An interview with Scott Goodson

Scott Goodson, CEO+Founder StrawberryFrog and Author of the best seller "Uprising"
Scott Goodson, CEO+Founder StrawberryFrog and author of “Uprising”

Scott Goodson is the founding partner of StrawberryFrog, and has been described by TIME magazine as “a leader of a new breed of virtual ad makers who use the Internet to reverse the relationship between marketers and their ad agencies”. He has worked on major brands like PepsiCo, Google, Heineken, and Starbucks, and famously crafted the “Hello Tomorrow” strategy and motto for Emirates, and the “Make History” motto for Jim Beam’s first global campaign. In 2012, he wrote the best-selling “Uprising” which we reviewed here, and which he graciously agreed to discuss with us at length.

movements

Agency Review:

The compelling centerpiece of “Uprising” is the idea that marketers should focus more on starting movements and less on simply selling products – because movements are more engaging, and also because they fundamentally put the seller and buyer on the same side of the table. But there’s a fine line between being part of a “movement” and being part of a “tribe” – and one of the most challenging aspects of our age is the fierce tribalism that has not only isolated us from each other, but actually put us at each other’s throats. How do marketers avoid tribalism while reaping the benefits of “movements”?

Goodson:

Brands matter more today than they did only a few years ago. With all the noise and commotion in our daily lives, brands play an even more vital role in the fight for love and attention and for the person who buys into your product. The brain can only take in so much information. So the solution is we need even BIGGER brand ideas that can stir the soul and the most powerful way to do that is with a cultural movement framework. Cultural movements are bigger ideas because they take a stand for something or against something. And this stirs passions and feels motivating rather than the hard sell. Millennials hate the hard sell, everyone hates the hard sell. Bigger movement ideas direct and frame all the multiple communications opportunities so they work across all media platforms. Another way to think about it is cultural marketing which creates catalysts for dialog about topics people care about.

Agency Review:

Okay, but…

Goodson:

Hold on. Passions make the heart grow stronger, tribalism hurts, limits and isolates. The key is to think about passions that bring us together and to not think about tribes that separate us and make one group exclusive to another. Cultural Movement is about curating ideas that attract and curate Passions that unite us vs tribes which divide us. Cultural Movement is about identifying and crystallizing powerful, meaningful, relevant ideas on the rise and bringing likeminded people together – case in point is our new cultural movement for Nature’s Variety Instinct LONGLIVEPETS.Com which is about advocating for rescue dogs and inspiring people to adopt rescue dogs.

Agency Review:

I get that, and I get that you’re looking at it from the “what can we rally around” perspective. But aren’t they sort of two sides of the same coin? And even the name of the book – Uprising – that implies some sort of dichotomy, doesn’t it? You can’t rise up against no one, right? And to be clear, I’m not asking these questions because I necessarily disagree with the power of the movements you talk about; instead it’s because I’ve spent a lot of time with clients who hate hate hate to appear to be exclusive or excluding. So I’m wondering how you get around that with something that looks, by definition, to be excluding.

Goodson:

This is a really beautiful question.

Agency Review:

Thanks…

Goodson:

When we work with our clients we focus on the movement framework which includes identifying the “stand” a key element of the movement platform. This is completely inclusive. Advertising is exclusive by its very nature. But not Movements, they are open to a much broader group of consumers, and they’re sustainable because they’re based on values and a galvanizing idea.

Agency Review:

So in the context of advertising, movements are more inclusive. That is, they’re a more inclusive form of advertising…

Goodson:

Yes. I came up with this idea of movement marketing years ago while working on the original launch of the Smart Car in the late 90s for Mercedes. I saw first-hand how people genuinely fell in love with the brand and what it stood for – in those early days it was all about redefining the urban environment not selling a two seater b-segment vehicle. People got super passionate about the car of course but also the idea behind Smart, about fixing all the problems we have in cities and, well, there are too many reasons to go into here. The greatest hell on earth is the traffic, commuting sucks and you know that we humans can fix it if we put our minds to it and that’s what the smart movement was about. And it stirred people and they got behind it. During it all I realized that if someone starts something special it creates a space for a lot of other people to think this is really inspiring and I want to be part of this or I’ll get left behind. When marketing is at its best it understands and expresses the inner feeling associated with the brand but also what humans are feeling. It not only carries a message it also makes people think and encourages a dialog with them that hopefully makes both them and the brand grow stronger and feel better. I also feel that it makes me stronger and feel better for every day this dialog continues. That’s the essence of my thinking about movements. What I’m doing may sound edgy or not so comfortable bit really it’s the complete opposite.

where?

