Few businesses – if any – need millions of customers to do well. Sure, if you want to join the ranks of the world’s richest, you need to think big. Really big. But if you’re happy with a steady income and manageable growth, all you realistically need is a small but dedicated, cult-like following.

“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.” kk

That’s because these “true fans” are so devoted that they will buy pretty much anything you produce.

For context, if you’re a musician, these are those fans that buy your new record as soon as it comes out and will drive across the country to see you play. If you manage a restaurant, your “true fans” are your regulars – the people you can count on to fill a table once a month or more.

The same logic can be applied to companies in most industries. Let’s talk about what you can do if you want to start reaping the rewards of your own cult-like following.

Focus on building an audience

It’s going to be really difficult to create a cult-like following if you don’t have an audience you can push to that status, which is why the very first step in building this following is to build an audience.

That takes time, and a detailed discussion of how to do it would necessitate an article of its own.

For a more comprehensive guide to building an audience, I suggest reading this: Quicksprout’s Complete Guide to Building Your Blog Audience.

For now, here’s the short version:

  1. Create accessible blog content that’s easy to market and relevant to your target audience.
  2. Incorporate appropriate CTAs that encourage readers to sign up for updates from you.
  3. Use paid social media to increase the reach of your content socially.
  4. Optimize your content for search using long-tail key phrases.
  5. Feature quotes from industry influencers (or reach out to them and ask for new quotes). Contact and encourage those influencers to share the resulting content.
  6. Launch a community around your brand – this could be in a forum that lives on your site or in a group on a social platform like Facebook or LinkedIn.
  7. Seek out guest posting spots on sites and blogs with audiences that complement or compete with your own.

Although I’ve placed each step above in a logical order of attack, bear in mind that these are all ongoing strategies. Don’t stop using paid social as soon as you start seeing organic results, or swap writing for your own site for writing guest posts – for best results, they need to be working side by side.

Help people

You don’t need to be in marketing to understand that helping people is a great way to make friends, and as it so happens, fans.

That’s why going out of your way to help people is a near-foolproof technique for growing your fanbase and making your existing fans love you even more.

Exactly how you do this is up to you. I myself have adopted a two-pronged attack:

  1. I make sure my customer service is unbeatable. I do my very best to respond to people personally, and when I can, I’ll call them on the phone.
  2. I proactively seek out people I think I can help. I’ve always got one eye on Twitter, for example, and if I spot someone asking questions that I know I can answer, I’ll reach out to them and try to assist.

What you do might be very different (though I’d certainly say everyone should be pushing to offer the best possible customer service that they can). If you’re struggling to figure out how you can help people, think about where your strongest skills lie and how you can harness them in ways others will find useful.

Educate

This one’s strongly tied to helping people. In fact, educating people is helping them, and if you’re able to pinpoint a skill you can pass onto others, you’ll be in a solid position for building a cult-like following.

There are many ways you can leverage your skills to educate others.

Blog posts

Blog posts, like this one, are an obvious choice. Unfortunately, they lack the personal touch that’s needed in really great educational materials.

Videos

Something I’ve been doing a lot of lately is creating videos. They’re currently my favorite form of content for a number of reasons, including how much easier it is to connect with my audience than with a blog post or even a podcast. They’re also an excellent educational tool (who didn’t like it at school when teachers would put on a video?!)

Webinars

Webinars are essentially seminars that take place online. There isn’t really a better way to educate people over the internet, especially in a group, since they allow you and your “students” to interact in real time.

You can read about how to start hosting webinars here.

One-on-one consulting

This is something I do quite a lot of myself. Usually it takes place over the phone but I’m happy to meet people in person, if we can both be in the right place at the right time.

Becoming a successful consultant entails leveraging your strongest skill. When you know what that is, start marketing your time as a service (whether you charge or not is up to you – however, I’d recommend offering your services for free, at least initially).

Design a custom content funnel, and use it to inform the content you create

You’re probably familiar with a sales funnel – the process a prospect goes through before becoming a customer – but did you know that the same analogy can be applied to content?

In fact, the concept of a “funnel” can be applied to anything you want your customers to do. It simply changes in accordance with what you’re trying to achieve.

In this case, we’re talking about a funnel that outlines what your content needs to do in order to transform a visitor into an advocate.

So, while a content funnel for driving sales would probably look something like this…

…a funnel for creating a cult-like following might look more like this:

  1. Captures traffic
  2. Gains prospect’s details
  3. Gets prospect to keep coming back
  4. Turns prospect into an advocate

Exactly what your funnel looks like might differ from the above – there are no set rules here – you simply need to create a funnel that complements your goals and outlines the process you need to follow to achieve them.

Create 10x content

10x content was a term originally coined by Rand Fishkin, in rejection of another phrase that’s been pushed around the industry for a few years now:

Good, unique content.

Rand was rejecting the idea that “good, unique content” marked the ceiling in terms of what content creators should be aiming for.

“Good, unique content” sets the bar too low. It implies that if your content isn’t actually “bad” and hasn’t just been lifted straight from elsewhere on the web, that’s enough. Of course, that’s rarely the case.

