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Every brand is different, but there is one thing cult brands have in common: a loyal and engaged customer or fan base.


Last year, 40 million fans voted for football players Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson to be on the cover of Madden NFL 25.

Anthony R. Stevenson, vice-president of global marketing of North America's best-selling EA Sports video game, says the idea for the cover contest was born three years ago, when the company faced a tough launch due to the NFL walkout. "At that time, a lot of the conversation with fans was quite negative," he recalls.

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Looking to shift toward a positive engagement, the Madden marketing team asked fans to decide who was going to be the face of the game. "It paid off big time. When the walkout ended, we were in a better place than ever before," Mr. Stevenson says.

And the fans continue to be engaged at a time when the company can look back on a quarter century of operation – no mean feat in the fast-paced world of gaming technology and platforms. 4


For some, the evocative image of an outdoor hockey rink brings back memories of skating on new ice; others remember the excitement of their first game. A current marketing campaign for the Calgary Flames invites fans to draw on their own emotional connection to the sport, says Jillian Frechette, director of marketing for the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group.

This is a shift away from the focus on big name players. "After trading away part of our star power last year, we work with a lot of new talent," Ms. Frechette explains, adding that marketing efforts aim to convey a renewed sense of passion, purpose and potential.

"We're highlighting talent new and known. Some of our new players may be the next big thing, some may not," she says. The Flames' faithful following has responded enthusiastically to that kind of honesty and authenti-city. "This is generating a new level of excitement, uniting our team with our fans."


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For Pita Pit, a franchise that focuses on healthy on-the-go meals, marketing begins with internal culture.

"Our best people just get it – they are building a Pita Pit cult following one customer at a time," says Brandon Poole, senior director of national marketing. There are examples of staff members who have written personalized messages on customers' pitas to brighten their day, or have entertained busy lunch lineups with songs and games. "Others bought a pita for someone who'd never tried it before," Mr. Poole says, adding that although things like this happen spontaneously, they're the result of recruiting dedicated people.

In addition to exceptional
service, the focus is on healthy eating, says Mr. Poole, who mentions Pita Pit's Resolution Solution campaign that encourages customers to stay on track with personal goals for 2014.


Walk into any of the over 200 North American Urban Outfitters stores and your experience is going to be unique, even though the merchandise, enthusiasm and energy levels are similar. "Rather than imposing a pre-programmed format, we have display artists in all our locations. They bring our concepts to life in different ways that fit their customer base," says Urban Outfitters' managing director of marketing Steve Hartman, who believes the strategy of allowing local operators a lot of autonomy is giving the brand an edge.

Staying local means staying relevant for the "complete lifestyle brand" known for its hipster appeal, says Mr. Hartman, adding that the brand doesn't have a logo. "That gives us the freedom to reinvent ourselves on a daily basis and create an environment where both our employees and customers can participate."

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Every brand is different, but there is one thing cult brands have in common: a loyal and engaged customer or fan base. Saskatchewan Roughriders


It's an indication fans are dedicated when they lug a flag to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, wear the team jersey for a camel ride in Egypt and pose with the mascot underwater. Loyal acts like this were entered into last year's Rider Pride Worldwide contest of the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team. For Gregg Sauter, the team's vice president of business development and marketing, this shows that "being part of Rider Nation is like belonging to a terrific club."

"When you wear your jerseys, you are brothers," says Mr. Sauter, adding that the passion for the team bridges differences in age and social status. He believes the fans' sense of ownership is the secret to the Roughriders' success. "Our brand transcends the product – it's more than football, more than wins and losses – it's a community."

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