The fondest wish of many marketers is to see the brand they represent somehow achieve cult status, complete with passionate followers that sing the brand's praises and go out of their way to convince others to buy in. Harley-Davidson, Apple, and Starbucks are among the fortunate few that have managed to achieve and maintain that status even as their core businesses evolved and grew. But as tempting as it is to single out a clever tag line, logo, or campaign as the reason for a brand instantly reaching cult levels of adoration, the reality is that it's the consumer that makes the cult brand, not the marketer.

"I really believe you can't sit in a corporate conference room and say, 'Hey I want to go make a cult brand,'" says Marisa Thalberg, CMO at Taco Bell, which in the past few years managed to achieve indie-cult status — especially among millennials — while still retaining mass market awareness. "It's not 'Do these three things and then you'll have a cult.' It has to be something that happens organically, but marketers play a role in building a proposition and a connection and appreciation for the brand. The consumer then has to feel the brand gets them."