There’s now so much “good” content around, that “good” is the new normal.

To stand out – to create content that turns customers into advocates and helps you build a cult-like following – you have to be aiming way higher.

10x higher, to be precise.

To create 10x content, you first need to figure out where the bar’s currently set. To do that, search Google for the topic you want to write about and take a good look at the first 10 results. Then, ask yourself questions that will help you establish how you can create something similar, but much, much better.

Rand suggests starting with:

  • What questions are being asked and answered?
  • How’s the user experience on the ranking pages?
  • How detailed is the content? What detail is it missing?
  • Are visuals being used?
  • How good (or not) is the quality of the writing?
  • What data is being used?

If you can create content that does all the things the content that currently ranks for that search term is doing, only more and better, you’re going to be creating the kind of content that helps to build a cult-like following.

Give your audience what they want

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that providing your audience with content they actually want makes a big difference when creating a cult-like following.

“Regardless of the business objectives for your content in 2017, the content experts during a B2C roundtable discussion at Content Marketing World identified one overarching goal that should inform each and every piece of content – it should be centered on your audience. Whether you strive to increase leads or retain customers, your content needs to give the audience what it wants.” Andrea Fryrear, The Agile Marketer, writing for CMI

We choose whether to click on and consume content based on whether the subject matter interests us. That means you’re not going to get very far in attracting and keeping an audience if your content doesn’t capture their interest in the first place.

There are many tricks you can use to figure out what it is your audience actually wants. Here are a few to get you started.

Check your onsite search data

Are visitors asking questions that can be answered in your content? Or at least typing in phrases that hint at there being key information missing from your site (or not as clear or as easy to find as it should be?)

Talk to your customer service team

They’re going to be on the receiving end of the bulk of your customers’ questions, which makes their insights invaluable.

Check your blog comments

You should be doing this anyway (interacting with your customers is imperative if you want to build a cult-like following) but comments aren’t just a platform for communicating with your audience – they can also be an excellent source of content ideas.

Ask them directly

There’s no easier or more accurate way to gauge what your customers want but aren’t getting than to ask them outright.

Post-purchase surveys are a great way to do this, as are surveys that you send out to your email list.

To boost response rates, offer compensation for your customers’ time.

Make your audience feel special

You could be doing everything right in terms of the content you create, but you’re unlikely to be able to reach that “next level” – true advocacy or a cult-like following – without taking steps to make your audience feel important.

There are many ways to do that. Some I have or will talk about in more detail in this article, but here are a few summed up, to get you started.

Talk to your customers

Engage them in genuine, meaningful conversations. Drop the corporate crap and talk to your customers human-to-human.

Notify your best followers about new content first

Make your most important followers feel special by giving them the chance to view your content before anyone else. Better yet, give them exclusive access for a limited time by hiding content behind a paywall that only they can access.

Ask your best followers to help you out

Just above I suggested that the best way to establish what content your audience wants to see is to ask them. That still stands, but you can take it a step further by asking some of your best followers to talk to you directly.

This could mean over the phone, but it could be in person. You could even invite one or more of your best followers to visit you in your offices, or join your team for a night out or celebration.

However you choose to speak to your best followers, this is an invaluable tactic because it achieves two things:

  1. It helps uncover priceless information that you’ll only get by having a real conversation with your customers.
  2. The act of reaching out to your customers and requesting to spend time with them makes them feel really important (a win that still applies even if things never progress past an invite).

Include your customers in your content

There are loads of benefits to including your customers in your content.

  • Customer quotes act as testimonials. Even if they don’t mention products specifically, the fact that customers are even contributing sends positive signals (research has shown that user-generated content is 50% more trusted than other forms of media).
  • It encourages your customers to share your content, which helps increase its reach.
  • It creates emotional connections with your customers that boost loyalty.

It’s that last point that’s most pertinent in this context. The more involved customers are with your brand, the greater their loyalty. Contributing to your content makes the customer feel like they’ve played a part in building something – in this case, part of your brand. This is naturally going to increase their attachment to you.

Let’s see some examples of how other brands have included customers in their content.

Starbucks

In 2014, Starbucks ran a contest that it called the “White Cup Contest.” It was designed to promote the launch of a range of $1 reusable coffee cups and the idea was simple: customers were asked to doodle designs onto the iconic Starbucks white cup and submit the entry through social media using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest.

In the space of three weeks, more than 4,000 customers submitted designs. While it’s the owner of the winning design (pictured below) that would likely see their loyalty to the brand increase most significantly, the act of illustrating the cup and getting involved in the excitement surrounding the contest on social media undoubtedly had an effect on all entrants’ affiliation with and loyalty to the Starbucks brand.

Coca Cola

I’ve always thought that Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign was super smart. It pulled customers unconsciously into the campaign, simply because if you spotted a bottle of Coke with your name on it, why wouldn’t you choose that one over the others on the shelf?

The campaign also asked customers to share photos of themselves with “their” coke bottles on social media. Anyone who did this would likely further feel the impact of the customer-led campaign; however, it certainly wasn’t necessary for customers to take this next step in order for the campaign to influence their feelings towards the brand.

