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HOW TO BUILD A BRANDâ?"AND CHANGE THE WORLDâ?"BY SPARKING CULTURAL MOVEMENTS
By Scott Goodson
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2012Scott Goodson
All rights reserved.
What Is a Movement?
AND WHY SHOULD IT MATTER TO YOUR COMPANY?
It began with a couple of celebrity deaths: first the soul singer Barry White, then the comic actor John Ritter. Both died of heart attacks, and in each case, the death led to the predictable media cycle of nostalgic film clips and fond farewells. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn't.
In the weeks that followed, friends and relatives of White and Ritter began to make high-profile public appearances, talking about something called CVD. The letters stood for cardiovascular disease, but in much of the ensuing public discussion, which circulated through the broadcast media, on the Internet, and gradually on the street, only the acronym was used, stirring intrigue among those who began to tune in to this rising chatter. What was this CVD? And why did people seem to be so agitated about it?
Those who joined the growing grassroots conversation—and hundreds of thousands did, in the spring and summer of 2004—learned that CVD was killing people faster than guns, cancer, and AIDS combined, and that this enemy was wreaking particular havoc on the baby-boom generation. Therefore, it was up to the boomers to confront this scourge—by coming together and fighting the good fight, just as they did back in the 1960s. Seemingly overnight, a movement with its own manifesto sprang into existence. There were T-shirts, impromptu rallies, and organized concerts. There was a website with a million hits. And while the movement had no apparent leader, it did have a name: the Boomer Coalition.
The Boomer Coalition became front-page news for a time, attracted celebrities, and spread like wildfire before, inevitably, it gradually started to lose momentum. But along the way, it managed to achieve what any cultural movement worth the name strives to do: it brought about change. In this case, change took the form of dramatically heightened public awareness of the risks of cardiovascular diseases and the steps that can be taken to minimize that risk. The Boomer Coalition shifted the cultural dialogue in a way that persisted long after the rallies were over and the T-shirts were gone.
When popular movements or uprisings such as the Boomer Coalition occur—and they are occurring more and more frequently in today's tech-empowered, social-networked society—the root sources of the movement can be the subject of considerable scholarly debate. What were the societal conditions and pressures that set the stage for this groundswell? Who or what lit the first spark? And when did it all reach the Gladwellian tipping point? The answers are usually complicated, unclear, and subject to interpretation. However, this isn't true in the case of The Boomer Coalition. If you want to know what lit that spark, the answer is simple: I did.
This was in the early days of my marketing agency named StrawberryFrog, and at the time one of my clients was a maverick marketer named Kipp Kreutzberg at the large pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Pfizer had a number of drugs on the market related to cardiovascular health, and the company needed to do something innovative to wake up baby boomers to the risk of heart attacks. It could have taken the usual course: run commercials about heart disease that most people would tune out. Instead, I suggested that it carefully build, from the ground up, a movement based around the theme of boomers fighting heart disease.
The plan was to approach a few high-profile people who'd been affected by the issue (starting with the relatives of White and Ritter) to help get the public conversation started, then create platforms where people could come together to focus on this cause, including a website, rock concerts, viral films, and street events—anything and everything that could foster the groundswell. My agency had done this type of initiative for a number of other clients with very successful results, but Pfizer, a pretty conservative company by nature, was nervous about some of it. The plan required that the company keep its own name out of the spotlight, at least in the early stages. It also required that it ditch the rules of advertising and give up control of the message to the public. And after sparking the movement, Pfizer would have to just stand back and see what might happen.
What happened was a highly successful awareness campaign that engaged millions of boomers, doctors, and pharma employees. It surprised Pfizer, but not StrawberryFrog; we'd seen this strategy work for companies ranging from shoemakers to car manufacturers, from retailers and banks to cable television networks. This is why, over the past decade, we've become convinced that "movement marketing" is the new way forward for anyone who is trying to sell products, earn customer loyalty, influence public opinion, solve social problems, and, quite possibly, change the world.
WHAT DO MOVEMENTS HAVE TO DO WITH BUSINESS?
Throughout history, popular movements have given us many of our cherished freedoms, our finest heroes, and our basic human rights—so what do they have to do with the crass and superficial business of selling stuff? And what makes anyone think that he or she can plan and calculate something as spontaneous and authentic as a movement? And lastly, what makes movements so important at this particular moment in time?
To begin with the last question, while it's true that people have been starting movements for a very long time, a profound change is underway right now. It is easier than ever before for people to band together around a shared idea, goal, or passion—and they are doing so every day. As we'll see in this book, people are coming together to rebuild communities, rescue animals, reinvent the political process, get rid of front lawns, introduce new ways of teaching kids, create new housing for seniors, go barefoot, go naked, dress up as eighteenth- century figures—these days, if you can think of a cause or a passion or even just a pastime, chances are you'll find a group of people who care enough about it to have formed a movement (see Figure 1-1).
