Building a brand people like is hard as it is. But how do you build a brand people become obsessed with? 

That's what the founders of several startups with cult-like followings sat down to discuss Wednesday at the Fast Company Innovation Festival. Among them: Tristan Walker, founder of grooming brand Walker & Co.; Jen Rubio, co-founder of luggage maker Away; Emily Weiss, founder of beauty brand Glossier; and Nicolas Jammet, co-founder of salad chain Sweetgreen. 

Here's their best advice for entrepreneurs on how to create a cult brand.

1. Be transparent. 

When Sweetgreen launched a decade ago, it wasn't yet common for restaurants to list the sources of their ingredients. The company decided to add that information to its menu boards for full transparency. "That was kind of crazy at the time," Jammet says, "but you have to push the customer to where they're going."

About five years ago, the company redesigned its restaurants to feature open-plan kitchens. That way, customers could watch the food get prepared, which Jammet says further builds their confidence in your company. "Today," Jammet says, "if you're in this space and don't show where your food is coming from, customers might not trust you."

2. Provide your customers with context.

Your company story is important, but it's not always enough, says Rubio. You should also build a narrative around how your product fits into your customers' lives. 

Rubio says that when she started Away, very few luggage companies were incorporating the entire travel experience into their branding. "Everyone was talking about materials and zippers," she says. "No one was giving context. Travel was a natural thing for us to create a narrative around."

The company's website offers travel tips and highlights favorite destinations. Away just launched the first issue of its print travel magazine, Here, which explores locales and dives into how the company approaches travel.

Rubio says that customers will sometimes call Away's customer service centers and ask staff members for travel tips or inquiries about particular destinations, like what restaurants or landmarks to visit in particular cities. "That made us realize something we were doing was resonating with customers," she says."When people talk about creating a lifestyle brand, I think that's what it is: Creating stories around your brand and product."

3. Be authentic.

Building a culture around your brand is important--but it needs to be authentic. Walker says that a lot of celebrities have approached his brand about sponsorships, but the company limits its partnerships to those who are passionate about using the product, like rapper Nas. "We try to be as authentic as possible," he says. "There has to be a believability to the culture around your brand."

Glossier, on the other hand, opts against any celebrity partnerships, instead focusing on features that will encourage its customers to share the brand on social media. The startup offers downloadable items like iPhone wallpaper on its site, and the brand's packaging presents so well that users often want to photograph it and post it to Instagram after buying. "In a case like that," Weiss says, "one individual is worth more than 10 Kardashians."

Published on: Oct 24, 2017