Agency Review:

Like most great ideas, the one that fuels “movements” is both remarkably obvious and stunningly simple. The sort of thing that, once you hear it, you say, “well, of course!” but which you’d never figure out yourself. So how did you? Was there a lightening bolt moment that revealed the idea of movement marketing to you, or was it more of a cumulative thing that you realized over time? And why do you think you were able to figure it out when others didn’t/couldn’t?

Goodson:

I brought the idea of “Cultural Movement” or movement marketing to the world when launching StrawberryFrog back in the 1999 in Amsterdam. But the flash of light happened years earlier while growing up and working in Stockholm, Sweden. Back then I saw how many Swedish brands didn’t focus on selling themselves to consumers. Rather, they wanted consumers to buy into a philosophy, a purpose, and way to make the world a better place. Brands like IKEA were not for the rich but for the wise. Volvo fought for safety not performance. And I worked on the global movement for one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies who did the most unthinkable, most imaginable thing. They came out and said we are fighting to improve the quality of life around the world not only to put pills in jars and sell them for incredible profit. The result was a movement that helped me hone my thinking http://youtu.be/SeySW6HIfAY

And on a product level Nicorette http://youtu.be/G-f-S7Nj8p0

Agency Review

Its very interesting that you say that because it echoes something Ty Montague said to us – this idea of realizing that certain brands were able to exist without marketing, and that that fact got him, as a marketer, intrigued. And yet brands have been marketed for centuries. So what is it about this moment in time that seems to bubble this kind of thinking about it up to the surface – for brands, for consumers and for marketers?

Goodson:

Unless you’ve been on another planet this year, you already know the story of how Donald Trump made a stand, uttered some highly provocative remarks and ended up dominating Republican politics. Sure many people scratch their heads but I’ve heard people say they admire his strong point of view. The numbers show that he’s rallying people around him. Now, 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 clear sales success of a man running for office affect the way advertisers think about fundamental questions like “What do we stand for?” And “Who do we stand with?”

In my book Uprising, I interrogate this new world for marketers. Knowing that the world around has become so volatile, should they respond by becoming more cautious, by trying to stay far way from anything that could ever, in any way, be perceived as controversial?

Agency Review:

Most clients would say “HELL YES!”

Goodson:

I worry that some may react that way: The lesson they may take away from this is: Stay away from outspoken people; don’t get involved in any issues; play it safe. Trouble is, that’s also the quickest way to make a brand invisible and irrelevant. If you play it safe in today’s boisterous marketing environment, well, it’s true that you won’t have crowds rising up against you—they’ll be too busy ignoring you.

That’s why I think marketers will need to do something more counter-intuitive: In these volatile times, brands actually should become more willing to take a stand. They should become more activist, not less. But they should do so in a thoughtful, considered way that is more likely to put them on the same side of passionate issues as their customers are.

Agency Review:

Reminds us of what Sir Frank Lowe allegedly told a client when presented with a risky option and a safe one. “Gentlemen,” he said, “It is too risky to choose the safe option.” Good advice then, good advice now…

benefits

Agency Review:

You make the interesting assertion in Uprising, that you believe marketers are too focused on benefits, and make the completely legitimate case that this is misguided because imitation of successful distinctions and innovations happens too quickly these days for any product to maintain any meaningful edge. And while we agree with you in the abstract, we’re troubled by it because we still fundamentally believe that people buy products to solve problems (the “drill bit/hole” aphorism that we mention in the review). So while we applaud your focus away from features (which every wrongheaded client prefers to talk about), we can’t quite leapfrog over “benefits”. What are we missing?

