He doesn’t even know it, but Naira Marley is a cult leader.
All of a sudden, there’s an army of Nigerians all over the world calling themselves Marlians. They follow the philosophy of the Great One aka Afeez Fashola, who is only 25 years old.
Their doctrine, it appears, is smoke a bouyant amount of weed, rage against the authorities, have a lot of sex, and secure the bag aka naira.
People are proud to be called Marlians, even those who don’t really know what it means to be one.
And that’s the thing with cults, everybody wants to belong because members seem to have an inside joke about the rest of the world. Nobody wants to ever be outside of a secret joke. Just in case the joke is about you.
And now the story makes me wonder: how does a cult happen? Also, how do you make money from it?
You’d expect cults, by their definition, to be exclusive. You don’t just admit anyone into your cult because they have a high pain threshold. You take them because they pass THE test—whatever THE test was.
In Lagos, there’s an elite society called The Metropolitan Club. It’s a clique for the biggest of the city’s big boys. But you can’t buy your way into The Lagos Met. Someone has to hold your hand and lead you inside.
After that person has vouched for you and you’ve been interrogated, you’ll then be compelled to pay a massive induction fee before you get a chance to become a probationary member.
From what I’ve heard, it’s a taboo at The Metropolitan Club for new members to sit with old members.
“Junior” members have their dinners in a recessed section of the meeting floor while “senior” members sit on a raised platform. Old members literally look down on new members.
If you’re a junior member, no matter how many billions you have in the bank, you can’t speak to the “elders” unless they speak to you first. Also, whatever happens in the Met Club stays in the Met Club.
Yet, in spite of these conditions, people still fall over themselves to join the initiated.
Now, that’s a real cult.
Moving on. I’ll name the world’s top three cult brands.
Three: Kanye West.
There are not many real cult brands on earth, you know. Why? Because there’s a difference between just being popular and being a cult leader. One is just a well-attended party; the other is a bona fide religion. Once you rise to cult status, no one can replace you. Ever.
Consider this: True Religion jeans are cool. Hundreds of thousands of people adore the label. But let me ask you: how long will it take those same fans to switch to 7 for Mankind if they can’t find True Religion? I don’t think it will take many minutes.
But members of a real cult don’t flip-flop. They’re never fickle. They stay strong. They are sure that their connection to the cult brand will lead them to ultimate enlightenment.
So, how would you like to start your own cult?
Wouldn’t you love to have devotees who would live by your commandments (or those of your business)? Wouldn’t like to be perpetually irreplaceable?
If your answer is yes, now bow your head, say three amen, and declare that you’ll live by the following 13 canons. Don’t worry, 13 is only an omen in a few cultures:
1. Be trustworthy. A real cult is just as unified as the mafia. It’s a solid brotherhood—or sisterhood. If you start a cult, people should think you’ll be there for them, no matter what—as if you’re their family. They should think you’d put your life on the line if the need arises.
2. Be a mastermind. Amaze everyone with an extraordinary product. People stick to what they believe to be genius. Tesla’s cars are incredible. Almost everything Apple makes feels like sorcery. The man Steve Jobs was a saviour to many and today those people still worship him, years after his death. E get why.
3. Be scarce. People always want what they can’t have. Nike devised the ‘drop culture’ to fuel the demand of its limited edition releases. That’s why the long queues for Nike’s new issues will endure forever and ever. Authentic Supreme is so scarce people will buy its logo on anything– including a “useless” brick.
4. Mysterise. Let them wonder what your secret is. Willy Wonka conjured the erlasting Gobstopper. But how did he do it? Maybe it’s all fiction; may it’s not. Nobody knew. Nobody Knows. We will never know.
5. Summon the tribe. As Seth Godin says, there are crowds of people gathered around various causes and interests. They’re waiting for someone to lead them. They’re primed and ready. Go commandeer their passion. Be their anointed messiah.
6. Stay consistent. This explains itself. Of all the banks in Nigeria, GTBank appears to be the one closest to becoming a cult. It’s unwaveringly the anti-bank. This is how it converts customers to advocates.
7. Have a bold WHY. Nike believes there’s an athlete in everyone if everyone would Just Do It. Apple thinks “different.” Kanye… uh… Kanye wants to be the Moses who’ll lead the world into the black hole of creativity. Soon, he’ll make Kanyeism the next Christianity. The brands whose human mission appears larger than the quest for money are the truly beloved brands.
8. Ride the trend. As you spread your gospel, maintain a balance between disruptive innovation and familiar truths. This familiarity is known in my trade as fluency and feeling. As Jesus, founder of the world’s biggest religion, once said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17).
9. Be weird. Want to be sighted? Stand apart. Raise your hands. Wear a robe. Invent your own language. No one will see you if you hide in the midst of the ordinary.
10. Look the part. Why does the Pope wear that hat?
11.Be human. The best cults build from the inside. They project their power from their strengths. Plus, when they talk, they speak in the way people to understand. A company is not a person, but if it has a human face, that’s awesome. Case in point: EFCC Nigeria on Twitter.
12. Evangelise. The first disciples/apostles peddled the idea of Jesus to tremendous success. Guy Kawasaki was Apple’s first evangelist. Today, you may lean on have the social media influencer. Ultimately, your aim is to unleash your fanatics on the universe. Command them to “go ye into the world and preach the gospel.”
13. Be Bold. Without courage, no mortal can withstand the pull of the mundane, row against the tide, and become legend.
So now, brethren, for our closing ritual, shall we raise our hands to the heavens. Let us chant that mantra of yours.
Postscript: Okay, relax, these are just tactics for building a loyal following for you, your brand, or your business. Some have used them without knowing, but whoever said you couldn’t engineer it with your eyes open?