Building a Brand into a Cultural Phenomenon – Part 3

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Posted May 17, 2012
Susan Gunelius

When you think about building a brand, one of the first things marketers typically consider is how to make that brand relevant in consumers' minds. Brands that become cultural phenomena haven't just become relevant. They've made competitors irrelevant. These brands have successfully navigated through the five stages of brand growth and incorporated the necessary ingredients to develop a brand phenomenon. However, these brands also understand the importance of incorporating a secret ingredient into their brand growth plan that makes all the difference -- consumers.

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At first glance, you might think that every brand incorporates consumers into growth plans, but brand phenomena do more than just consider consumer wants and needs. They let consumers take control of the brand, make it their own, and become more deeply connected to it emotionally than the company behind the brand could have hoped for. In other words, they let consumers own the brand.

Give up Control

In Part 1 of the Building a Brand into a Cultural Phenomenon, I mentioned that Harry Potter is an excellent example of a brand phenomenon. One of the reasons Harry Potter was able to grow to such an incredible level of success is because the people behind the brand recognized that by giving up control and allowing consumers to experience the brand in their own ways, the brand could grow significantly more.

Remember one of the basic rules of branding -- consumers build brands, not companies. It makes sense that letting consumers take control of a brand opens the doors for significant growth.

It's important to point out that the Harry Potter brand didn't start out with an open door policy to let consumers take control of it. In the early days, fan blogs and websites received cease and desist letters. Fortunately, J.K. Rowling and the team behind the brand realized early that giving up control would enable the brand to grow more than trying to retain control would allow.

Fan sites, fan fiction, fan art, fan events, fan music, and more became important brand experiences developed by consumers. As a result, Harry Potter fans were always left wanting more from the brand, which led to tease and perpetual marketing tactics driven by pull marketing strategies. It's a recipe for marketing success that brands like Twilight and The Hunger Games are leveraging with amazing results.

Control and the Power of Social Media

It could be argued that Harry Potter could not have developed into a brand phenomenon without the help of social media. Suddenly, consumers from around the world could experience the Harry Potter brand together in the ways that they chose. Communities evolved, vocal brand advocates developed, and the brand continued to grow. Consumers are still highly emotionally connected to the Harry Potter brand, because they continue to experience it together across the social web.

Through blogs, forums, user-generated content, and more, Harry Potter fans can share their love of the brand anytime and anywhere. Other brands have recognized the power of social media in brand building as well. For example, in the automotive industry, there are forums, blogs, and online communities for Harley Davidson, MINI Cooper, Volkswagen Beetle, Bentley, Ford Mustang, and more, which have helped these brands reach and retain cult and relationship status.

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Trying to create a brand phenomenon is likely to backfire as many Harry Potter brand followers could attest to. However, giving up control and allowing consumers to make your brand their own, particularly on the social web, can only help your brand move through the stages of brand growth and have any chance at becoming a phenomenon.

Stay tuned for Part 4 of the Building a Brand into a Cultural Phenomenon series where you'll learn how to use brand research to successfully navigate through the stages of brand growth and get closer to becoming a brand phenomenon. In the meantime, if you missed previous parts of the series, you can follow the links below to read them now:

Image: Laura Leavell,

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