Movement marketing: What is your brand against?

StrawberryFrog's Scott Goodson discusses the science of brand-fueled movement marketing.

It’s election season again. Political and societal movements are stoking passions among millions of jaded people. At a time when human attention spans at shorter than goldfish, businesses can learn from the principles of movements. Putting aside the political aspects of this story to look at the marketing side of it (I can’t help it, I’m a marketer), I have to wonder: Going forward, how might this affect the way advertisers think about fundamental questions like "What do we stand for?" And "Who do we stand with?"
 
In the past a brand was a trust-mark. Today people don’t trust brands as they once did, they trust themselves. And brands are left struggling to find a meaningful role in people’s lives. Enter brand-fueled movement marketing. In a cluttered, fragmented marketplace, Movement Marketing can build communities and mobilize people to change the world. For twenty years, lots of brands have leaned heavily into Movements with StrawberryFrog and have done exceptionally well. 
 
Brand-fueled Movement Marketing started in 1999. Back then, StrawberryFrog helped launch a startup - the Smart car for Mercedes Benz. We started with a big movement idea rather than traditional branding. Smart was our first brand movement rather than an advertising campaign. People thought we were crazy. 
 
What is a brand-fueled Marketing Movement? In those early days of StrawberryFrog — the world’s first Movement Marketing, Advertising and Design Company—we had modest budgets to launch the new car for Swatch and Mercedes Benz. Much like a political party, we were idealistic young challengers who believed deeply in trying to change the world for the better with our fledgling new company. Brand purpose felt too theoretical and needed action to move passions to move people. Brand-fueled movement marketing grew out of that experience. Movements made sense to us. I believed that it was the role of large companies to tackle the bigger issues. It’s in their interest. If people live longer, better lives they buy more stuff and the corporation makes more money. 
 
So instead of an expensive ad campaign, we drew a line in the sand and took a stand. The enemy for our first marketing movements that we decided to fight against was the one thing everyone agreed was a enemy. Car congestion and traffic in cities. Who wouldn’t be for a brand that was dedicating its existence to reinventing the urban environment? Twenty years later, in 2018, StrawberryFrog launched the "Let's Tingle" movement for a start up franchise company called Modern Acupuncture. We also launched a movement for Coca Cola’s Peace Tea with the same passion, and this time the motto was "Choose Peace." A brand movement intended to inspire American teens to take a stand for "randomer random acts of kindness." Today, my company, StrawberryFrog help our clients create purpose driven brands and movement marketing that pays a meaningful role in people's lives. Some movements are noble and aim to change the world while other movements are all fun and playful and is where your big idea is embraced by pop culture. Both are ways of amplifying your big idea. The business value of mass engagement by the culture includes earned media on top of paid media and greater penetration, conversion and loyalty through passions and word of mouth. Net they help build share.
 
The reason movement marketing works effectively compared to advertising is because people buy into brands who share their values. They align with companies that  take a stand for something they believe in. When you find a brand that does this it makes you feel like your with a good friend, and every time you and the brand meet in the street, you feel better about yourself because the brand reminds you of what’s important to you.
 
I’ve always been inspired by the marketing power of societal movements. The way they pull people into a cause and fire up passions to bring about change. Movements move passions to move people. Some movements are for good and some, unfortunately, are for evil. But all hold a power that is a proven marketing formula for rallying people to do something. Likewise marketing movements are powerful tools for companies wanting to sell products or services to a massive community of engaged people. 
 
Today we are living in the golden age of movements. 87% of Americans will purchase a product because a company advocates for an issue they care about. (Forbes 2017). Moreover, a recent study by Gallup said that 36% of American have felt the urge to organize or participate in a public protest. The new wave of movements are being led by the millennials who have been dubbed the "crusader generation," a whopping 94% of whom want to use their skills to benefit a cause, and 77% have already gotten involved in charity or change-making, according to Forbes magazine 2018.
 
Nike, highly sensitive to the nuances of youth culture, knew this very well when they chose to honor Colin Kaepernick the iconic symbol of the modern civil rights movement. In taking this action, Nike fired up its base, reminding millions of fans why they love the brand and at the same time disenfranchised  others. But grew their market cap in the process. One thing Nike might have prepared better for was the backlash against the brand. Rather than only feature  Kaepernick in their ads, they should have told those against the idea to donate their Nikes to families in need instead of burning them. 
 
Unlike 99.9% of brand marketing, joining a movement makes your message highly sticky and unforgettable and sticky. As the U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 recently discovered, 60% of 16- to 24-year-olds claim to notice ads more if they deal with important issues.
 
What is the difference between purpose branding and movement marketing? In my best selling book "Uprising: How to Build a Brand and Change the World by Sparking Cultural Movements" McGraw Hill, I point out that the most successful businesses tend to have both. Brand purpose is about your company whereas movement marketing is about your customer (and employees) and what’s important in their lives. Think about it this way, a movement sells product by firstly connecting with people around a cause they’re passionate about at a time when attention spans are waning. To the consumer the message is inspiring: hey we are taking a stand — and we are going to partner together to change the world. Advertising on the other hand conveys bold and principled declarations to the world: "At Acme Amalgamated, we’re committed to X. We believe in Y. We care passionately about Z." Unfortunately, in the end, advertising all starts to sound like generic ad-speak.
 
A movement is a whole other ballgame. Here’s a modest suggestion: If you really want to start a movement, show the world what you believe in and tell us what you stand for or against?
 