Belkin and Lego

In 2013, Belkin and Lego joined forces to create these very cool phone cases.

This product is shouting out for a user-generated content campaign – something Belkin and Lego achieved by asking customers to share the structures they made with their phone cases to social media, using the hashtag #LEGOxBelkin.

You can view some of the resulting images here.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a running theme throughout these examples that you can follow to a T if you want to do something similar yourself.

  1. Ask customers to interact with your product in some way.
  2. Ask customers to photograph (or film) their interaction with your product.
  3. Ask customers to share their photo or video to social media using a campaign-specific hashtag of your choice.

Leverage your sales and support team

Ask them to support your marketing by making the most of their positions and sharing your content with the customers they talk to.

Allocate them the time to become familiar with your existing content, and allow them time to read new content as it’s published. For this tactic to work, it’s key for your team to know your content inside-out.

Once they know what’s available, get them to share appropriate pieces of content with your customers. Let’s say someone called up and asked how to use a feature you’ve just added. Your sales or support person should help them as they usually would, and answer questions as thoroughly as they can. They then go the extra mile by sharing content which cements the assistance they’ve just received.

This strategy’s great for two reasons: one, it gets more eyes on your content, and two, the extra effort your team is putting into customer service helps create advocates.

Find (and push) your USP

What makes you special? Why should people care about what you do? You’re not necessarily going to build a cult-like following because you’re better at this than anyone else, but because you pushed this as your USP harder than anyone else.

Take Innocent Drinks. Its USP is the quality of the product and the 100% natural, health-giving ingredients.

Is Innocent Drinks the only company producing 100% natural, all-fruit smoothies? I doubt it. But the company has done such a great job at pushing that as its USP that in countries where the product is sold, Innocent Drinks has become synonymous with that product type.

Its audience’s affiliation with this very positive brand attribute has undoubtedly played a key role in developing the brand’s super strong following.

Figuring out what it is that you do better than everyone else, and selling yourself on this skill, can help you do the same.

Show off (at least a little)

Don’t be shy about your successes, how you achieved them, or why you deserve them. It’s fine – good even – to shout about your achievements.

Just don’t be obnoxious.

Neil Patel is a great example of someone who uses his own achievements to show how he’s able to help others. This strategy has also played a big role in building the cult-like following he so clearly has.

When you land on his homepage you are met with a bold statement that is based on achievements of his own.

This is a tactic that we can see in use elsewhere on his site, like here…

…and in other content he creates.

There’s no shame in this. It earns you credibility, which is critical to creating a cult-like following (and no one can argue that it hasn’t worked for Neil).

Build relationships

I’ve left this one until last, but that’s not because it’s the least important point I’m going to make – it’s actually one of the most important.

Building relationships with customers is critical.

“A personal connection, whether developed over weeks, months or years, can lead to positive word-of-mouth, increased sales, additional connections, job security, and satisfaction.” Allen Duet, writing for Entrepreneur

The more time you spend talking to your customers, the more naturally they will start to fall into the “cult-like following” group.

It’s just like real life. When we spend a lot of time around certain people, we tend to grow much closer. Why should business be any different?

How you decide to build relationships is up to you, but choosing a technique that you’re comfortable with is pretty important. If you really hate talking on the phone, you’ll probably fare better trying to engage your audience in other ways.

I use a number of techniques for building relationships. I’m not shy about talking on the phone, so that’s a big one for me.

My favorite way to build relationships, however, is through food.

I’m a huge fan of dinner parties, and I like to host them pretty regularly for friends and potential friends.

I keep things quite casual and choose simple dishes I know I can cook well and everyone will enjoy.

While it’s difficult to scale this one, it’s really effective if there’s a handful of people you’d love to get to know better.

Of course, you don’t have to go to these lengths to build relationships with customers. Being honest and genuine, treating customers like real people, and interacting with them on a regular basis can make a big difference in how they see you and your brand, and how loyal they are to it.

What tactics are you using to build a cult-like following? Are they working or do you have plans to switch things up? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have a moment to share them in the comments below.

Image credits: Kuno Creative, Pinterest

Comments
  1. Hi Sujan ! “true fans” are so devoted that they will buy pretty much anything you produce. – Sujan Patel.This is so true, The trick is not to sell but to be possibly an industry leader and have true fans.I guess some people even call their Fan base as Tribe.Coming across as an expert also helps a great deal. After reading one of blog post of Neil, I got inspired and wrote about my take of a website – National Zoo in Canberra  – Just loved distributing the link.  PS – Wow, I dont believe it, I get to be the first one to comment on this post of yours ! I guess it is my lucky day !   

  2. Hey Sujan, in a time where everyone seems to be focused on hyper growth, this is like a breath of fresh air!

    I think if you can build a cult-like following, you can use that experience to scale even further, should you so choose.

    Always enjoy reading your posts. And now listening to your podcasts!

  3. I love how he explains a store is more than a store, it’s an experience and every detail within the store will play a role on the customers experience. Impressive.

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