Why a Business Plan For ‘Cults’ Can Be an Amazing Success

There are a plethora of opinions on how to build a business plan, and I have written numerous pieces on my unheard-of Strategic Game Plan process which is unique and cannot be found elsewhere.

In fact I’ve dedicated one of my books to the topic and explained why a planning methodology geared to execution is critical for any organization to consistently achieve a high level of performance.

A practical element of my business planning process is to carefully choose the customer segments you decide to target and serve.

The fascinating criteria I advocate is quite simple: choose those customer segments that have the latent potential to deliver your growth goal.

The choice you make is absolutely critical to the plan’s success.

If the wrong customer segment is chosen, the organization’s resources are wasted and its growth goals are not realized.

And if a mass market is the choice, the same end result happens.

In fact in this scenario, the organization’s marketing message and resources are spread thinly across the entire market hoping for enough ‘hits’ to justify the investments made.
Flogging a value proposition to everyone is not likely to be very successful as the range of appeal is too broad to generate sufficient market momentum to deliver required sales.

So what’s the solution? How does an organization choose the right customers to serve?

One approach that should be given much more attention involves exploring the opportunities presented by polarization: examining clusters of people who are clustered at the extreme right end of the bell curve around a particular value set.
For example, if the value set to be explored were ‘concern for the environment’, a polarized view might be the belief that carbon dioxide emissions will destroy the earth’s atmosphere in 24 months.

Polarized groups—cult movements—are not only unique and distinct from the crowd in some way, their differences are quantum and order of magnitude in nature rather than incrementally distinct.

They are groups of individuals who have an obsession with, fixation on, mania for, passion for, idolization of, and reverence for an idea, thing or cause, for example, such as:

  • the environment
  • black lives matter
  • #MeToo
  • anti-globalization
  • feminism
  • veganism
  • indigenous rights

People in these segments choose to express themselves in a way that others don’t.

I’m not referring to extremist right wing religious cults, but rather groups of people who share a passionately held view around a particular cause or movement and who express their opinions within acceptable societal and legal limits.

These polarized clusters of people represent relatively narrow slices—slivers—in the market that can have demand characteristics worthy of study.

They may represent a significant source of economic opportunity for the business because their beliefs are precise, well defined and the cluster is growing in number as an expression of society’s changing views.

And, if the business can use ideologies and beliefs to attract cult interest and cult member passion to engage them, perhaps relationships can be established and sales made.

We should start thinking about finding ‘cults’—who have excessive admiration for a particular thing—that express desires and cravings at the poles of the demand curve.

ME! segments are different from the mass crowd; cults are REALLY different.

The challenge, of course, is to find a cult or two whose members represent good potential for you to chase.

Here are five steps you can take to see if a cult has a future in your business plan.

#1. Keep your eyes open for trends

Cults typically follow social trends, so stay alert to the issues of the day because they could lead to the formation of a cult.

For example, there are many climate change cults—The Extinction Rebellion is one—that have been formed over the past few years which could represent a growth opportunity for some businesses because, for example, the cult is growing in membership and you have a solution that would easily allow them to collaborate among themselves very easily.

As a way of getting traction on this activity, assign someone to a cult follower role to identify, track and evaluate them as they are discovered and evolve.

#2. Talk to existing cult leaders

This is a good way to not only get a better understanding of cult values, but also to get insights on what the profile of the cult member looks like.

Even if a particular cult isn’t on your radar, it’s worthwhile engaging with a leader to deepen your understanding of cult dynamics which will provide ideas on how to engage with its members and form relationships with them.

#3. Check traditional and social media

Media headlines are a good source to explore which movements are currently attracting the most attention and therefore might be an attractive target for your organization.

And check out the nature of the conversation on social media to get a feel for the main themes of the conversation—the ‘triggers’—which would provide a window on not only what’s important to the cult members, but also whether your organization would even want to be associated with their cause.

This information is critical in terms of what it might take to successfully market your products, services and solutions to them.

#4. Pick a cult that seems to be a fit for you and give it a try

First of all, you’ll never know if a cult target will work for you until you give it a go.

I don’t think many (if any) organizations actually study cults to determine if they possess any potential so you would be breaking new ground here.

If trailblazing appeals to you, experimenting around the cult phenom is for you.

There are, however, a few considerations that you might use in selecting a high potential cult to chase:

  • what does your current business plan say in terms of the customers you’re looking for? Is there some similarity between your current marketing efforts and the potential cult you could target?
  • do a bit of back-of-the-envelope calculating in terms of the sales potential. Is there a good growth prospect if things work out for this cult?
  • what are the possibilities of partnering with the cult to explore longer term mutual benefits?
  • how divergent are the cult’s values from any element of yours? Although improbable, it might just be possible to find a hint of commonality with what the cult stands for and what your organization values. Any common denominator could help to define a workable marketing platform.

#5. Use experience and results to attract another

If your experiment works out, you may want to use it to attract the interest of other cults; you might be The ONLY organization that looks to social movements for joint opportunities.

So, track the results of your ’cult try’ in detail so you can use them in negotiating other arrangements if and when the time comes.

Social movements house untapped opportunities to grow your business and gain a competitive advantage as others are unlikely to pursue a similar strategy.

Exploiting customer groups at the edges of the demand curve—beyond ME!—can be risky, but can also be rewarding.


You’ll never know until you give it a try.

Related: Why the Best People To Execute New Ideas Are ‘Double-Downers’