The current movement mania is being fueled by several factors, the most obvious one being technology. The Internet, and in particular the rise of social media, has made it easy to find and connect with like-minded souls. And that same technology makes it possible for a group, once formed, to organize, plan, and take action.
But there are other social factors at work, too: while people today are more connected in one sense, they're also more disconnected—from their neighbors and from some of the traditional community gatherings of yesteryear (from the Elks Club to Tupperware parties) that used to provide social hubs. Movements are becoming the new gathering points.
At the same time, movements are offering a means of finding reassurance and purpose in a world that has become increasingly unsettling. "In times of turbulence, anything that gives people a sense of meaning tends to grow," says Bob Johansen, one of the directors of the Institute for the Future think tank. "Movements have a strong meaning component to them—it's what attracts people to them in the first place. And so as the world gets more and more volatile and complicated in the years ahead, we can expect movements to become increasingly important."
YOU DON'T HAVE TO OVERTHROW A GOVERNMENT TO BE PART OF A MOVEMENT
We all have some sense of what a movement is. However, many people may associate that word with big, world-changing social phenomena: the women's suffrage movement or the civil rights movement. Along with these important social movements, there have been groundbreaking cultural movements that tend to be associated with the arts and ways of thinking, such as the Renaissance or, more narrowly, Italian Neorealism. Then, too, many great religions grew and spread as movements. And today, throughout the Middle East and beyond, we see a wave of independence movements that are shaking and sometimes breaking the existing geopolitical foundations.
All of the movements just mentioned can be thought of as "movements with a capital M," because what we're talking about in these cases is truly important, history-making stuff. And there's definitely a place for some discussion of these capital-M movements in the pages ahead; there are fascinating dynamics in and lessons to be learned from everything from the uprising in Egypt to the current Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements in the United States.
But through much of the book, you'll find a focus on movements that may seem more modest in scope and of far less historical significance. These "movements with a small m" may involve, say, a group of passionate activists, creative types, or even rabid consumers of a particular product. When these people band together around a shared passion or idea and try to turn it into something bigger and more significant, they're not necessarily trying to change history or to change the world as we know it. They're just trying to change the world (or some small part of it) as they know it.
If you break it down to a four-point quadrant, movements can range from small to big, and from personal to societal (see Figure 1-2).
The upper right-hand quadrant of this chart (large/societal) would include everything from the civil rights movement in the 1960s to the Middle East today. But quite a few of the movements you'll read about in this book started out in the lower left quadrant (small/personal). And I think they represent something quite interesting, particularly from the standpoint of marketers or anybody else who is trying to exert cultural influence, because while the really earthshaking social movements in the upper right quadrant are probably too big, too volatile, and ultimately too important to even think about in marketing terms, those smaller, everyday movements are more accessible and sometimes in need of jump-starting or nurturing. There are countless opportunities for companies to connect with these movements with a small m—or possibly even to launch a modest movement of their own.
PASSION: THE ONLY PREREQUISITE
The point is that it isn't necessary for something to be earthshaking to qualify as a movement. It can be a phenomenon that affects a limited group of people. And it doesn't have to be righteous or profound—it could involve relatively mundane matters like what people are eating or whether they're choosing to live in communes. And although I'll be using the term cultural movements throughout the book, this doesn't mean that a movement has to be about high culture or art. What I'm talking about are the shared behaviors, attitudes, styles, influences, and beliefs that surround us—the "culture" we're living in at this moment in time. Art is part of that culture, of course, but so are a million other, less lofty things, from what we're watching on TV to what we're obsessing about on Twitter at any given time. The culture we live in is subject to constant change, and one big agent of that change is movements. When they're successful, movements tend to shift the dialogue and add something new and dynamic to the cultural ecosystem that we all share.
There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of movements small and large happening all around us. As far as I'm aware, there are no available statistics tracking the actual growth in the number of movements, but it's clear that this phenomenon has exploded in the past few years. In the pages ahead, we'll see examples that range far and wide: movements about people expressing their creativity through craftwork, joining together to take on a problem (such as cancer or crime), or finding new ways to live together (the co-housing movement) or work together (the co-working movement).
The growth of movements has been fueled by new technology that makes it easier for members of a movement to find one another and coordinate their activities. But the role of technology in movements (which we'll examine more closely in Chapter 4) is secondary to what really drives the growth and success of any movement: passion. Whether a movement is large or small, or whether its central idea is profound or playful, for a movement to actually take wing, people must feel strongly enough about something to want to take some type of collective action—to actually move on that idea together, usually with the goal of bringing about some level of change.
