To our beloved startup community

While you are feeding your mind with fresh ideas to build your fledgling business, trying to figure out where your next gold rush will come from, may I kindly interject something for your imagination to chew on?

Your brand has to matter

The funny thing is that most people who read the previous five words will understand them incorrectly.

I mean, apart from your products, your services and your customer experience, cult status demands that the brand itself is imbued with a value all its own.

Discussions about target markets and value propositions obscure this simple truth.

Let's look at the word: Cult

Many take it to mean that devotion to the brand is similar in fanaticism to a religious cult. But that definition gives no insight into how those levels of passion are achieved.

Instead, think of cult as short for Culture. Cult brands uniquely contribute to some corner of human culture. Perhaps you could consider that your target market is a group of people with a shared interest. And in the name of that interest, they form a community. And over time, that community develops manners, rituals, stories and attitudes that form a culture.

So, if you want to be a cult brand, ask yourself: why do I matter to the shared culture of the people I serve? Am I authentic to that culture? What aspect of that culture does my brand symbolize?

Let's also look at the word: Brand

This is arguably the single most misunderstood word in all of business, with so much baggage and preconception that it is difficult for many to see it clearly. So convoluted and frustrating is the concept that some have concluded that the power of brand is bogus, which, given who the wealthiest companies in the world are, is a bit like saying the earth is flat and 6,000 years old.

Let’s try to simplify things. Replace the word “Brand” with the phrase: “How you are known.” Forget about Brand as an object. Instead, think of it as a condition, a reputation, a story, legend, or belief widely held. It always amuses me when people talk about “brand refresh” like it was putting a fresh coat of paint on an old barn. Our legends and stories are always being reimagined and retold for the next generation. When they aren’t, they become old and irrelevant--that’s just how the world works.

Is it canon?

Okay, so you have found your cultural niche and created your legend, but…

Your people still need to become true believers. Meaning, you need some way of making the legends real. Experience/touchpoints are critical, but when it comes to speed, nothing works like PR. I’m not talking about that administrative function where you submit press releases to overwhelmed editors. I’m talking about bringing the culture to the media in all its glory.

But does the public even read? Would they believe anything in the press these days? The answer is a qualified yes.

When a group sees itself shine in a feature, it is more than willing to accept the message. Because the magic word is appreciation. When you can be the lens through which the influential can access and see the beauty of a culture, that’s when a brand transcends the mundane and elevates to that rarified air known as cult brand status. From there, anything is possible.