There are certain brands and retailers who instil in their consumers, a level of exorbitant faithfulness. We’re living in a time when a new H&M store induces fanatical queues around the block and Kenzo only have to update the color of a product for bloggers to decree their ongoing devotion.
The frenzied following of brands isn’t reserved for apparel: there are armies of Apple worshippers setting forums alight with news of software updates or new products, hoards of beauty bloggers enthuse about the latest lipstick release from Mac and furniture enthusiasts who know the Swedish name of each Ikea product. Here, we’ve analyzed the way three different brands and retailers have inspired a cult following.
1. Nasty Gal
The US online retailer with its charismatic leader, Sophia Amoruso, has excelled in creating a cult following. The brand has defined its own tribe – girls who are “super-body confident” according to Amoruso – and a language in which to communicate to them. The retailer’s email newsletters are a triumph in communication; not only are they artistically laid out but they’re dripping in emoji text-speak and reinforce the aesthetic and core values of the pack. “This summer we ride for team neoprene” and “For the summer goth in all of us”, instills the feeling of group belonging, whilst there are directive calls to action in “Get with the program”, “Time. To. Sale.” and the prescriptive “Invest in this dress”. Language is also self-congratulatory, “more babe for your buck”, making Nasty Gal a reassuring space for tribe members.
The encouraging tone is set from the top: Amoruso’s just-released book ‘#GIRLBOSS’ is part Amoruso bio and part inspirational musings and female empowerment. Nasty Gal’s own were of course encouraged to purchase the book, with the retailer offering shoppers $25 off purchases when they ordered their copy of the brand’s bible. It’s a compelling mix, and a successful one too: the company has an estimated revenue of $100million.
It’s a more natural fit for a designer brand to inspire a crowd of devoted supporters, given the aspirational lifestyle that branding projects. Burberry stand out amongst other brands for their cultish following, which is entirely based around their British heritage. The brand frequently uses London imagery in its email newsletters – a Thames skyline being their preferred vista. In their email newsletters, Burberry discuss their “Heritage Collection”, use “English lace” and explain that their Bloomsbury Girls collection was inspired by “British Decorative Arts”.
The brand’s Instagram often posts snapshots of London: Hyde Park, Battersea Park, Tower Bridge, with the hashtag #BurberryWeather and the current temperature. This is clearly not done for their local market: instead the brand knows their most valuable luxury customers are overseas, and are the ones who follow the brand in these places, hankering after a buyable slice of heritage from the self-described “global brand with a distinctly British attitude”.
Yet the brand is locally revered too, its flag-bearing heritage is not twee or cliché: how? By pairing the past with the cutting edge, continually redefining digital for the industry, part-retailer, part-technologist. Emails are loaded up with QR codes, shows are live-streamed with buy-now capabilities touted as “Runway made to order” and clever stunts like Burberry Kisses are well marketed to the masses. Of course, their collaborations with musicians and celebrities do wonders for the cult of the brand too. Often the British stars they pick are known within the UK and Burberry launches their career internationally – take Suzi Waterhouse for example.
H&M proved that fast-fashion retailers can drum up a devout following too. Recently they opened their first store in Australia (we’ve compiled a report around their entrance into that market, which you can download, free, here) which had all-day, round-the-block queues for the entire first-week of opening. The retailer even provided a DJ to entertain the waiting shoppers. Australia hadn’t previously had access to the retailer, online or in store, so how did the Swedish brand manage to hype their offering from afar?
For H&M, the story they create around their brand is not tied to one consumer type, and while that must be a challenge for the retailer, they succeed well in not simply speaking in the stylistic language. Their referencing is cohesive, and yet manages to travel far: they team up with musicians, Beyoncé fronted an ad campaign, whilst the lesser known Swedish Lykke Li paired with the retailer for an album exclusive. They pair with bloggers known by fashion followers, like Berta Bernard, as well as collaborate with broadly known designers, like Isabel Marant.
H&M also manage to make their bargain-priced offering appear to be more exclusive than price tag suggests, which drives demand. They do this with use of expansive imagery and minimal text in their email newsletters – akin to a luxury brand. They also take an authoritative tone, informing their newsletter readers of the technological properties of their highly affordable activewear range and referring to their Conscious Foundation, imploring consumers not to “let fashion go to waste” – a lofty tone from one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of apparel. It is the breadth of these references and styles which creates global demand: everyone can associate with a part of H&M’s marketing, if not all.
The price architecture of cult
Analysis of these three retailers at commercial-level reveals that the strategy in creating cult extends beyond the marketing activities of a brand or retailer. It’s interesting to note that all three of the retailers discussed here have an exceptionally broad price architecture in comparison to their competitors. Nasty Gal may not have as large an assortment as the well-established Topshop, but they build their pricing out to optimize the desires of their tribe. H&M’s consumer is very different from that of price-competitor, Forever 21, and their price architecture uses that demographic to expand upwards. And Burberry have a cast-iron price architecture, accessible at all levels, yet in their newsletters every item is treated with highest esteem, from phone covers and lipsticks to investment trench coats. Now that’s the stuff of miracles.
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