In his book Tribes, the author and marketing guru Seth Godin describes a movement as "an idea that spreads with passion through a community." While I don't necessarily think Godin's word tribe is quite right for describing the people who belong to movements (in many ways movements are not tribal at all, because they actually tend to be heterogeneous, democratically run, and open to anyone who wants to join), I do think Godin has hit the nail on the head when it comes to the importance of passion. It is passion that transforms an idea into a movement. It's what makes people want to talk about and share that particular idea. What's more, it inspires people to want to expend tremendous amounts of energy, often without compensation, on behalf of the cause.
Passion enables movements to grow and, ultimately, to have a significant impact on the culture. We're seeing now that movements that begin humbly at a grassroots level can have ramifications that extend to the highest levels of power. For example, politicians seeking office nowadays increasingly need to spark movements, or to find a way to align with existing ones, in order to be elected. In American politics, movement mania—starting with the 2008 popular surge that carried Barack Obama to the presidency, and continuing with the subsequent Tea Party movement that sprang up in opposition to some of Obama's policies and positions—is already firmly entrenched.
Meanwhile, community leaders seeking to implement new programs may need the strength and passion of movements to get traction and bring about change. Nonprofits, education reformers, indie rock bands, and innovators of almost any kind are apt to find that new ideas and approaches have a much better chance of becoming reality if they're carried on the shoulders of some kind of popular movement. Basically, anyone whose objective is to persuade people to do something must now begin to come to terms with an emerging truth: persuading the individual is often best achieved by influencing the group that surrounds the individual.
A NEW BUSINESS MODEL: "MOVEMENT MARKETING"
This fundamental shift will have—indeed, is already having—particular impact on the world of business. For the better part of a century, business has relied on a marketing model focused on persuading individuals to buy products or services. But the dirty little secret (which is not so secret anymore) is that all those expensive plugs for "new and improved" offerings are falling upon deaf ears. No one's listening to you, especially if you're talking about your product.
But we are listening to one another, and we do care about lots of things (other than your product): cleaning up the environment, reinventing ourselves, underground rock, solving social problems, scrapbooking, eating healthy, and countless other passions that are forming the basis of movements small and large. The best chance for today's would-be persuaders is to ditch the sales pitch and start trying to figure out what people care about and how to be part of that conversation.
Right now, some of the most established companies in the world (Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo among them) are starting to come to terms with this change. This is why those companies, in spite of their size and their longtime investment in the conventional 30-second TV spot marketing model, have now begun to make the transition to movement marketing. They are recognizing that in the "postproduct era" of today and tomorrow, the smartest marketing will not be about "whiter whites" or "rack-and-pinion steering." It will be about connecting with society on ideas and issues that actually matter to people. And in trying to achieve that aim, the movement will be the medium, serving as the ideal channel to carry and spread a message that is authentic and compelling.
The challenge for these companies—or for entrepreneurs, politicians, and change makers of all types who want to tap into the growing power of movements—is figuring out how to align themselves with existing movements or, better yet, how to spark new ones. Having studied and tried to influence movements for years, I can attest that it is a delicate science, and one that is fraught with risk.
Given that movements are fueled by human passion, they're not something to be trifled with or taken lightly. Generally speaking, members of a movement are hungry for meaning and authenticity, which tends to put movements at odds with superficiality and commercialism. Moreover, marketers should know that movements are about "insiders" and "outsiders," and if you're an outsider trying to cozy up to a movement, you may be seen as the worst kind of outsider: a possible infiltrator.
But that doesn't mean you have to remain on the sidelines, watching the movement march past you. It is possible for an outsider to become an insider, to become a trusted and valued member of the community—if you're willing to earn that trust and prove that value. In the chapters ahead, we'll look at some of the critical steps (such as the five basic ones shown in Figure 1-3) that are required to build a movement from the ground up.
We'll look inside a number of today's most dynamic and successful cultural movements—some of them in the business world, some in the social realm, and some in between—to see why people start movements, what gives those initiatives momentum and keeps them going, and, most important, what it is that movements want and need from you. A connection to a movement can be the best thing that ever happened to your company or your brand (even if you're a brand of one). And in the best of circumstances, you can do much more than be part of a movement—you can actually become a movement yourself.
WHY PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DRAWN TO MOVEMENTS
While the movement phenomenon is growing, it's certainly not new. The instinct to band together in groups is hardwired in all of us. From earliest times, humans' propensity to gather and work together to achieve a common purpose or goal was critical to our survival and our advancement as a species. And it's no less critical in today's world, where we depend on peers, collaborators, and fellow members of our "tribe" to help us keep up with constant change, increased complexity, and seemingly endless choices and challenges.
But until fairly recently, forming large groups was not an easy thing to do, and turning a group into something that could actually be called a movement was harder still. To be organized enough to be able to take collective action required group members to be able to overcome barriers of separation and the complexities of trying to communicate and organize. People had to find places and opportunities to come together and efficient ways to disseminate information.
Excerpted from UPRISING by Scott Goodson. Copyright © 2012 by Scott Goodson. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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