There’s a cultural movement gathering steam in the marketing world right now and, funnily enough, it has to do with… movements.
Large marketers like Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo recently have begun to shift some of their marketing focus to try to find ways to connect with cultural movements that are happening around the country and all over the world. Companies based outside the US, such as India’s fast-rising Mahindra Group, are also picking up on this trend. These companies are developing strategies and campaigns that are designed to go way beyond traditional advertising in terms of connecting with groups of people and their particular passions. The approach usually involves trying to identify an idea that is important to people, one that is on the rise in culture and that folks are uniting and gathering around. Then the company or brand must figure out how to be an authentic part of the movement as it grows and builds (usually from a grassroots level) around that particular idea.
In the past few years, I’ve become convinced that this type of “Movement Marketing” is the new way forward for anyone trying to gain market share and earn customer loyalty. Beyond that, I think it can provide a way for business to connect more deeply with culture, address social issues, get close to customers and their deepest interests, and maybe even be part of something worthwhile and important.
All of this probably raises a few questions, such as: How exactly do you define a “cultural movement?” And considering that people have been starting movements of one kind or another for eons, why should this suddenly be relevant to business now? And by the way, aren’t popular uprisings and groundswells things that happen spontaneously—separate from the realm of business? Aren’t they beyond our influence or control?
Let me start with the basic definition of cultural movements, at least as I use the term. It involves a likeminded group of people banding together 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 those who are pushing for open innovation. Or Christian rockers. Or Tea Partiers. Or those quirky “Steam-punk” people who dress in Victorian garb but love modern gadgetry. 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, this proliferation of mini-movements is something new—fueled by changes in media. The Internet, and in particular the rise of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, has made it incredibly easy to find and connect with likeminded souls. And this same technology makes it possible for a group, once formed, to organize, plan, and take action.
But there are also social reasons why movements are on the rise. While people are more connected in one sense, they’re also more disconnected—from neighbors and from the some of the traditional community hubs of yesteryear. Moreover, people seem to be looking for meaning and purpose in a world that has become increasingly turbulent and unsettling. Bob Johansen, one of the top brains at the Institute for the Future think-tank, predicts that as the world continues to get more volatile and complex in the years ahead, “we can expect movements to become increasingly important.”
As to the notion that movements happen spontaneously and that business has no role to play in them, it’s true and it isn’t. Movements definitely can be sparked or encouraged. My agency StrawberryFrog has been involved in starting a number of them in the recent past: For example, for Pfizer, we quietly seeded 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 believe in without being phony about it. Anand Mahindra, who heads the Mahindra Group and has started using movement marketing for various products, 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 people need to really make that movement go—and help provide it for them. That may involve curating culture for them, providing content and/or expertise, or perhaps giving them a platform where they can more easily organize and build a community. This new model of marketing is primarily built around listening, sharing, facilitating: If you do that, people will trust you enough to let you be a part of their cultural movement.
And when that happens, your brand will have earned the kind of respect and credibility with these people that advertising just can’t get you. Your message will be shared among people who trust and listen to one another a lot more than they trust commercials. This is why I believe that increasingly, in the future, the movement will be the medium.
Image by: victor_nuno