THE BLOG
12/27/2013 03:08 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2014

8 Cult Lessons That Will Help You Build Your Brand

You don't have to be an aspiring rock-star or dictator to understand the valuable benefits that can be reaped from building a cult following. Often the students starting their own business at the 60-Day-MBA are starting from scratch while working their day-job -- so they need to build brand on a budget.

Cult personalities come in all types and personas. Korean rap sensation Psy racked up over 1.5 billion Youtube views with his popular song "Gangnam Style," resulting in millions of dollars in revenue from downloads, TV commercials, concerts and speaking appearances. Martha Stewart and Oprah each cultivated their audiences around their relatable female personas, creating conversations around women's issues and interests. Resonating strongly with women, both female entrepreneurs expanded their businesses with synergy to sell countless products.

While you may not be a rock-star or a cult TV personality (yet), you can still take notes from Richard Branson and other successful cult leaders in building a loyal following for your business.

Here are the ingredients for building a following:

1. Understand & Reach Fans -- Who gets the most excited about what you're working on, and is always first in line to pay? You need to know who your top evangelists will be and figure out what makes them tick. It's crucial to know what they love and hate, and which channels are best for reaching them (blogs, forums, events, facebook, etc). Make sure you take time to understand whom your ideal customer is. When you figured out whom they are, ask them questions about your industry (not as much about your business), learning what they dislike and enjoy. This will be important both for designing your product or crafting your service, as well as deciding how to package and market your business.

2. Develop a Strong Persona or Pitch -- It's critical to be able to tell a good story around your product or brand. Our brains work well with stories, especially those that evoke strong emotions such as fear, surprise, anger or desire. It is important to really understand what pain you are solving people; then you can work on developing a clear and concise message around what you're selling. The stronger the message you can create, the more evangelists you will have backing you.

3. Stand Out in the Crowd -- Today few products and services are actually new or drastically different, so your business needs to play to its uniqueness. What makes you special or unique? Are you the only personal trainer who consistently works unusual hours to meet your clients' busy schedules? Maybe you're the only coffee shop who imports those strange but delicious cookies from Lebanon with the pistachios? Learn whatever it is that makes you special -- determine what you do that your customers really appreciate and value above your competition and play it up.

4. Have a Valuable Superpower -- Make sure you are awesome at something which people strongly value. This doesn't mean being perfect at everything and having a million great features, but rather owning one or two specific areas as much as you possible can.  Better yet, just focus on one thing for now, and you will be more effective at being the most wonderful business to do so.  It is important to make sure this feature or service is something your customers actually appreciate though.  Even if you have the most delicious muffins in your entire county, if your customers don't like muffins or they don't feel like they are relative to your business, then this isn't the value to focus on. Your superpower should be related and complimentary to your core business. If you are a gym, maybe your value is having the best machines, most flexible hours or most attentive trainers -- not keeping the most books or magazines.

5. Be Elite -- There's something about what you can't have that makes you want it that much more. It's not logical, but it's a strong human response. Say that you have a limited number of slots or that people need referrals to join, and suddenly you become scarce and exclusive. Urgency can greatly drive business and sales. This doesn't work for all products and markets, and can also backfire if it doesn't seem credible, but making your brand appear elite can both increase your margins and make growth faster. There is truth that relatable products that can be sold to the masses can make a large amount of money due to sheer volume, but these operations are not easy to scale, and they have great expenses for marketing and other logistics challenges.

6. Strong user engagement -- Regularly engage your clients either online or offline. Maintain an active presence in social media and online as you form your tribe so they can get to know you. The more they can connect to you, the greater loyalty they will have to you and your business. Blogs and webinars can be a great way to keep communicating with your fans as you develop relationships, but regular emails are also very effective.  Events are another useful offline strategy to grow interest and build a community because they facilitate a type of live interaction that is hard to duplicate online.

7. Focus on a niche -- Focus is key in all matters of effectiveness.  Early on it is important to direct your efforts toward a particular niche in which you can find your early cult followers. This is where your tribe will grow from.  If you are offering services for artistic people, rather than trying to cater to all types of creative's, from knitters to oil painters, you should choose a specific group to target first, such as sculptors, or perhaps graphic designers.  Narrower targeting allows you to be more successful in making your clients happy. You can always expand your business, but it's better to start small early on so you don't get too distracted and spread thin.

8. Make Sharing and Showing-off easy --People are social creatures. They crave a sense of belonging, and they love to gloat.  Creating swag either offline or online is an easy way to grow your brand. Not only can it be a way to make money, having cool and unusual swag is free marketing that will set you apart from the rest. Even having reusable and difficult to dispose shopping bags such as Lulu-Lemon can serve as free advertising. Make something awesome enough and people will clamor for your goods and services just to get their hands on the extra swag. In addition to shirts, pins, stickers and the usual booty, creating cool sharable online content can serve as your own digital swag. Great blog posts, branded meme photos and funny videos can sometimes go viral if they're done really well.  Empower your cult following by creating the amazing content or swag that they are dying to brag about with their friends.

So you might not be the next Lady Gaga or even close to Oprah, but thinking about your brand like a cult personality can help guide you through the process of marketing your business.

If you can successfully connect with people, are much more likely to become and remain loyal customers, since they have developed an emotional bond to your business.  This is especially true when they feel a sense of belonging and ownership. Having 20,000 obsessed fans won't happen overnight, but taking small steps in this direction will help you foster a strong community, which pays off big over time.