Welcome to the age of movement marketing

Brands must look beyond their products and stand for something, argues Scott Goodson, the author of Uprising and the founder and global chairman of StrawberryFrog, the agency behind Emirates’ new global ad campaign

“How do the world’s premier brands keep their edge today and maintain vitality and relevance at a time when marketing is going through revolutionary times? They are sparking movements. “Movements?” you ask. “Aren’t they supposed to originate from the grassroots, and aren’t they supposed to take on nobler causes? What place do movements have with brand building?” Well here’s my view.

Brands that spark movements are more likely to succeed in today’s changing world than companies that adhere to traditional brand building. As a marketer, I can’t help wondering: what if brands could align themselves with ideas on the rise rather than pushing product messages out to people?

“In the wake of the Great Recession, we’re seeing the limits of the profit motive as a motivator,” said Daniel Pink, author of Drive. “The profit motive, to be sure, is a good thing – both morally and for efficiency. But it’s not the only thing. So more and more, we’re seeing the rise of the ‘purpose motive,’ the idea that the very best companies stand for something and contribute to the world.”

Marketing is about making people aware of brands and, beyond that, encouraging people to care about those brands. Marketers align themselves with popular entertainment (sponsoring shows with ads) and occasionally with forms of art. Marketers even sometimes get behind worthy causes by sponsoring charities. But movement marketing is relatively new, and just starting to take hold and grow. The idea is for a brand to discover an issue or idea that really matters to consumers, then help build a movement behind that idea.

So, what is a marketing movement? I define it as creating an organised community of passionate advocates who rally around an idea on the rise in culture to bring about change. For a brand, the first step is to find a big relevant idea that people (inside and outside your organisation) can get behind. This kind of idea with the power to ignite passion will be shared.

The first ever marketing movement can be traced back to the launch of the VW Beetle in the US. Following that, Nike sparked a movement to ‘Just Do It’.  Steve Jobs used Nike as his yardstick to help him develop his now famous movement to ‘Think Different’. Then other forward brands sparked movements, such as IKEA and the smart car. In those days movement brands were created with a strong sense of purpose, with ideals and a clear point of view on the world. These brands have created advocates and fans.

Now there is a movement for movement marketing happening among elite brands of the world. They realise people are more interested in what your very brand stands for, what is your vision for the world. This was recently reinforced in New York at the Global Marketing Conference, where ‘global ideals’ became the force du jour.

I have repeatedly said that brands can spark movements. They can identify, crystallise, align with, curate and sponsor a movement. Once you have a movement a brand can do anything in this fragmenting media world.

Successful brands out there today already look beyond their products. There’s a realisation in the corporate world that why you do what you do is far more important than what you sell – whether it’s an actual product or a service. This focus on ideals is echoed by the author of Grow and former P&G global marketing officer, Jim Stengel, who told me recently that: “A movement is building, and the best is yet to come as ideals change the narrative of business.” Jim studied 50,000 brands looking at what attributes made the top 50 successful (he calls it the Stengel 50). All the top had a culture of caring about what they do and found that brands associated with ideals have more resonance and attraction for consumers. Which means greater success for the brand. It is no coincidence that the top brands outperform the market.

All of this reinforces what we have said all along. Cultural movements – where advertising and marketing looks beyond mere product and taps into shared consumer passion with strong beliefs at the corporate core – are only going to become more critical to business success.

In crafting a movement strategy for your brand, you need to identify an idea on the rise in culture and tie your brand purpose or brand benefit to it in a way that generates a true movement from within. Because movements start on the inside. Movements need to be authentic. Movements aim to drive positive change and typically have a higher purpose and calling.

A movement strategy starts with figuring out what your brand’s core values are: What are you for? What are you against? Traditionally, marketers have been reluctant to take a stand 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 again of Apple, which in its early days came out strongly against conformity and the ‘Big Brother’ world of computing). Today, more than ever, consumers are looking for brands that share their values and outlook. They see those values expressed clearly in brands like India’s Mahindra and its movement RISE, and IBM’s Smarter Planet.

But too many brands don’t seem to stand for anything. And so they end up being defined and judged – and sometimes found guilty – by association. Compared to movement brands, other brands feel out of touch or just like traditional advertising brands trying to sell us something. We consumers have come a long way since the VW Beetle.
When brands are willing to take a deep look at themselves– their culture and their values – and, simultaneously, are also inclined to really pay attention to what’s going on in the lives of their core consumers, it can lead to epiphanies. This is what we should be talking about to our customers. This is what we should be helping them do in their lives. When that happens, they begin to have their own clear mission. They’re in a position to do more than just run ads; they can launch an initiative, or better yet, a movement.”

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