The Fight Club Guide to Creating a Cult-Like Customer Following

In a world of “free”, where many businesses want to race to the bottom in hopes of grabbing each and every customer that looks in the window, it’s far too common to see an overabundance of appeasement. The positive side of this is that you never ruffle any feathers or hurt any feelings. But the negative side is that in trying to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one.

And in this same manner, many companies try to skate by without ever having to take bold or daring action. They don’t want any enemies, and they’re afraid of negative publicity. It’s a confidence issue.

But you know what they say…if you want to make an omelet, you’ve got to break a few eggs.

“Welcome to Fight Club.”

This is the life of Fight Club narrator, masterfully played by Edward Norton, who lives a life so unremarkable that he’s not even given a name. It’s the role your company might play right now — which is great if you’re looking to stay safe, but completely absurd if you want to actually get in the black.

Unfortunately, you don’t have a schizophrenic alter ego to come in and save the day. But for the sake of entertainment, lets pretend that you did.

What do you think he’d say to you? How do you think he’d bringing you out of the land of the forgotten and into the territory of the memorable, the defined and the amazing?

Let’s take a look…

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

If your processes aren’t getting you anywhere then maybe it’s time to blow up the apartment, Ikea furniture and all. If your landing page isn’t converting, then make it better. If your message is getting lost, then fix it.

Tyler Durden appeared out of nowhere to wipe the slate clean, which included a return to the basics of existence. Who are you and what do you stand for?

Unless you know this, then you can’t know who your market is or how you could possibly consider attracting them. It’s time to examine every single process and blow it to pieces. It’s time to reconstruct those that are worth salvaging, and create new processes for those that aren’t.

Don’t get tied to broken systems.

“I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

This is what your best customers are saying to you and they’re saying to you right now. They’re waiting for you to help them escape a problem they didn’t know they had.

The appeal of fight club is not in the exchange of blows, but in the way it makes you feel. When you’re in a fight, you’re in the moment. You’re alive. You simply can’t stop thinking about it…even after the fight is over.

This is what you can do for your customers. You want to be so memorable that they can’t stop thinking about you — even after the sale. You want to be on their mind 24/7.

So how do you do it?

“I am Jack’s wasted life.”

With the help of Tyler our hero learns to stand — not just for anything — but for something very special and very real. As a result, he becomes a cult-like hero to his people. In standing for something, he created a cause worth dying for.

At the same time, they created enemies of everyone that wasn’t a member. Employers, business owners, cops, you name it, they alienated it. This is the problem you are facing. You want to build an audience of loyal fans, but you don’t want the baggage that comes with it. You don’t want to make enemies.

But I’ll ask you this – what’s wrong with enemies?

You can’t roll out the red carpet for everyone, you’ve got to make it special. Unfortunately, in your attempts to please everyone…you’re doing just that. What’s worse is that people just don’t care. In order to be loved, you must be willing to be hated. And if you aren’t being hated, then you probably aren’t taking a strong enough stance.

People hate Steve Jobs because of his undying devotion to his design principles, but if you look at his balance sheet I’d say he’s doing just fine. People hate Donald Trump for everything from his hair to his attitude, but look at his numbers and you’ll see a great looking balance sheet.

Your business was built on something, now is your chance to share it. What are your core philosophies? What are your principles? What do you stand for? What do you stand against?

It’s likely that you’ll struggle with this at first. But once you get the hang of it I suspect you’ll wind up like Tyler, chanting your core mantra to anyone within arm’s reach. OK, so you might not take up the practice of dealing out “near life experiences,” but you just might create them anyway.

“Fight Club was the beginning. Now it’s moved out of the basement. It’s called Project Mayhem.”

What do you say to those that wanted more than a weekly fight in the basement of a neighborhood bar? Well, you bring them in a little closer. You give them exactly what they want.

Tyler’s approach was to create Project Mayhem, ultimately leading with the destruction of important buildings and artifacts. But you don’t have to take it that far.

Use your initial “stance” as a way to weed out the customers that aren’t a fit, and then use your marketing funnel to develop those that are. At the tip of that funnel could be a more expensive or premium product, an upgrade, or a limited edition or exclusive service.

Airlines do this with frequent flyer miles. Grocery stores do it with frequent shopper cards. Others do it with loyalty incentives, kickbacks and rewards cards.

The trick is finding out what your best people want — and then delivering it.

“I am Jack’s inflamed sense of rejection.”

