and deodorant… just so they can own the newest iPhone. Executives who skip out of work and are willing to pitch a tent in the parking lot just so they can be the first in the office with one. There is no rational thought happening when Apple launches a new product… they just gotta have it.

With ever increasing frequency I am seeing a LOT of people switching from PC to Mac.

From their Blackberry to an iPhone.

They are drinking the koolaid… by the barrel-full.

So, the question is…

how do you and I create Cults in our customer base?

No better place to find ideas for this than by learning from the best-in-the-biz.

[note: I am only a junior Cult convert… only the iPhone and the iPad. No Mac yet. Hey if you want to send me one, I’m in for going deeper down the rabbit hole.]

Some observations on the Apple Cult.

1) They have transcended rationality and rational thought. They have created these rock-solid beliefs with their Converts that there is nothing else out there that can come even close to competing. Not easy to do. In the day and age of shiny phones and tech tools everywhere, Apple converts keep their blinders on and happily pay a bundle for the tools, the apps, and the music.

What ONE thing that you do could be built up into an irrational belief amongst your customers? Do you do something in your service or delivery that no one else does? Could you? I wrote some time ago about Kinjos Sushi in Calgary. I am now doing some work with them to see how we can build their cult following even more. I have seen their numbers… WOW.

In a deep economic mess… their sales growth is off the charts for the past 3 years.

Why? Because they have 2 things going for them that no other Sushi place in town has: the Pocky chocolates and Peter Kinjo himself. To Kinjo Converts, that is enough to bring them back day in and day out. Imagine a 65 seat restaurant that cranks out hundreds upon hundreds of customers every single day of the week.

THAT is a Cult.

Find that one thing you can do to position yourself as the one-and-only in your market.

2) They have evangelists everywhere. Apple is a master at building their brand up to feverish levels with their converts. Just tell an Apple convert that Apple sucks… and watch yourself for the flurry that undoubtedly will come your way.

Reward the evangelists in one way or another. Give them special clubs they can join. Link to those clubs. Give them users groups and special interest clubs. Give them swag. Give them a feeling of being part of the inner circle. Reward them at your yearly customer get-togethers. Give them a darned good reason to praise you in public forums.

Their Apple users groups are driven by volunteers – they help recruit more volunteers (spending up to 30 or 40 hours a week of their ‘off-time’ doing so!)

3) Get them used to overpriced, yet highly unique and valuable products and services. Low price has never been mentioned in conjunction with Apple. Everyone KNOWS they are premium priced and their quality matches the price.

There are people walking around with $800 iPads that probably barely make that a month. Ask that person if it was worth it and tears will come to their eyes as they describe how the iPad has changed their life.

Then there are others who are leading their field and raking in millions per year… that are just as much of a convert as the unemployed guy with an iphone on his belt and an ipad in his arms.

They have positioned themselves to be a creative gateway. Own an Apple product and unleash your creativity. Everyone wants to be more creative… and a percentage of them are willing to pay a premium to do so. Apple is the logical (to them) step to unlocking their creative potential.

So raise your prices, but make sure the quality and deliverables they get in return are so far above the norm that price never becomes even a factor. Just look at how Apple packages their products! No brown cardboard boxes here. These are works of art and obviously cost a pretty penny to package that way. Apple converts KEEP their boxes on display. How many Blackberry users do that?

What can you do to position your products and services at the top of the industry, in price and in quality?

4) Always be on the hunt for new blood. Apple is great at this. They are the cool kid on the block… and everyone wants to know the cool kid. Be in their circle. Hang out with them. Be seen with them. Apple converts help Convert others just by being out there with their iphones, ipads, and Macbooks. Tease them with the idea of this Club they can join. The price is high… but boy oh boy will you be one of the cool kids then.

Have entry level products (still premium priced) that attract a younger, more vibrant crowd into your fold. Have higher end products that only the elite will buy. But those elite will help you convert other elites. And the juniors will help you become popular in the junior crowd.

