We all have our favorite coffee place, our favorite running shoes, even our favorite brand of chips. Are each of these ‘favorites’ really unique in that no one else makes the same product? Not really.

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about some brands that make them extra appealing to us. Rarest-of-the-rare are cult brands that do not need any introductions whatsoever. They simply sell by virtue of being available. Think Harley Davidson, Rolex, Apple.

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While building a cult brand is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for most marketers, the key ingredients that come together to create a cult brand remain pretty much constant. Let’s take a sneak peek at the key inputs that combine to produce brands that are successful beyond their creators’ imaginations.

1. Build a brand personality and live up to it across all touch points. Brand personality, the way a brand makes you feel, is the essence of a brand. It consists of various elements, including logo, signature colors, captions or taglines, brand mascots, a distinct look and feel of the product, website or packaging, store design, product design, service delivery, and so on.

When each one of these elements is in perfect sync, you get a distinctive personality that makes the brand instantly recognizable and consistently identifiable over the years.

Consider Virgin, for example. As a brand, Virgin’s personality is playful, fun, young and bright. Everything about the brand, from its advertising to its website, its staff, its stores and retail touch points like Virgin Lounges to the wacky PR stunts that founder Richard Branson regularly pulls off, has the Virgin DNA built right in.

2. High quality is passé. Customer delight makes great brands tick. Good brands offer good quality. That’s a given.

What really makes a brand great is when you go one step further and knock the socks off your customers with things that they never expected. It’s not about preventing customer complaints, it’s about creating beautiful experiences that make the customer come back for more.

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The Hampton Inn is a case in point. The hotel chain has a famous 100 percent satisfaction guarantee that is not just "ad speak." They go out of their way to live up to it. A customer recounts an episode where the WiFi in his room did not work for a day during his stay. He reported it to the hotel staff. Without even being asked for it, the staff member promptly offered to waive off all charges on the customer’s entire stay, combined with a profuse apology. Score!

Another Hampton Inn customer complained the hot water ran out in his room. He brought it to the hotel’s notice and was again reimbursed for his hotel stay. But it did not stop there. He soon received a long, warm and personalized email from the hotel’s general manager. She offered her deep regrets about the incident, empathized with the customer’s situation and read and complimented him on his blog. She created a lifelong Hampton Inn fan.

3. Know the pulse of the customer. A great brand knows what goes on in their customers’ minds.

True customer insight is what helps brands craft products and services that fulfill a customer’s needs without them even asking for it. They gather real time customer data, add to this learnings from the markets in which they operate, combine the two and voila, marketing magic!

Web analytics tools like Google Analytics or email analytics from services like GetResponse, allow brands to gain insights that would never come by simply asking customers what they want.

McDonald’s does a fantastic job of understanding customer needs before they’re even voiced. From McVeggie burgers in India to the McArabia pita bread wrap in Morocco, McDonald’s offers unique items on their menu to suit the taste buds of each of the 119 countries that they operate in.

True greatness does not come from following formulaic templates.

It comes from a solid foundation of values that a brand is built on, values that form a real connection with your customers and make your brand endure in their minds for generations to come.

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