What would you do if you had legions of recruits (customers) waiting on your porch to join your group? Would you welcome them with open arms and invite them in?

Of course not, you’d have your people stand on the porch and yell at them until they either left or liked you more. Some call it hazing, others call it initiation. Your company can call it filtering.

We talked about sharing your message, but this goes beyond that. This is where you extend that message onto your sales pages, packaging, and messaging. This is where you make an appeal to the people you want as customers, making sure to reject everyone else in the process.

We talked earlier about Apple and how Steve Jobs makes a habit of annoying people, but would you see him marketing to Windows users?

One could argue that his “I’m a Mac” commercials were aimed at Windows users, but as a Windows user at the time, I found them annoying. Instead, I believe that he used those ads to appeal to current Mac users as a way to solidify the base and further entrench them as devotees. After watching that commercial there’s no way you’d trade your Mac in for a PC, right?

He was leading his people.

Cartoons (especially those of the Disney variety) do this extremely well too, by sneaking in subtle references that are only picked up by 1% of the audience. Software makers build in “Easter eggs” for the 1% that enjoy that sort of thing.

In standing on the porch to abuse his faithful, Tyler Durden makes getting accepted actually mean something.

What are you doing to make your products mean something?

What are you doing to entrench your audience and create your own language?

“Welcome to Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.”

This is rule #1, but for Fight Club, it’s a badge of honor…a way for them to protect the project while using exclusion to build a bond with each other.

For your business, as the khaki-wearing sweater vest of the industry, no one talks about you because they don’t care about you. Your task now is to figure out how to change that.

You’ve got the guide, and the path is fairly simple. The question is, do you have the guts to pull it off or do you need to hire your own Tyler Durden to help make it happen?

Even if people are talking poorly about your company, at least you’re creating some chatter. You know who you don’t appeal to, which makes the rest easy. You can choose to try and appeal to everyone…and wind up appealing to no one. Or you can identify your target customer, ignore the rest and show them how to get to the promised land.

Fight Club isn’t just a pitch — it’s a way of life.


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Nathan Hangen is an entrepreneur, author, and iphone developer. He's also the author of the Game Design Template for iOS and Android.


  1. Erick Patrick on the 20th December

    Wow, was the first and only word I could say after reading this! Real amazing article.

    Plenty of those things you said is true and I saw them in me, in my “web presence”… Many people talk about my blog here and there. I could say some of them love it, but, to most of them is just “one more”.

    I need to achieve this kind of emotion in my readers, in partners I have, and thanks to your post I’ll start doing that right now!

  2. TrafficColeman on the 20th December

    Control your life is go get whats rightfully yours. You must put up an fight or just get sucked in by the world we live in..its your choice.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  3. Matt Medeiros on the 21st December

    “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

    Let out a good laugh at that one – but it’s SO true!

    Great article!

  4. Elizabeth Williams on the 22nd December


    I read Fight Club back as a college freshman in 1999, and I love the book. I love Chuck Palahniuk. And, while I saw the book as something speaking to the materialistic, self-centered, rat-race nature of life that I was desperate to escape (as most idealistic 18-year-olds are), I never thought of it in terms of business and marketing. So brilliant. Thank you for making that connection! I might even go re-read the book for the one millionth time!

  5. Nathan on the 22nd December

    Thanks so much for the feedback folks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I first saw the movie, and read the book shortly thereafter. I admire Chuck in a lot of ways, and even outside of his writing, such as on his blog, he does a great job of marketing. So quotable too!

  6. Jessica Bosari on the 23rd December

    Okay, just another writer slobbering over your incredible handling of this topic. In the words of Baron Von Munchausen, “I am overwhelmed!” This is one of the few articles that I have read from open to close in a long time. You grabbed me by the shirt, told me how it is and let me go gently on my way. This is way more than food for thought. It’s an inspiration to follow and a challenge to do better. It’s so easy to fall into that vanilla zone. Thanks for getting me all fired up about this subject again!

  7. Brian Walker on the 24th December

    I stumbled across your blog after reading “7 Blogs You Need to Read In 2011” . I have to say Keith hit the nail on the head by suggesting yours.

    I loved this article! There is something in every guy that makes them want to be in their own “Fight Club” and I have never really thought of bringing that mentality into business.

    You have inspired me to tap into my own Tyler Durden alter ego. Now it’s time to go plan out Project Mayhem!

  8. Suhail on the 26th December

    Great post. I must say I am super-psyched right now. Will try to take these opinions and put them to practice. Thanks for sharing.

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