Stick with the premium prices… but have multiple products in the premium price range to get both the juniors and the elites. All it takes is one magic bite and they are sold.

As they say in the Apple world… once you go Mac you never go back. Which is true. I don’t know many people switching from Mac to PC these days, but I know a significant amount of people converting the other way… quickly.

5) Show you are human (How many companies would take down their home page – even for a few minutes – to pay tribute to a fallen comrade? Jerry York was on their board of directors and recently passed away – Apply took down their homepage to page homage to this man.

Very honourable… and real.

6) Make it your mission to find that “passion over logic” sale.
That emotional sale is far superior to any logical one. The prices double and the evangelism reaches freaky levels.

Find something, anything, that you can position as the emotional reason to buy. Keep testing different emotional hot buttons until you start seeing the ones that work. Then use those to your fullest degree.

Make them part of an elite group (like Apple converts, even like the lobster brothers who I have written about here – charging $3,000 for a membership to a Lobster Club, rather than selling a $10 lobster off the docks. This is something that only testing will find. When you get it right… you know.

7) Master the Marketing of Your Cult. Apple is a genius marketing company and they know it. If it wasn’t for their marketing and pr side, they would not be what they are today. Not by any means.

There was a time when they were almost a has-been… but look at them now. They realized that they had some of the most passionate converts in the world… and all they had to do was find ways to get 100, 1,000 times as many of those converts.

Blogs like the Total Package give you hundreds upon hundreds of free articles to help you get good fast at your marketing. So do it. You are no longer a furniture store… or an author… you are now a marketer.

Get good at it and use that skill to build your business quickly.

One key to Apple’s success is that it shows off its products in stores set up in the affluent shopping areas of major cities around the world – a well-regarded Apple blogger filmed the insanity that accompanied Apple’s most recent store opening in Philadelphia. Apple had 200 stores at the beginning of the recession in late 2007. It now has 261, and the number is only growing. –24/7 Wall St.

“The Apple store is carefully calibrated as an architectural
and retail room that will change how you feel
when you enter it.”
–Seth Godin

8) Don’t shy away from trash talking your competitors. To a point. Look at the “I’m a Mac” commercials. Hugely successful and rightfully so. They positioned the Mac as the cool, creative guy. The pc – a nerd. Big time success with talking about your competition. But do it in a nice way or your Converts will sense your evil ways and start to wonder why you have to bash an inferior solution so much… maybe you are hiding something… maybe the competitors do have something worth looking at. Have fun with it. But be bold and sassy when you do it.

9) Ignore the fads and create your own. Apple could care less about bringing out the $200 Macbook. Instead of bringing out yet another $200 netbook, they quadruple the price, repackage it, rename it, and voila… you get the iPad with WAY more cool features than any Netbook could hope to have.

Following the fads is best left to your competitors. Fads die away. But creating your own following in a radically different direction is always a better way to position your products and your prices.

” We want to make all our users happy.
If you don’t know that, you don’t know Apple.”

“We love our users.
We try very hard to surprise and delight them.”

“So we do all this because we love our users.
And when we fall short — which we do sometimes — we try harder.
We pick ourselves up, we figure out what’s wrong, and we try harder.
And when we succeed, they reward us by staying our users,
and that makes it all worth it.”

The Apple Cult is an amazing one to learn from.

The 9 tips above are just a start.

Right now, you need to find a few ways you can create your own.

My thoughts?

Take the list above… find a quiet place away from the home or office. Get pen and paper out. Start writing down ideas.

An hour a week doing this and you will find ways to create your own cult.

A fantastic way to raise your prices and build your loyalty.

Drink the koolaid!

Get busy starting your cult.

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  1. As a side note – Apple just announced their iPad 2 this week and furthered their lead in the tablet marketplace.

    I know a lot of people don’t like Apple, but you cannot (and should not) ignore their powerful marketing clout.