Goodson:

Tie the benefits to the idea on the rise in culture; that will make them more relevant and interesting if they’re in the context of a movement, not hard selling. Sales, results, are the goal not brand building. Product benefit, product distinction is the focus not high values feel-good branding.

Agency Review:

Whoa, hold on. While we’d be fools to say that terrible branding doesn’t abound, aren’t you being a bit Manichean? The brand is the promise the product delivers on, not just some “feel good” whip cream.

Goodson:

Look, no one cares about your brand. It’s not loved. It’s not important. It’s not invited anywhere except to your company picnic. That is unless you can make the brand relevant in people’s lives. To the way THEY understand things. If your brand speaks in a voice that resonates inside them, and if it speaks to a truth that they recognize, then suddenly people want to share that brand with their friends and their friends and their friends and it’s like a fire spreading. A fire that began with a true understanding for the cultural shift that now feeds and informs it, and a true respect for the people who nurture, start and control that shift. No one cares about your brand unless you find a way to speak to why you care about it. Only then will you start an uprising. It ain’t the same old brand building anymore, Toto.

Agency Review:

I think we’re saying the same thing, with different vocabulary. For me, a brand IS that thing in people’s heads. If, as you say “no one cares” then, really, you don’t have a brand. You have, at best, a product, and probably a product on it’s way to the dustbin of history (you cite L. Frank Baum, I’ll cite Leon Trotsky, and we’ll wind up somewhere in the middle…). The brand is everything they think about you – and it seems the insight you’ve made is that if they care about you, really care about you, it’s probably really because you’re just part of a bigger cultural shift or movement that you’re a small part of, whether you realize it or not.

Goodson:

It’s about creating new habits, conversion and traffic. It’s about putting the product at the center, defining its role and its benefit and purpose…and dramatizing these important aspects in a way that stands out and people want to engage with and share. Paid advertising lets you say what you want about a product. Cultural Movement let’s you dramatize the product but in addition have something to say that generates free media and earned media.

Agency Review:

Okay, but bear with the small brain of a simple creative guy. For while we understand the value of a cultural message that has infinitely more resonance with a person than a product message does – even one that fulfills a profound need – how do you connect the two in a way that is not only meaningful to the person you’re talking to, not only simply and quickly understood by that person, but that is also unique and distinctive to the product you’re selling them – and not just the category?

Goodson:

Let’s forget the theory for a moment…

Agency Review:

Who’s talking about theory? How does a creative distinguish a client in a category from its competition? It doesn’t get any less theoretical than that!

Goodson:

I’ll give you an example. When I wrote the cultural movement idea for Emirates Airline “Hello Tomorrow” I wanted to express the inner qualities of the product which is the most future forward aircraft in the world. But more than flat beds and delicious food, the movement idea was about a big human idea to make the world smaller, and by so doing reduce misunderstandings and miscommunications between people. Within this framework you can clearly have product messages but there’s a bigger more emotional idea that’s uniquely Emirates Airline.

Agency Review:

So in a sense, the product (Emirates) was a symbol of, or a node on, the broader cultural trend of “making the world smaller”, which you were able to articulate (and which Emirates was then able to own) via “Hello Tomorrow”.

Goodson:

Cultural Movement is about the digital intercept when P&G and Google have moved from FMOT (First Moment of Truth) to ZMOT (Zero Moment of Truth) – in the ultimate moment of truth you need a layered messaged not a simplistic one. Because if it’s only about product how does one differentiate if there is an ample supply of equally hot products? Which shoe is better Adidas, Asics, Havianas or Toms or Crocs? In that decision comes product, function, price and relevance, purpose.

Agency Review:

It sounds like what you’re saying is that the “brand” should be inextricably intertwined with a cultural movement which will have infinitely more pull than even the need that the product is fulfilling. Okay, but aren’t movements culturally specific and resonate in different ways in different cultures – and even among different demographics within a culture? And since specificity is key in making any message effective, how do you avoid getting trapped by one culture’s movement in a globally connected planet?

