Icons have existed in different cultures since ancient times, linked to beliefs of all kinds, although mainly faith beliefs. Interestingly, the psychology that drives the most successful cults can be incredibly powerful in brand building. As with religions, cult brands, turned into icons, play at a higher level than their competition; They are brands that instill in their followers a great sense of pride and purpose that goes beyond rationality and is fully in the emotional realm.

Apple, Harley Davidson, Lego, Ikea or Disney are references that appear in any brand creation best practice . All of them achieve a status of their own by standing out from the crowd. Not only do they perform at a higher level, but they become powerful institutions that profoundly influence the way their followers see the world, how they live life, the way they spend their money, and even how they behave in public.

Becoming an iconic brand doesn’t happen by accident; In fact, it’s quite the opposite and they always emerge after excellent strategies.


What is an iconic brand?

Describing something as iconic has become very common in our media-savvy society. At its core, a cultural icon is a person or thing recognized by members of a culture, associated with the representation of some aspect of their identity, and worthy of veneration.

Iconic brands are cultural phenomena that inspire unwavering loyalty in their fans. Bigger than your products or services. An iconic brand has such a strong influence and reputation within an industry that it needs no introduction. Revered by their customers, they have the power to maintain a firm dominance in the market for many years to come. These brands win competitive battles not because they offer distinctive benefits, reliable service, or innovative technologies. They succeed because they forge a deep cultural connection through the coherent projection of their values through concrete meaning.

Iconic brands are experts in applied psychology. Starting from a solid brand strategy, they have created a strong identity capable of openly defending what they believe in, resonating with their audience.

Iconic brands don’t sell products, they sell beliefs and align with them in everything they say and do.


Key Elements That Distinguish Iconic Brands

  • Its strong cultural roots: iconic brands tap into society’s values. Their stories, purpose, and values reflect the beliefs and concerns of their target audience, making it easy for them to connect with even the most complex customers.
  • Your identity and image: Even in today’s digital world, iconic brands prevail because they are consistent, powerful, and easy to recognize.
  • Its compelling story: Iconic brands remain true to their history and values, even if it means reinterpreting their beliefs to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Iconic brands are true to their customers and to themselves.


How to Create an Iconic Brand

  1. Forge an exclusive identity. Brands are not inanimate things, but thriving entities with identities and personalities that allow customers to express themselves through consumption. As part of this identity, it is necessary to incorporate a sense of exclusivity, linked to the paradox that people like to be part of something greater, even if the initial impulse to join a cult is to clarify our own individualism. In this way, brands often create a ring of exclusivity promoted by notable leaders who spread the “gospel” of the brand. New members join because they strive to align their image with that of the leader and only then connect with the ideology that drives the cult brand. Harley Davidson has been able to build a strong identity under the factor of exclusivity. Their fans identify with what the brand stands for, but the only people who can join their club are those who have bought their bikes.


  1. Nurture differentiation. To become a cult brand, you need to identify an established pattern in the industry and go against it from the start. The reason is that people love to rebel against the system and when that aligns with their beliefs it quickly generates avid followers. At the center of every cult brand is an enemy; A manifestation of messages, ideas and creeds that highlights how that brand is radically different from the rest. The large enemies are wide enough for each follower to visualize a manifestation of the enemy on their own. In fact, defining the enemy is often the most important step in becoming a cult brand, especially in markets with little competition. In the late ’90s, Apple’s famous “Think Different” campaign helped start the movement to choose a side: Mac vs. PC.


  1. Weave a story. Stories provide an opportunity for people to recount their own experiences and generate shared feelings with those around them. But these stories need to be fueled with actions to truly generate an emotional connection. To weave a compelling brand story, it is necessary to identify the purpose of the brand, which must be a clear and transcendent idea, something that aspires to be more than just a solution to a need. Its structure could be summed up something like this: “The world is in trouble and you (the iconic hero) are here to save it because you have a motivation that makes you different.” This is a process focused on people, not products/services, that goes from the inside to the outside of the companies, where it will be necessary to integrate all the environments that will help foster the experience. Storytelling has been part of Starbucks’ success. For more than 30 years, its President has told the story of the firm’s origin: a trip to Italy and the enormous pleasure of being in a café as if at home. He even created a TV series called “Upstanders,” which sought to inspire the audience to be better citizens and become more engaged with their community.


  1. Create community. The message is the beginning, but you can’t forget about the messengers. Spreading the brand story is critical to an iconic brand, but without people perpetuating the mythology on their own, the effectiveness of actions will be diminished. The main authors of brand stories are companies, intermediaries, and customers. Each of them makes it easier for the brand to blend into the fabric of society and, precisely, the customers can be the best speaker. On this path, brand communities play an essential role. Co-creation is a great way to get them involved and branded content ends up being the king in adding value. By creating a brand community, nurturing it, giving it what it needs every day, customers are better able to connect with each other and with people who share the same interests as them. As soon as they have that connection, they can start interacting and turn the brand into an icon to follow. Airbnb has been able to give hosts a space to offer experiences that can be enjoyed in their places of residence. Customers remain at the heart of the brand. Airbnb doesn’t own any properties and the brand knows this all too well. That’s why, instead of telling your own story, you make it easy for customers to tell theirs.


Final Thoughts

Each of the tips and suggestions above are just the starting points for creating an iconic brand. Measurable success occurs when you can maintain those practices for an extended period of time, showing a commitment to purpose, values, and identity, which make the brand’s story unforgettable.

When people believe that a brand is worth buying for a reason far greater than its product or price, the brand has started down the path to becoming something admired.

Making it an icon starts with a purpose founded on the true spirit of the company, it also requires performance and profitability of the product, but ultimately it is defined by a strong emotion that allows customers to express their own being through their purchase. Brands capable of becoming enduring icons have mastered the art of storytelling and nurturing the communities they perpetuate and contribute to their story, becoming a destination for their followers to belong, thrive, and fight for their cause. Once you’ve reached that coveted status, hang in there and never let it go.


Carlos Puig Falcó

CEO of Branward