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Marketing in Revolutionary Times

March 7, 2012

We’re living in a time of uprisings — you just have to pick up the newspaper to know that. Depending on what day it is, you’re apt to find front-page stories of folks taking to the streets in Russia, Syria, Greece, India, you name it. Even in the U.S., we’ve seen the Occupy Wall Street movement (which, at the moment, may seem like yesterday’s news — but it’s likely to resurface as the weather warms and the political season heats up). Small wonder that when Time magazine chose their “Person of the Year”, it wasn’t a business or political leader that made the cover — it was a masked rabble-rouser called “The Protester.”

For those of us in business, it may seem as if all of this is transpiring in a separate realm, well outside the corporate bubble. Unless the protesters are specifically targeting your business, it’s natural to think, “This new era of protest makes for lively news, but has nothing to do with my company or brand.” But the new social unrest is everybody’s business, including yours and mine.

Something significant has changed in our global culture over the past couple of years. Blame it on global economic pressures, general restlessness, or the new hyper-connectivity that enables people to instantly organize around causes and hot-topics. It’s probably some combination of all of these factors, but the net result is that we, as business leaders, are now dealing with a populace that is more socially engaged, more aware of what’s going on in the world, and hungrier to get involved and be heard on various issues.

We know about the mini-uprisings in recent months against brands like Bank of America and the Susan Komen Foundation. And we might say, “Well, they made bad decisions.” But in part, their mistake was not to realize that the world had changed around them. In this new world, their “customers” could easily become activists — either for or against them.

So how does a smart business respond in a time of heightened passions and greater activism? Rather than becoming more cautious or putting one’s head in the sand in hopes of avoiding any kind of backlash, I believe brands must connect with that passion and activism somehow. If you fail to respond to this shift in the culture, you run the risk of being out of step with your customers. Your company could end up looking like a “status quo” brand in a revolutionary world.

Better to join in the march. If uprisings and movements are happening all around, then your business needs to somehow become involved in movements — or better yet, start one of your own.

A brand movement needn’t be political. For our client the Mahindra Group in India, we helped launch a movement to inspire more innovation throughout India and the world. For other clients, we’ve launched movements that tried to bring about change in schools and more responsible consumption. And as I worked on my book about movement marketing, 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, a company rallied people around an idea that mattered, an idea on the rise in culture, enabling customers to become activists. In the process, the company demonstrated that it was engaged in people’s lives and cared about something more than just profits.

This isn’t just a new spin on old CSR programs. It’s not about giving to a laundry list of charities. To crystallize and spark a brand movement, you must do more than make donations. The company must become an activist itself on behalf of something it believes in — something that also matters deeply to its customers. Movements start on the inside.

As companies do this, there are lessons to be learned from the political uprisings we’re reading about in the papers. Here are five worth keeping in mind:

  1. 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 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.
  2. Invite your customers into the public square. Governments often try to break up rallies, but if you want to facilitate a cultural movement, do the opposite–create platforms where people can connect and join forces. Social media has made it easier to do this, but “real” gatherings are also important.
  3. Fly your banner proudly. Once you’ve decided to get behind an idea on the rise in culture or initiative, make a bold statement. Create a logo, a flag–think of the iconic yellow wristband that fueled the Nike/Livestrong movement. Inspire passionate individuals to take your movement to the masses.
  4. 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.
  5. Aim for global. Your idea has the potential to catch a wave of human energy and explode across boundaries and borders, gaining momentum along the way. Don’t underestimate it.

Scott Goodson

Scott Goodson is the author of the new book UpRising: How to Build Your Brand and Change the World by Sparking Cultural Movements, and founder and chairman of StrawberryFrog, a global cultural movement agency.


From → Marketing

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