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Cult loyalty is the highest tier of loyalty. Consumers at this level patronize the brand forever, recommend it to everyone around them, and, most importantly, talk about the brand well outside the context of the product, as though the brand is a part of themselves and the world around them.

What drives cult loyalty? Is it the product? Is it customer service? Is it data-driven engagement? Is it all of the above? Or, is it something else altogether?

In this blog post, I’m going to try to find the answer to this question by taking a few brands I love and examining if there’s a common set of factors that drive my near-cult loyalty status towards them.

#1. 3M


3M Products

Post It. Scotch Tape. Scotchgard. Surgical Tape. Traffic Tape. Etc.

All these 3M products reflect a common theme: Technology must work for the welfare of mankind and innovation must add value to customers. This resonates very strongly with the ethos I picked up at my alma mater IIT Bombay years ago. For the sake of clarity, I don’t mean “welfare” in the sense of social welfare or corporate social responsibility. To me, a brand provides welfare when it does one or more of the following things by virtue of its basic charter: Alleviates pain; helps people to do their jobs better; lets people extract more value from their possessions. Ergo all 3M products qualify for welfare provision: 3M’s surgical tapes eliminate the need for invasive procedures to remove surgical sutures. Art Fry invented Post It to anchor bookmarks in his hymnbook when he saw that the slips of paper used by choir members on various pages of the book would fall off in the middle of the concert, causing major chaos in the process! Scotch Tape helped people make simple repairs to household items during the days of the Great Depression when they couldn’t afford to throw stuff away; 3M’s surgical tapes eliminate the need for invasive procedures to remove surgical sutures.

#2. Amazon


Amazon Remembers!

I’ve been shopping on Amazon for nearly 15 years in Germany, UK, USA and, finally, India, during which period I must’ve bought at least 100 items from it. Knock on wood, Amazon hasn’t even bungled a single order so far! Amazon also remembers all my addresses across the four countries since circa 2000. All this must be needing a lot of investment in technology and commitment to customer-centricity. I realized how much only when I interacted with a leading IT company that manufactures computers, printers, storage systems and software. I’ve been this company’s customer for over a decade and registered on its website ages ago. However, every time I call its customer care telephone number, I’m asked to repeat my contact info. Its CSR told me that the company purges customer information once in three months apparently because it won’t allocate more storage space to store customer information for longer periods!

#3. SBI

India’s largest bank exhibits thorough knowledge of banking. Its bankers have guided me on various occasions with tricky money management questions e.g. Will I gain or lose money by breaking my fixed deposits and redepositing them at higher interest rates when a premature termination of that nature would attract penalties? SBI even made a snap offer for mortgage when I encashed my fixed deposits to fund a house purchase (click here for more). Full Disclosure: While selling various IT products and services to SBI over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with its extremely high-caliber employees.

Apart from 3M, Amazon and SBI, I’m extremely loyal to Cleartrip (Online Travel Agency), Coca Cola and Deutsche Bahn (German Railway).

  • Cleartrip: In the past 15 years of booking air tickets and hotel rooms online, I’ve used Expedia, Make My Trip and HRS. But ever since I discovered Cleartrip eight years ago, I’ve ditched all the other websites. I also don’t Google for air tickets or hotels anymore – I simply head over to Cleartrip’s search box. I like the clean design of Cleartrip’s website. Once, when I’d canceled an air ticket booked on Cleartrip, I was pleasantly surprised to find the company following up with me to ensure that I’d received the refund in my bank account!
  • Coca Cola: I’ve absolutely no idea why I’m fiercely loyal to Coke.
  • Deutsche Bahn: I like DB for its high speed ICE trains with their great dining cars, awesome railway stations like Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, hourly connections between major cities in Germany and for performing the stunning feat of operating a 500 km route without a single stop (e.g. Berlin-Frankfurt).



My Cult Loyalty Brands

If I look at the above brands, good product is tablestakes across all of them. So, it’s certainly not the driver of cult loyalty.

Half of these brands don’t even know of my existence, let alone gather insights about me and engage with me with relevant, targeted offers. So, engagement based on data is also not the driver of cult loyalty.

But all of the product stories of these brands illustrate the use of technology for the welfare of mankind. All of their owners have a consistent track record of providing superior customer experience. The combination of their raison d être and operational excellence strongly resonates with my value system. This has created an emotional bond, which I believe is the driver of my cult loyalty towards these brands.

I concede that my acid test for cult loyalty might be quite subjective. I’m quite sure that each one of you has your own list of brands towards whom you exhibit cult loyalty and your own reasons for doing so. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

Also published on Medium.

Ketharaman Swaminathan On November - 13 - 2015


CX, Product, Retail, Uncategorized


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