    As soon as I saw the new ipad, I wanted one. My iPad1 feels slow, and heavy now – compared to the new version. They added some nice new features and will force the competition to ‘up’ their game.

    This is one amazing comeback-kid and Apple will only get larger in the coming years…. pay very close attention to how they do their marketing and product roll outs.


  2. Very good analysis Troy — especially your 9 points.

    Way back when i reviewed products for Canada’s largest computer publisher, the Test Lab Manager warned me from saying anything bad about Mac. They Mac cult is similar to Scientology in rabid defense of itself… without the lawsuits.
    This xtranormal vid is so funny because it’s exactly the attitude of Mac users.

  3. Very good and insightful. Puts into perspective the fact that people love exclusivity and want to be a part of an exclusive club. Hats off to Apple for it’s high level of exclusivity.

  4. Awesome post and my sentiments exactly.

    Rule #1 is simple: Have the best product in your industry/niche.

    Like this article. Not a run of the mill spun piece, but hand written with thought behind it.
    Well done.

  5. I think a BIG reason why they are successful is because their products sell themselves. I own an iPhone 3GS and would like an iPad…but haven’t justified the $800 price tag yet. And the only reason I own an iPhone and want an iPad is because the product is good. It’s not their marketing. If it was, then I”d own an iPad by now.

    But again, I just can’t justify the price. In my eyes I’d be paying a few hundred bucks for a touch screen. Because other than that, for the money I’d rather buy a laptop.

    You could argue “I’m not their target market”. But I am, sort of (iPhone).

    I just think a big reason for Apples success is that their product is their best marketing. Then again, at this point I think they could sell a bag of dog poop and call it the iPoop and people would line up to buy it.

  6. Sharon A. says:

    Hi Troy,
    In my physical business, my clients rave about me for a very down-to-earth reason: I show up on time and give 110 percent. I actually had two clients fighting over me last year because they both wanted me on the same day—and these ladies have been good friends for years. It was both amusing and baffling to see.
    I have just begun a web site. The Home Page is (mostly) built and now I’m starting work on the rest. I am going up against some big names so I am really working to make my site unique. I think I’ve got it, but only time will tell.

  7. Good article Troy and the 9 points are very clearly stated.

    I am a rare type of consumer, a contrarian, there are 2 reasons why I continue to use a Blackberry and a PC; they work well enough to do what I need them to do and I have reached a level of proficiency with them that I am happy with.

    There are 2 reasons why I don’t want to be in the Apple cult: There are too many negative associations with anything resembling a cult, ranging from voodoo, scientology, and many other radical, dangerous cults from the extreme left to the extreme right.
    Secondly, I do not want to be a member of the cult BECAUSE so many others DO.

    It offends my values of independence to blindly follow the herd when there is no clear advantage in performance or value for money.

    I am not for a moment suggesting that the Apple cult is dangerous, but cults have a habit of coming to abrupt and dramatic ends. Will it happen to Apple? I hope not because the Apple success story is one that I respect and admire as much as the most fervent member of the cult.

    The danger to the Apple cult though is, that should its cult status fall out of favour for any reason, followers could abandon it far quicker than would customers of commodity type products like PCs and regular phones.

    Fortunately for Apple, I accept that I am in a minority and rising numbers of contrarians like me are unlikely to threaten the Apple cult.

    Perhaps the bottom line is that when you get to cult status, you have to work even harder to stay there!

  8. Great post Troy. There is no question about the cult following but why haven’t they got me?
    I am a PC lifer, probably out side of their target age group. I guess I have fears of migrating from what I know to a new system and they really haven’t made me an irresistible offer that encourages me to buy. I do have an interest but for some reason I haven’t put my toe in the puddle. May be they don’t care and are happy to focus on their “tribe” which we all know makes financial sense. On the other hand is there a big group like me who are at the tipping point who would move if conditions were right. Interesting thought, because despite being out side the “inner circle” of users I do follow the developments with lots of interest. There is lots to learn from the Apple Model. Cheers

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