The Word by Sonder and Tell. Writing Worth Reading
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Once a month, the Sonder & Tell team swaps the weekly writing prompt for a book club. November’s read was an extract from Amanda Montell’s Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism – a gateway to the blurry discussion: are brands really cults? 


Merriam-Webster defines 'cult' as a 'great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work’. And when you break down the elements that make a brand, they're really not that different. You want a strong belief people can rally behind, loyal customers preaching about products like gospel, buzzwords that make sense to your insiders – the list goes on. Is that a good thing or bad? 


Think about it like this: when Glossier blew up, customers were obsessed with the idea of imperfect beauty. The brand defined itself with the mantra ‘skin first, makeup second’ and carefully chose product names like Cloud Paint and Skywash to allude to this au naturel aesthetic. 


IKEA, meanwhile, falls into what Montell might call a "live your life" category of broad, harmless, everyday cult. They've leant into the idea that everyone can make home, home: keeping costs low and furniture assembly simple for even the most novice DIYer. Product names are instantly recognisable and bandied around by those who know their Kallax from their Billy bookcase. And always get the meatballs. 

These brands don't just give people products but values they can identify with, language to share it and the feeling of being part of something bigger – not just once, but time and again. That's a cult following. Look past negative associations that have muddied the word, and that 'cult' idea can be useful frame of mind for building a distinct brand world. It's not trying to convert masses but instead really tapping into the needs and desires of your customer. 
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“Unlike the cults of the ‘70s, we don’t even have to leave the house for a charismatic figure to take hold of us. With contemporary cults, the barrier to entry is the simple frisson of tapping Follow.”

― Amanda Montell, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism
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From the obsession with brands like Gymshark and Lululemon to the fanaticism of CrossFitters, exercise has long been a space where culty-ness has thrived. This week’s interview is with Matilda Egere-Cooper, formerly Head of Content and Social at Sweaty Betty, who we worked with last year to define the brand’s tone of voice. We caught up with her about harnessing a community, putting the Sweaty Betty voice into action and Matilda’s own running community: Fly Girl Collective.
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If calling its brand values ‘Cosmic Principles’ isn't enough of a giveaway about this brand’s cultishness, we don’t know what is. With most cults, there’s a leader, and for soap brand Dr Bronner’s it was Emanuel Bronner. He was born into a German-Jewish soapmaking family and, having lost both parents during the Holocaust, took to a spiritual life, spreading sermons and helping people realise their ‘transcendent unity’. And it turns out that soap was the perfect vehicle to spread his message. Today, his ideology remains densely laid out over Dr Bronner’s packaging: ‘Heal Soul!’, ‘you’ll enjoy God’s Spaceship Earth & do great work within it’, ‘We’ll work-sing-dance-love, marching on!’
What are the phrases your brand uses over and over again? What are the words you want your customers repeating to others? The type of thing you’d want printed on a t-shirt?

Hit reply to submit your prompt
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Browse our page to see what the team is reading and a few of our favourite brand and copywriting books. When you buy from you're supporting independent bookstores. And we're donating the 10% affiliate cut from our store to BookTrust, the UK's largest children's reading charity. 

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