Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lifted directly from Church of the Consumer:

"What does a cult brand look like? Well, here's one example.

Westvleteren A religious order of silent monks in Belgium creates a cult beer. It's called Westvleteren. You must make an appointment to buy it. To make an appointment, you call the monks' Beer Phone. Yes, it's called the Beer Phone. The monks may talk while on the Beer Phone. You may buy only two cases at a time. The beer is sold once per month. The monks do not advertise, nor do they label the bottles. They make 60,000 cases per year; that's 5,000 cases per month, or 120,000 bottles. Texas Stadium probably sells 120,000 units of beer every Sunday. Tales abound of people driving 16 hours across parts of Europe for a beer run. Some experts call it the best in the world. The monks believe, truly, that they "sell beer to live, and not vice versa."

Besides being what people describe as an excellent beer, Westvleteren has developed into a cult brand based on its rituals. All of the items mentioned above are ritualistic. Make an appointment. Call the Beer Phone. Two-case limit. No label. A regular release schedule. A unifying belief system. However they're defined and practiced, rituals embody culture. They are symbolic expressions of a company's values.

For organizations not religiously grounded as Trappist monks, rituals can be simple, like consistently observing dates in company history or paying public homage to goals attained. More elaborate rituals may involve meeting or surpassing milestones focused on quality. No matter what, corner-cutting is heresy.

A cult brand like Westvleteren is created by people religiously devoted to their craft. The monks in Belgium are serious about their business, but they do not obsess over maximizing profit or monetizing eyeballs. They do not do brand extension. They embrace scarcity as a necessary component of quality, thereby ensuring future value. Just as the Wii is a cult hit because it is an excellent product that's not easy to buy, so too with an unlabeled beer that's been religiously produced for 170 years.

After all, cult is the root of culture. It is culture that creates a cult brand."



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