Goodson:

Over my career I’ve worked with big and small clients around the world such as  Heineken, Google, Jim Beam, Morgan Stanley, LG and IKEA, Daimler. Some of the movements have been global, some international, some for the Americas only. As a global soul, I lived and worked in Europe for 17 years before moving to Manhattan 12 years ago, I naturally lean into universal insights and big ideas that are borderless. Sure some of the language needs to be tweaked but today we all live in a bigger world and ideas need to live with us.

compliance

Agency Review:

On the one hand, we make it clear in our review that we agree with many of the ideas in Uprising concerning movements and why they’re valuable and how companies can learn from them. On the other hand, the very things that companies have to do in order to take advantage of your insights – give up control, for example – are precisely the things they don’t want to do and are not at all good at. And yet StrawberryFrog isn’t some abstract theoretical marketing lab; it’s a successful marketing company. So how do you get them to do it?

Goodson:

We never sell the clients anything, they are working alongside of our team, working with people the big corporate agencies never let the clients meet but whom have a huge influence on how the brand is communicated. The clients start the journey with us as well as their top management – and when we get to the end they’ve been there the whole time.

Agency Review:

So you don’t just “pull back the curtain”, you ask them to roll up their sleeves too…

Goodson:

CMOs and brand managers find the new marketing landscape confusing. Where do we start? Which tools are the optimal ones? Cultural Movement is about simplifying this complexity. Cultural Movement is about companies developing a strategic idea and driving sales through a proven proprietary architecture.

Agency Review:

So it’s “simplifying” by reprioritizing. By saying “it’s not about managing all this disparate media; it’s about a cultural movement that uses this media to connect to people” Yes?

Goodson:

Correct but it starts by asking questions. We have created a series of questions that we ask our clients in the beginning of our relationship that they’ve never been asked before. Sure they’ve been in brainstormings but nothing like what we do. And in the end we have the makings of a movement.

Agency Review:

We’ve heard something similar from other smart companies – this idea that you won’t wind up with different, breakthrough work if you let the client use the same process that they made un-different, un-breakthrough work with in the past. It seems obvious, and yet, so few agencies – and clients – are will to accept it.

Goodson:

When you have Cultural Movement you can do anything in a fragmenting media environment. Companies do not have to give up control, rather they benefit from free media because the consumer is already aligned with the idea. Think like this: It’s very much like a politician communicating to a constituency. Does the politician talk about bits and bites or does she talk about ideas that fire people up, ideas that they care passionately about, that are relevant for their daily lives. That’s Cultural Movement. The point I made in the book is something that is obvious. With all the technology in the hands of people you can’t completely control the message like in the past but with the right cultural movement you can move people.

Agency Review:

So it’s almost like the FMOT to ZMOT move you talked about above – telling brand managers who are terrified of losing control that it doesn’t matter if you’ve “lost control” of the media if you can control the cultural movement that’s driving the media.

Goodson:

The movement idea needs to be released by a big media idea.

Agency Review:

Thus “media” is integral to cultural movements and thus to brands.

Goodson:

Cultural movement moves brands that move people that move product – might be a good title for this piece.

Agency Review:

Or for a sequel to Uprising. Shall I call McGraw-Hill or would you like to?

Goodson:

I’m not sure there’s a sequel. I’m excited about the thought of doing a series of online videos – something different. I’ve done the book, what else is out there? Never stand still and never take what’s worked in the past as the systems of the future, cause everything is always changing. The key word is momentum!

the now

Agency Review:

You make the point in the book – and cite the analysis of Bob Johansen and the Institute for the Future for support – that we are living through an unusually volatile time, a time which makes “movements” particularly appealing to consumers, and therefore marketers. And while I don’t disagree that life seems bewilderingly chaotic, doesn’t it always seem that way to the people inside the era and that order is only really observable in the rearview mirror? And if so, then why haven’t other marketers in other eras discovered the power of “movements”?

Goodson:

Bob is an incredibly inspiring person and we met while we were working on P&G’s first ever movement, the global cultural movement for Pampers brand. As I cite in the book, movements have been there for a long time. Volkswagen Beetle’s launch in the US is the first movement I can identify – which I wrote about in Uprising. In fact many of the biggest and most successful brands of our time started as movements. Naming this approach and thinking of it as a framework for marketing is what I’ve spent the past 17 years doing. Hundreds of cases later – many of which are identified in the book – prove it to be a powerful tool for business growth, acceleration of market share and sales as well as loads of crazy fans.

