Inside Cult Brands and Their Fanatical Followings

Brands are always looking for new ways to connect with current and potential customers. Some brands have managed to go beyond just customer loyalty to create a fanatical following. We call these cult brands. 

What are cult brands? 

Cult brands are B2C companies with customers so passionate that they view their association with the brand as part of their personal identity. This connection can last for decades or even for a lifetime. Cult brand customers also feel a strong affinity with one another as well as the brand. This results in some of the strongest customer communities both online and offline. 

What do cult brands have in common? 

Cult brands must have established fanatical followings. But, what else do they all have in common? Most consumers may not think about Harley-Davidson and Lilly Pulitzer having anything in common. But, as cult brands they absolutely do. We explored some defining features of cult brands and their customer communities. 

Community, community, community  

Cult brands are continually serving and enhancing their brand community by giving customers chances to genuinely connect with each other through their love of the brand. One of the most thought-provoking aspects of the brands outlined below is that many of the key brand differentiators aren’t digital strategies at all. Instead, they are facilitating authentic in-person connections. This significant aspect of an in-person brand community can be seen at Harley-Davidson’s Owners Groups (HOGs), Peloton Studios, Lilly Pulitzer’s Community Giving Events, and Apple’s Genius Bar. 

The success of these in-person brand connections doesn’t mean that digital experiences aren’t important. The brand affinity created throughout these real life experiences crosses over to the digital experience; it makes customers feel more connected to the digital journey as well. In a digital-first world, creating community and the capability for human connection are some of the biggest brand differentiators. Many brands build engaging social media presences or website experiences. It’s how brands go beyond posting content to creating authentic online and offline brand communities and driving meaningful conversations that make brands stand out for decades. 

Distinctive language and terminology

Like any subculture, cult brands have their own terminology that only insiders understand. Instead of small, medium, and large, for example, Starbucks drinks are “Short” (8 ounces), “Tall” (12 ounces), and “Grande” (16 ounces). There is even a “Venti” (20 ounces for hot drinks, 24 ounces for cold drinks) and a “Trenta” (30 ounces). Only someone who goes to Starbucks regularly would know these terms. 

Harley-Davidson owners often refer to their motorcycles as “Hogs.” The insider term dates back to the 1920s when legend has it that a Harley racing team acquired a pet pig, which became their mascot. The “Harley Hogs” were shortened to the “Hogs.” And now that acronym is used for the Harley Owners Groups!

Customer evangelists

Customers of cult brands are so passionate about the brand that they serve as unofficial evangelists. The brand didn’t ask them to do so. It’s a genuine response to the brand and the place it has in their everyday life. Members of the brand’s customer community frequently talk about and recommend the brand to their friends and acquaintances. On social media, they often mention and tag the brand not because of sponsorships or outreach from the brand, but because they want to. For example, countless Starbucks customers celebrate their first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the fall season with a thoughtful social media post. Lululemon customers share their love of the brand after being complimented on their yoga pants before a fitness class. 

These natural customer recommendations are some of the most effective marketing tactics. In order for these endorsements to remain authentic, the brand should not facilitate them directly. 


What separates a cult brand from a fad is longevity. Countless brands have had a moment in the sun or go in and out of fashion—those are fad brands. Cult brands are different from fads in that their customer community is continuously devoted to them over years and even lifetimes. The brand is a permanent part of who they are or aspire to be. For example, many cult brands had large and connected customer communities long before social media provided a platform for brand connection (i.e. Harley motorcycle clubs). 

Let’s get culty: 6 examples of cult brands 

There are countless brands on the market that would be considered cult brands due to the fact that they’ve achieved a timeless affinity with a select group of customers. Let’s explore a handful of these brands (many of which were already mentioned above), what makes them culty, and the conversational marketing tactics they use to bring the brand community together.   


