Apple is a lucky company in that it’s among a handful of “cult brands,” firms whose products “stir strange passions,” according to an article in the latest issue of Forbes.
Forbes says that our favorite computer company — and other “cult brands” such as Miata, Harley-Davidson, Krispy Kreme, Screaming Eagle wine, and Acid Cigars — is blessed with “ecstatic consumers who spread the gospel.” On the other hand, such companies are also fanatically beloved by a “lunatic fringe.”
“People used to make pilgrimages to shrines. Now, as many as 85,000 Apple Computer fans make a pilgrimage to the MacWorld expo, the annual four-day event at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. It’s a chance to check out the latest devices and products, and, more important, to ‘touch’ Steve Jobs — even if only by viewing him on a giant screen — the man who democratized technology by putting computer power in the hands of ordinary people. Geeks, musicians, and artists pack the hangar-like ballroom for the highlight of the show, Job’s speech, and cheer his every word.” (Sorry, New York, Paris, and Tokyo; the article doesn’t mention the Macworld expos held in your cities.)
Forbes says that a cult brand seizes the imagination of a small group who spread the word, make converts, and turn a fringe product into a mainstream name. Cult brands are different from fads because the latter “take off like a rocket, peak and fizzle quickly as they pass through relatively large populations.” So why are people drawn to cult brands?
“Because they want to belong to something, and if religion doesn’t fill the role, then something more materialistic takes its place,” Forbes says.
Forbes says that cult status can sustain a product even if it never catches on with the general public. And the magazine uses (you guessed it) Apple as a case in point.
“The Mac fan club consists of a minority of home users plus a small clutch of creative people in advertising, publishing, and Hollywood,” says Forbes. “Altogether they give Apple a teeny 6 percent of the desktop and laptop market.”
(I could argue that 20-25 million users qualifies as more than “teeny.” And that the 6 percent figure is compared to dozens of companies making Wintel systems. But I won’t.)
Forbes points out that you can’t make a cult brand; it just happens. But once you have one, you can foster it.
“One way to get a handle on cult-brand followers is to organize company-sponsored clubs and events,” Forbes says. “That’s the idea behind Macworld [Expo] and the regional motivational gatherings at Amway and Herbalife, which rely on a network of door-to-door salespeople.”
Wow. That’s the first time I’ve heard Apple and Amway compared. Interesting.
Anyway, if there’s someone out there who uses a Mac, drives a Miata, owns a Harley, smokes Acid Cigars, and loves Krispy Kreme donuts, let me know. I’d love to meet you.