I joined a cult…well, 10 cults to be exact. I guess you could say I’m a serial cultist.

Wait…Before you go call my mama let me explain.

Here’s the Google definition:

a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or 

practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

Have you ever joined a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) or direct sales business like Mary Kay or Avon? If you have, see if any of these cult characteristics apply.

According to Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.

Characteristics of a cult include:

  • The group displays zealous and unquestioning commitment.
  • Mind altering practices such as meditation
  • Leadership dictates how members should think, act and feel
  • The group is elitist
  • The group is polarizing
  • The group is pre-occupied with bringing in new members
  • The group is pre-occupied with making money
  • The group is expected to devoted inordinate amount of time to the group and group-related activities
  • Members are encouraged to socialize only with group members
  • The most loyal members believe there is no other way to be as if there is no life away from the group.

My first cult was Amway.

Waaaay back in 1995 I met a guy who approached me at a particular low point in my life. I was going through a divorce from my abusive husband and I had a 6- month old baby to care for on my own.

He said these words,

“I have a business opportunity that I believe could change your life. I want to invite you to meet the top person in the business this Thursday night.”

(Sound familiar?) I asked what was it about and of course, this question was never answered before arriving to the exclusive meeting with the top dog.

Nine more times I fell for this same line. I saw the most loyal followers earn several thousand dollars in a week and the suspicious slackers (like myself) pay hundreds to get in and then fall to the wayside.

Today, companies like Mary Kay, Herbalife, Avon, and Nu Skin earn an average of $4 billion a year. So, no matter how skeptical you are toward this business model, it continues to be extremely profitable.

In 1995, these companies were known as pyramids. Pyramids quickly became attached to the word scheme and that came with sinister connotations. What did Amay and other pyramids do? They re-branded and re-named their model, but the concept remains the same.

Here’s what you can learn from cult marketing:

Target people with a perceived pain

In order to get zealous and unquestioning commitment to your brand you must target the right people for your product. The right person is not the person that is just like you. Business owners make this mistake over and over again. Instead, think of your clients as patients who need your help. Diagnose their symptoms and then prescribe a solution they can’t live without.

When people start to feel better, they will associate you with cause of this miraculous change in their lives.

Give away information

If you want to change your client’s mindset, invite them to an information buffet. Layout a spread of undeniable facts centered on their perceived pain. Tell stories around that pain that create a knowledge gap your client just has to fill. Have them repeat what they have learned to others and make it easy for them to do so.

Give them the who, what, when and where and save the how for dessert.

They are full off the main course–all the juicy bits and new flavors. The mindset begins to shift and you are someone they can trust.

But the dessert is what everybody’s been waiting for.

The dessert is your insight. It’s the knowledge that only you have acquired through your experiences. You can Google all of the information in the world for free, but insight’s going to cost you.

The insight is what makes you unique and fascinating. You’re asking your clients to pay for the secret steps, the insider only knowledge or the benefit only you know how to provide.

Create a culture of belonging

  • Create a uniform
  • Create a uniform
  • Coin your own phrases or language
  • Have an application process
  • Give each member a responsibility
  • Establish a set of values that members must agree to follow

Take sides and build a fan base

In other words, be divisive. It may sound harsh at first, but it’s absolutely necessary because you can’t please everybody. You have to serve only the people who believe you can serve them and share you world view.

Think about an Us vs. Them situation.

For example, Coke vs. Pepsi, Coke is ‘world unity’ Pepsi is ‘be an individual’. Take a stand for something you strongly believe in and you are guaranteed a fan base.

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