Sonder | What we can learn from cults
The characteristics of cults and the characteristics of successful businesses have more in common than you might think. Valuable lessons for marketers.
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What we can learn from cults

What we can learn from cults

There is a dark side to cults. One that might involve standing buck naked deep in a forest around a raging fire at midnight, eyes closed, chanting, whilst sacrificing a chicken. But there is much that can be learnt from them too. The characteristics of cults and the characteristics of successful businesses have more in common than you might think.

A cult is a group of people who share an idealistic purpose and believe they can realise their own higher potential, through following that purpose. Successful organisations (like Nike, IKEA, Ben & Jerrys, Lorna Jane, Apple) all have an idealistic purpose which is followed, worshipped and preached by it’s employees and customers alike. Without a powerful purpose, leaders will struggle to motivate their employees and customers will struggle to find a reason to connect with the organisation.

Cult members are myopic in their unwavering belief and commitment to their purpose. It is this confidence in why they are doing what they’re doing, that creates a culture without fear. One where the members are encouraged to take risks, to accept failure, all in the name of the cause. Ruthless focus and seeing failure as necessary to succeed is exactly the progressive thinking which leading businesses embrace.

Language, symbols, behaviours, rituals, a way of dressing all typify a strong cult. All successful organisations are fiercely protective of their culture and rigorously interrogate new members to identify whether or not they are “one of us”. The manifesto, the unwritten rules, the code all serve to define your authenticity and it is authenticity that attracts people.

You don’t see much advertising from cults. They use people as their most important growth channel, using member advocacy to tell their story, consistently and regularly. Organisations with contagious cultures typically have disciples too. Passionate people who love what they do, why they do it and who they do it with. Word of mouth is often held up as the most powerful persuader yet many organisations fail to create an environment that is worthy of raving to others about. Cults do this brilliantly and marketers should too.

So, we salute you cults. Thank you for the lessons but stay away from our chickens.