Apple is perhaps one of the world’s most famous and impactful brands. From the Apple I to the iPhone, Apple has consistently brought art and technology together to create friendly and intuitive user experiences. The impact of Apple goes far beyond technology into entertainment with Apple TV+, Apple Music, and more.  

What makes it culty?

Nowadays, almost everyone is a member of the cult of Apple. This is by design. Much of the “cultiness” of Apple is built into their products. Once customers purchase their first Apple product, they receive an Apple ID that stores all of their data and preferences. So the user can now seamlessly acquire new Apple products that are instantly set up just for them. This leads to customers being lifetime customers and continuing to buy more and more Apple products. This seamless interconnectivity combined with sleek and often minimalist marketing makes Apple one of the most alluring brands ever. While other technology companies such as Microsoft have also created ways to store each customer’s data and preferences for further product adoption, customers aren’t looking to those brands with the same passion as Apple. 

Key brand differentiators 

  • Apple’s famous Genius Bar provides in-person support for everything from setting up a device to recovering an Apple ID to replacing a broken part or device. 
  • Apple Camp is where kids and families can design the inventions of their dreams on an iPad at the Apple Store. 
  • Apple Trade In shows the brand’s commitment to sustainability by allowing customers to trade in old devices to credit toward a new one. They will recycle any device in any condition for free even if it isn’t eligible for credit. This can be done either online or in-store. 


Harley-Davidson was founded in 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and became one of the most iconic motorcycle brands of all time. The brand has its own lifestyle identity strongly connected to the freedom of the open road. Harley-Davidson continues to build motorcycle communities and define motorcycle culture across the world. 

What makes it culty?

Unlike other high-end automotive brands that feel more exclusive, Harley-Davidson is different. Anyone who connects with the spirit of the brand can be part of the H-D community by wearing the clothes, patches, or other branded goods. This sense of rugged independence combined with inclusivity attracts new Harley-Davidson enthusiasts across generations. 

Key brand differentiators 

  • Since 1916, Harley-Davidson has celebrated motorcycles and the lives lived on them in their publication The Enthusiast
  • Customers can become more immersed in the brand by seeing first-hand how their favorite motorcycles are made by booking a factory tour or visiting the H-D Museum
  • Harley Owners Groups are an integrated part of the Harley-Davidson Membership. They provide exclusive benefits, events, discounts, and more so customers can get the most out of Harley ownership.  
  • The brand hosts guided motorcycle tours across the world. 

Lilly Pulitzer

In the 1950s, Lilly Pulitzer opened a juice stand in Palm Beach, Florida and needed a dress that would hide splashes of citrus juice. So it’s no wonder the brand is now known for its bright and colorful resort wear, dresses, and swimwear. People can spot Lilly’s vibrant neon prints from a mile away. The brand’s mission is to “help YOU create your own sunshine.” Artists in Lilly’s in-house design studio are inspired by travels and feature florals, menageries of exotic animals, underwater scenes, and more.

What makes it culty? 

The Lilly Pulitzer brand is eternally optimistic, allowing fans to temporarily escape the real world into a fun and colorful coastal universe filled with tennis tournaments and charity galas. When a customer wears Lilly, they can feel like a Palm Beach socialite for the day. This sense of escapism from the ordinary less colorful world is what gets people hooked on the brand. 

Key brand differentiators 

  • The Club Lilly loyalty program offers great perks such as early access and special events. 
  • Customers can make an appointment to shop with a stylist in-store
  • Lilly Pulitzer hosts Community Giving Events in stores nationwide. 
  • Several times a year, Lilly releases Prints with Purpose, limited edition collections anchored by a hand-painted print celebrating a charitable organization such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America or the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.


Lululemon was founded by Chip Wilson in Vancouver, Canada in 1998 as a yoga-inspired, technical athletic apparel company. They soon led the way for the athleisure space and the demand for studio to street styles. Lululemon now has a global footprint of over 660 stores and 34,000 employees around the world.

What makes it culty?