Movement ideas lead to mesmerizing and powerful creative work. 
 
For SunTrust Bank, we conceived of The onUp Movement against financial stress and for financial confidence, rooted in this kind of thinking. Working closely with  Susan Somersille Jonson the visionary Chief Marketing Officer, and the marketing leaders inside SunTrust Bank as well as our agency partners, we launched The  onUp Movement across multiple platforms including the Super Bowl: https://youtu.be/MqbhCKM3Fo8
It now has over 3.9 Million participants at onUp.com .
 
Susan Johnson inspired our teams to think much bigger about the stand. By defining instead SunTrust’s stand against stress and for confidence — we boiled it down to a simple yet powerful declaration of principle, with an underlying motto "onUp."
 
"We can all have financial confidence," said Susan Johnson the visionary CMO. "By giving customers something to stand for and against, the movement created a vocal community of SunTrust advocates who helped deliver genuine business results."
 
Likewise, we ignited a movement for Jim Beam to modernize the brand. We took a stand against the patriarchy and for equality and selected Mila Kunis as our spokesperson. The result, Jim Beam achieved 43% sales growth, 70% of its current drinkers under the age of 44, with 34% increase in year on year growth, according to Marketing Week.
 
Marketers may be reluctant to take a stand for or against anything because it can feel controversial or divisive. But the truth is, some of the boldest marketers have been doing this kind of thing successfully for quite a while. Think of Steve Jobs and Apple, which in its early days came out strongly against conformity and the "Big Brother" world of computing (represented then as now by the larger, more conservative IBM). 
 
Brands need to create an enemy or a monster so that everyone (meaning all your potential customers) know what you stand against and will come together to fight the monster and save the village. One caveat: Don’t simply take a stand "against" your competition. You may hate your competitor, but nobody else cares; the outside world is looking for you to take on something more meaningful and interesting.
 
Wherever there’s a possibility for improvement, you can speak out against entrenched ways or status quo attitudes. Or you can defend tradition by taking on trendy new attitudes and behaviors. Either way, there’s no shortage of things worth taking a stand against. Just be sure that the cultural values and behaviors you take on do indeed run counter to your brand philosophy. These can be matters large or small, serious or playful. A movement we did for Sabra hummus, perhaps the best food marketing story of the last decade, saw the challenger brand stand against the bland, unadventurous, unhealthy eating habits of many Americans and in the process helped the brand gain 60% market share, and in the process decimate the market leaders Nestle Tribe and Kraft Athenos, mere advertising brands that stood no chance against the movement brand.
 
Movements are powerful to grow your market share among consumers. They are also powerful in changing culture inside your company. Think about it. Compared to top down CEO mandates, Movement Inside your company generates trust,  creativity, motivation and passions among employees. When 80% of the economy is based on huge corporations that feel outdated for the times, company leaders and HR executives should change the organization through Movement Inside. 
 
For both Movement Outside and Movement Inside, defining what your company is for or against has longer-term benefits than even the most compelling ad campaign. Thanks to social media and brand PR, more companies now understand that consumers want to participate in a real conversation with brands. To make this conversation (or any conversation) work, there must be an honest exchange of views. 
 
A big part of that is for both sides to be willing to say, "I’m for this" and "I’m against that." And if you want to expand that conversation so that it becomes a marketing movement built around your brand — which is something that all marketers, CMOs and company leaders should be striving for today — then you need to give that movement a sense of purpose and action. The truth is, it’s often easier to rally people against something than for something. Just think of some of the most successful societal and political movements through history — up to and including the current political movements reshaping our country and the world. More often than not, these movements start with people protesting against or saying "no" to something.
 
Which is not to suggest that your campaign, or the movement you’re trying to lead, should amount to one big gripe-fest. The conversation you have with the public may start by pointing out something wrong, but ought to move beyond that to offer better alternatives, ideas, and actions you can help people take. For example with SunTrust, we started with a stand against financial stress and moved to a stand for financial confidence. If you can do that, it’s possible to transform negative energy into a positive force — both for your customers and for your brand.
 
Movements are born when a wrong needs to be righted, or when there is an injustice, threat or an obvious frustration grows so great that people can’t help but take action to change it. Whereas societal movements don’t come with a business case, cost-benefit analysis brand fueled marketing movements do. 
 
When we work with our clients we use a StrawberryFrog Movement proprietary process to devise a marketing movement strategy. Here are the questions you need to ask:
 
1. What is your brand against? What is the enemy? 
2. What is your brand for? Define the change you want to make in the world.
3. Who are your target people? What matters in their matters in their lives, what are they passionate about? Not just in the category.
4. Are you purpose inspired and benefit driven? Are you tying an idea on the rise in culture to your brand purpose or benefit? 
5. Are you provoking action? 
6. What is the cadence of the movement? 
7. How are you avoiding decay?
 
Remember, your consumers truly believe in the movement so you need to overcommit. Every company has values, founding missions and sometimes a purpose: all the seeds of the movement. But it’s not a theory. Movements emanate from ideas but are rooted action. Movements move passions to move people to move product.
 
If you don’t stand for anything then you’ll likely become embroiled in a movement nevertheless, one campaigning against you. If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.
 
Scott Goodson is the founder of StrawberryFrog and author of the best selling book about Movement Marketing: Uprising: How to build a brand and change the world by sparking Cultural Movements.

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