Cult loyalty is the highest tier of loyalty. Consumers at this level not only keep patronizing the brand forever and recommending it to everyone around them but also talk about it well outside the context of the product, as though the brand is a part of themselves.
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.
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. For the sake of clarity, I don’t mean “welfare” in the sense of social welfare or corporate social responsibility. To me, anything that has one of the following qualities provides welfare: It helps people to do their jobs better; it lets people extract more value from their possessions; it alleviates pain. Ergo all 3M products: 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.
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. I realized how heavily Amazon must’ve invested to accomplish this level of customer-centricity only when I interacted with this leading IT company recently. Among other things, this IT giant manufactures computers, printers and storage systems. I’ve been a customer of this company for over a decade. However, every time I call its customer care, I need to provide all my contact info for registration. Turns out that the company purges all customer information once in three months because it doesn’t want to allot more capacity to store data for longer periods!
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 by breaking my fixed deposits and redepositing them at higher interest rates when such a restructuring would attract penalty for premature termination? SBI even made a snap offer for mortgage when I encashed my FDs to fund a house purchase (click here for more). I’ve also had the experience of selling various IT products and services to SBI, during which time I was exposed to some of 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 10 years of booking tickets and hotel rooms online, I’ve used Expedia, Make My Trip and HRS. But ever since I discovered Cleartrip 7-8 years ago, I haven’t gone anywhere else. Nor do I Google for tickets or hotels anymore. I like the clean design of Cleartrip’s website. Once, when I’d canceled tickets booked on Cleartrip, I was pleasantly suprised to find the company following up with me to verify that I’d received the refund!
- 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 trains without a single stop over 500 kms (e.g. Berlin-Frankfurt).
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 unlikely to drive cult loyalty.
But all of their product stories illustrate the use of technology for the welfare of mankind. All of 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 cult loyalty.
Does Amazon's work culture show that you can't both mollycoddle employees & delight customers at the same time? http://t.co/8s81Gpi7Qy?
— S.Ketharaman (@s_ketharaman) August 27, 2015
I concede that this could be highly 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.