Exclusivity adds value and mystique to the Lululemon community. It feels special, elite, and like customers are part of the in-crowd. The brand lingo is also very distinct. Avid Lululemon customers know exactly what an “Align Tank,” “Define Jacket,” or “Hotty Hot High-Rise Lined Shorts” are along with features of these products. 

Key brand differentiators 

  • The Sweat Collective is an exclusive group of fitness instructors, athletes, coaches, and other leaders in the fitness community that get perks and discounts from lululemon. Those interested in joining can apply for membership. 
  • The lululemon Studio collaborates with some of the most sought after fitness studios to stream expert-led fitness classes to members. 
  • Lululemon’s creator network and affiliate program are very exclusive and available by application only. 
  • The company is transparent about their commitment to equity, wellbeing, and sustainability. They release detailed reports on their website. 


The boutique fitness experience was once only available to people in major cities with the time to drop in on classes. Peloton changed all of that. Fitness enthusiasts in any market can now take a top notch fitness class streamed from their state of the art Peloton bike any time of the day, any day of the week. This is all with the privacy and convenience of home.  

What makes it culty? 

Peloton riders create incredibly strong connections with their favorite instructors. It’s almost like they are following that fitness instructor’s personal brand rather than Peloton’s. The draw of these powerful sub-brands within the Peloton brand make it unique and of course culty. Since most Peloton workouts take place at home, consumers have a pre-set sense of familiarity and comfort with the brand experience even before taking their first class. Finally, Peloton membership is also somewhat of a “gateway drug.” People can purchase a membership to stream classes with their own equipment and then feel like they need to purchase Peloton’s equipment in order to get the full experience. 

Key brand differentiators: 

  • Being a Peloton instructor brings immense amounts of fame. Many are full blown celebrities with top tier brand collaborations and even brands of their own such as Love Squad by Ally Love. 
  • Peloton Bikes now appear in many hotel gyms giving current members a chance to ride when they are away from home and attracting the interest of new riders. 
  • Peloton customers jump at the chance to meet their favorite instructors and take a class in person at a Peloton Studio.
  • Peloton is always expanding to better serve customers and attract new customers. In addition to indoor cycling, they also offer rowing, strength training, yoga, meditation, and more. They also have a line of fitness apparel


Starbucks started in 1971 in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. Decades later they are credited with bringing European cafe culture to the United States at scale. Now, Starbucks has over 30,000 stores across 80 countries. 

What makes it culty? 

The way Starbucks stores are set up as meeting places provides built-in word of mouth marketing as friends invite friends to meet them at Starbucks. They also have one of the most distinct terminologies. Only true Starbucks customers know how to order the correct drink size (i.e. Tall, Grande, Venti, etc.) An outsider might order a “small” coffee instead of a “Tall” one. 

Key brand differentiators: 

  • While Starbucks is a global brand, they also manage to be local. Starbucks locations often reflect the local culture and community. Starbucks merchandise such as popular collectable coffee mugs are designed around cities and landmarks and are only sold in those local communities. 
  • Starbucks Rewards partners with Delta SkyMiles allowing dual members to earn 1 mile per $1 spent at Starbucks and 2x Stars on Delta travel days. 
  • Seasonal favorites such as the Pumpkin Spice Latte and annual holiday cups keep the brand new and fresh by giving customers limited time offers to look forward to each year.  

How to become a cult brand 

Short answer: You don’t. 

Similar to going viral on social media, brands can’t specifically set out to become cult brands. Posts that go viral on social media do so because they resonate with the audience so much that they make it go viral. The same is true for brands that achieve cult status. It’s really up to the audience. Customers need to feel a strong lifelong affinity with the brand and with each other in order for a brand to become a cult brand. While the brand can add fuel to the fire by nurturing their customer community through brand experiences or supporting customers’ meetups, online forums, etc. that further create and grow their brand community, the customer fandom must be there first.

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