Merchant Blog

Blog Article: Creating a Small Business Cult Following

Watch How I Soar: Cult Status and Transcending Expectations

Firefly was the best darn television show that never got a fair shake. The brainchild of Joss Whedon, creator of such series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and later Dollhouse, it blended equal parts dystopian space opera and rollicking wild west themes, built a perfectly pitched ensemble cast, and generally proceeded to inspire much delight – the kind of playing pretend laser-guns and making whooshing spaceship noises with your mouth glee that most sensible adults have long given up.

And then the Fox television network shot it directly in the gut. Mismanaged scheduling and a bungled promotional strategy led to the show’s cancellation after only thirteen episodes.  It was a grim reminder that more profitable programming could easily knock more innovative ideas away from their place at the pop culture dinner table.

Small businesses, especially those just starting out on their journeys, might often experience this mix of emotions. You’re brand new. You’re bold. You’re going to make a mark that doesn’t feel like anyone else’s, and people are going to be wowed. But you’re also fragile – it might feel like your success hangs on the opinion and the purchasing decision of every new customer that walks into your store. You’re small, but you want to do great things. Fear not: there are ways to play against the gambit of scale. As a business, think about how you can go beyond standard expectations.

The way people still talk about Firefly – even now, ten years after it was first cancelled by Fox – signifies its entry into what is often called “cult canon.” There are the blockbusters of the world – the Titanics, the Amazon.coms, and so forth, built to be revenue juggernauts – and then there are the cult hits, the ones that get played at midnight screenings, the ones whose fans write their own stories to keep the universe alive, even decades later. Though Firefly was not a commercial hit, it resonated with its viewers in a way that created unmistakable loyalty. Small businesses can adapt and thrive on cult followings  – the kind of customer base that knows well enough to rank you among their personal favourites and come back time and time again, even if they can’t pull you into the blockbuster category, are worth their weight in gold. Case in point: based on the explosion of fan interest in the show after its cancellation, Firefly was resurrected as a feature film and comic series. Joss Whedon has gone on to be creatively involved in one of the highest-grossing franchises ever: Marvel’s Avengers. 

In an article written earlier this year for Yahoo Small Business Advisor, Rob Howard notes: “consumers feel greater affinity towards brands that project a clear purpose beyond the utilitarian functions of the products or services the brand encompasses.” This is what makes cult things cult – an appreciation of businesses’ dedication to telling the story they want to tell, where surpassing customer expectations becomes more important than competing against industry expectations. As a business, Howard asks, “do customers identify with and/or define your brand by what it stands for rather than by the benefits of the products or services your brand offers?” What does your small business stand for? What one, consistent thing exemplifies your values as a business owner?


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