Agency Review:

Or said another way, yes, other eras probably did utilize movement marketing, they just didn’t realize it or call it that. And that the reason it feels so much of this era is not because they didn’t exist before, but only because you weren’t around in, say, the 1920s and 30s and 40s, and thus didn’t document it. You’ve documented it for this era because that’s the era you’re living in – and if some Advertising Studies grad student wants to go back and show how “The Pause that Refreshes” or Listerine’s “Halitosis” campaign were really about cultural movements, well, that’s up to them, but they’ll probably be amply rewarded.

Goodson:

In my book I stated that the first cultural movement campaign and brand was the launch of Volkswagen into the USA in the 60s. That campaign was all about values not about the product and what made it explode as a cultural icon was the fact that through this brand Americans were able to express their frustrations about Detroit and all they had experienced from the U.S. automakers. In those days they made big big cars and this one didn’t look anything like the regular ones. Actually it’s a good example of how a product that isn’t perhaps better but is different can benefit from a movement. The car’s engine was in the boot so safety was an issue but to those who owned the Volkswagens it made no difference, they loved them even more.

future

Agency Review:

What does the future of “movement marketing” look like? Is its future purely dependent upon continued general volatility, or, is it possible that once consumers and marketers get a taste for it, it will exist even in, god forbid, calmer times? Or will it transform into something else, affected as everything appears to be, by the quantum leaps in technology and interconnectedness we’re experiencing? Or are you seeing that already happening?

Goodson:

Movements are here to stay and since the book launched have grown in acceptance and adoption. Since the book was launched companies like P&G have adopted the strategic thinking. So too have it’s agencies.

Agency Review:

That must have been a tough sell. Because every agency loves to trumpet it’s own, proprietary “have to buy it from me or you’ll die” thinking. Were you and StrawberryFrog called in to help those agencies understand and embrace it? And if so, how did that go?

Goodson:

We were thrilled to be asked to work for P&G and to be their digital and social AOR for Pampers globally. I had this idea called Capture at Conception that led to a cultural movement which included the creation of “Hello Baby” a game changing app for iPad which boasted a highly graphic pregnancy calendar that allowed you to share your baby with the world. Through our work with P&G I was asked to share our thinking with other agencies.

Agency Review:

So your thinking is gaining acceptance…

Goodson:

I’ve been told that Kevin Roberts, the global head of Saatchi who wrote about Lovemarks now boasts that a movement is the way for brands to build market share.

Agency Review:

Do you think he always perceived it as one, or, as someone who watches advertising and marketing as conscientiously as you do, do you think it’s something he evolved the concept of Lovemarks to include?

Goodson:

No idea. You should ask him.

Agency Review:

Okay. Mr. Roberts?

Roberts:

This notion that good brands could transform themselves with Lovemarks was created over a decade ago… The idea of brand-building through creating a movement evolved from the principle that brand owners “owned” brands and consumers “owned” Lovemarks… (think New Coke!)… and that consumers today want to be part of something bigger than a brand, bigger than themselves… they want to participate actively in a movement… and help create and build this movement WITH the brand.

Agency Review:

Thank you. Mr. Goodson?

Goodson:

And BBDO boasts that movements are the key to success.

Agency Review:

Yes, we’ve seen their presentations – does that fill you with pride, that your thinking has resonated? Or frustration, that others are glomming on to what you’ve spent decades perfecting?

Goodson:

I suppose when you write a best-selling book about movements and speak about cultural movements, one should be happy that it’s catching on, and I am. I just think we do it differently than the huge agency networks. Cultural Movement  is something light. Some people in the agency I chose by intuition. I love something inside them, they inspire me. They have an intelligence, worldliness, openness, curiosity, elegance, honesty and integrity. I get a feeling about people and then I work with  them about this approach to brand thinking – the cultural movement. We work very hard.

You can read our review of Scott’s book here, or order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).

Illustration of Scott Goodson by the brilliant Mike Caplanis