So You Want a Revolution? In a Time of Uprisings, PR and Marketers Must Launch Their Own “Movements”
By Scott Goodson, Founder, StrawberryFrog
These are revolutionary times. Of course, this week marks May Day (here’s an NBC report on the origins of “Inernational Worker’s Day”) and Cinco de Mayo—both in honor of one form of revolution and uprising or another.
But beyond that, people around the world are overthrowing governments and fighting for new freedoms. Closer to home, we’ve seen grassroots uprisings (whether on the streets or on the Internet) that have targeted laws, banks, broadcasters, non-profit foundations—you name it. Time magazine dubbed 2011 the year of The Protester, and things haven’t calmed down much in 2012. Empowered by social media, people are finding it easier than ever before to organize and take action on issues they feel strongly about.
So what does all this mean to marketers? That we’re dealing with a new kind of consumer: one who is more socially engaged, more aware of what’s going on in the world, and more hungry to get involved and be heard on various issues. In this new world, a company’s “customers” can easily become activists—speaking out either for, or against, the brands that are a central part of their lives.
Some marketers may assume that in a time of heightened passions and greater activism, it’s best to be cautious—in hopes of avoiding any kind of backlash. But going on the defensive will only make a brand invisible and out of step with customers. By playing it safe, a marketer can end up looking like a “status quo” brand in a revolutionary world.
The smarter approach is to be proactive. If uprisings and movements are happening all around, then your business (or your client’s brand) needs to somehow become involved in movements—or better yet, start one.
How do you start a movement? First let me clearly define what I mean when I use this term: A movement involves a likeminded group of people banding around a shared idea or passion, and usually trying to bring about some type of change. The do-it-yourself crafties who belong to Etsy are part of a movement. The purists who are devoted to Apple and try to get all their friends to switch from PCs? They’re part of a movement. So are the people protecting animals in various ways. Or Tea Partiers. And the list goes on: For almost every passion you can think of there is a movement.
And while the notion of people forming movements is not new, the current proliferation of mini-movements is something new. The Internet, and in particular the rise of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, has made it ridiculously easy to find and connect with likeminded souls. This same technology makes it possible for a group, once formed, to organize, plan, and take action.
Getting back to the question of how you start a movement, it often begins with identifying what I call “an idea on the rise.” If you really listen to your customers, you may find they’re starting to talk about something—an issue, an interest, a concern that is just bubbling to the surface. This can be the basis of a movement, if your company is willing to get behind this issue and help others to rally around it. For our client the Mahindra Group in India, we identified that people were feeling hungry to take on new challenges in their lives and innovate—so we helped Mahindra launch a movement whose mission to inspire innovation and reward it. In North America, for the energy-efficient SmartCar , we helped spark a movement against mindless over-consumption. For the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, we organized a “Boomer Coalition” movement that rallied Baby Boomers around fighting cardiovascular disease. We’ve done other movements for everything Frito-Lay snack foods to Pampers diapers.
The key for marketers who want to ride this wave is that they have to stop talking about themselves and their products, and start listening to what people are talking about and are passionate about. When you identify that big idea you want to align your brand with, it should be one that fits your corporate identity and values—an idea you can really embrace. Anand Mahindra, who heads the Mahindra Group and has become a big believer in movement marketing, says: “I think if you’re going to tap into a movement, you need authenticity—you are either credible as a member and standard bearer of that movement, or you’re not.”
You also have to figure out what’s needed to help this movement spread and grow. This may involve sharing your company’s expertise, or perhaps setting up a platform so that people who want to be part of your movement idea can more easily organize and build a community. This new model of marketing is primarily built around listening, sharing, and facilitating.
As I worked on my book about brand movements, I encountered everything from a pet food company that launched an animal welfare initiative, to a shoemaker that began a worldwide movement to put shoes on poor kids’ feet. In each case, the company encouraged customers to rally around an idea that was important to them—enabling those customers to become activists. Meanwhile, this allowed the brand to demonstrate that it was engaged in people’s lives—that it cared about something more than just profits.
It’s important to note that this isn’t just a new spin on old CSR programs or “cause marketing,” wherein companies donate to a laundry list of charities. To lead a brand movement, you must do more than just make donations. The company itself must become an activist, on behalf of something it believes in—and that matters deeply to its customers.
In the past couple of years, large marketers like Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo have begun to shift some of their marketing focus toward movement marketing. Savvy marketers have begun to see this as a way to connect with people on a much deeper level than advertising can. It’s way to disrupt categories, gain market share and earn customer loyalty. But beyond that, I think it can provide a way for a business to clarify its own values—what it cares about and stands for. And maybe it can even help the company to be part of a worthwhile endeavor that brings about positive change.
As companies do this, there are lessons to be learned from successful uprisings that have been launched in the business (and by the way, the same principles hold true for social/political movements, as well). Here are four important points to keep in mind as you consider the possibility of starting a movement on behalf of your won company or your client’s brand:
- Listen to what “your people” are crying out for. With many social uprisings, leaders failed to pay attention to the restless rumblings that were out there. Don’t make that mistake with your brand’s consumers: Find out what they’re passionate about, what they’re talking to each other about. If you listen closely, you may detect the rumble of an “idea on the rise”—and it might be one you can build a movement around.
- Invite your customers into the “public square.” If you want to facilitate a movement, create platforms where people can connect and join forces. Social media has made it easier to do this, but “real” gatherings are also important.
- Fly your banner proudly. Once you’ve decided to get behind an idea or initiative, make a bold statement. Create a logo, a flag—think of the iconic yellow wristband that fueled the Nike/Livestrong movement.
- Don’t fake it. People can sense whether you’re sincere about an idea or issue—or if you’re just exploiting it. You can’t lead a movement if you don’t believe in it yourself.
Scott Goodson is the Founder of StrawberryFrog, the world’s first Cultural Movement agency. His book, Uprising: How to Build a Brand—and Change the World—By Sparking Cultural Movements was published recently by McGraw-Hill. He resides in New York with his wife and two sons.