Topic: Branding

Research On Cult Branding In Online Communities

Posted by Anonymous on 125 Points
I would like to ask if someone can help me further with my current research or would like to reflect his or hers thoughts about the research. At the moment I'm doing my research on the application of Cult Branding in online communities. My experience so far is that is difficult to find any relevant literature (besides the ones of Ragas & Bueno and Atkin) and in my university there aren't professors who are really familiar with this subject.

My research is done at the online community Hyves (, which is about the same as communities as hi5, friendster and myspace. In this community people show their identity, communicate and bond with each other and connect themselves to subcommunities. These subcommunities could be about almost every subject, like a soccer team, (movie)stars they like, existing social networks they're already part of (like sportcommunities) or even the must silly things that could be related to your identity. For example, one could chose to start a "I like to eat chocolate on a rainy sundaymorning"-subcommunity, because it reflects his or hers identity. People who can identify themselve with this (because they also like to eat chocolate on a rainy sundaymorning) join this subcommunity and then they start talking about this. Being part of the Hyves-community is all about expressing your identity and communicating that with others.

But the most interesting phenonemon is that there are subcommunities that evolve around brands. And that's where it drew my attention and I started making the link to Cult Branding. The fact that there is for example a subcommunity around a fashion brand called Hennis & Mauritz, which has close to 20.000 members who all come together and "praise" their love for the fashion brand, gives a lot of opportunity for online marketing. And my idea is that this goes beyond just spamming those customers or annoying them with banners and other advertisements with every move they make on the Internet. My idea is that Cult Branding could very well be applied in this situation and the target of my research is to test if conditions that are seen in cult brands are the same in online communities.

To proof such a hypothesis my plan was to test if the motivations to join such a community and the effects of being part of this community are the same as seen in brand cults. The motivations to join an online community are divided in four categories

- Getting into contact with people who think the same
People can identify themselves with the subcommunity and want to get into contact with people who also identify themselves with this community.
- Feeding your curiousness
People want to know more about the subject that is related to the subcommunity and all its aspects
- Expression of identity
When you are part of a subcommunity in the Hyves-network, it shows on your profile, so that other people can see that you're part of it. People tend to take pride in expressing this part of their identity, or they just like to show who they are in general
- Social pressure
You can be invited to join such a subcommunity and you don't want to dissapoint the person(s) who invited you.

The effects of being part of such a community are categorized in the following way:
- Informationsupply
People learn more about the subject
- Sense of community
People have the feeling that they are part of a community and conform to the ruling norms, traditions etc etc of this group
- Strenghtening of their own identity
People can show their part of the community and this strengthens them in their identity

In my opinion the exploitation of such online cult brands could the following effects for companies:
- Brands can have a better CRM-program because they have a direct connection to the people who really love their brand
- It is a better way to execute a loyalty program, because the love from the customer is not bought with rewards, but by letting the customer be part of a community.
- You could relieve some stress on your helpdesk. People who have problems with your product can adress them to the community. The community will help them out with this. This gives the customer a better feeling, because they get real help from someone who sees them as his or hers "brother" and not by someone anonymous who is trained to help you.
- And finally such a community can create lots of Word of Mouth, because you got your whole community of ambassadors. Just spread the message and it will multiply itself.

I'm curious about your opinion about these ideas and what your thoughts are about Cult Branding in online communities. Can the bonds be as tight as in real-life communities, despite the fact that most contact is made digitally? Are the motivations and effects I gave in this mail complete or is it missing something? Or is something wrong with it? What would you do to proof such conditions?
Does anyone have any tips for me? I'm very curious about your answer. Thanks for your help!


Wilko Wielinga
Student Marketing and Social Psychology
University of Groningen, the Netherlands
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  • Posted by wnelson on Accepted
    The old adage - "There's nothing new under the sun" - fits here. What you are talking about relates to the real world already - and in fact was pioneered there. For instance, in the world of World cup, you have hundreds of evangelists displaying advertisement on hats, shirts, and on their cars. You have communities formed around World Cup. There are even sub-cults around teams. These folks identify with some aspect of the team because they want to be like them. They want to be winners, underdogs, cool, well built, good looking, rebels, or whatever aspect they identify with.

    OK, "fans" in sports or music - that may be easier to understand, but I assure you it's the same concept, different product. But, a product? Clothes or cosmetics?

    I also assure you the brand managers are after the same thing. They are creating an image for the product to feeds who we want to be. They wish to develop customers into enthusiastic fans, advocates. The easiest way to sell a product is to have your customers sell it to someone else.

    And people strive to hand around with people like themselves. If you're a Coke drinker and someone orders a Pepsi, you'll take note and think, "Maybe they aren't like me" and wonder what that means to your relationship with that person. You have an image of what a Coke person is and what a Pepsi person is (as depicted in their marketing). And if Coke did something new or different - for instance Coke Zero - you will talk to other Coke drinkers about that. "What do you think of this new drink?" Internally, you are asking, "How does this change what a Coke drinker is? Do I feel comfortable with this?" And if you felt it changes your relationship with Coke, a die hard fan may even write the company and tell them so. And if no action is taken, you may shop for another soft drink. The company, after all, betrayed you. But, you'd probably check with others in your "Coke community" to see what their thoughts are before you left and if they left, find out where they went.

    With respect to your ideas on CRM, loyalty, help desk, word of mouth....this too is not new. Major companies have formed "user groups" for years. What is new is the facilitation the internet provides making it easier to have user groups. For instance, Campbell's Soup allows you to register on their website as a "user" and has blogs to share ideas. If you're like me, you may say, "Soup? Who the heck cares to be identified with soup?" Well, we're not identifying with the image they are portraying in their branding so we don't see it. This "user group" does reinforce the brand and allows the user group membes to reinforce it among themselves. It fosters more loyalty. And it can attract more loyal customers by providing information (recipes) for them, making them fans.

    I hope this helps.


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