Near the end of the 1970s my parents bought a Saab. Soon they noticed cars flashing their lights at them. At first they thought they had their high-beams on. Then they thought the drivers were warning them about speed traps. Eventually they discovered that all the cars that were flashing them were other Saabs. Apparently this was all part of the informal society of Saab-owners (though I later learned that other foreign car drivers did the same thing when encountering a fellow driver).
Thus my parents joined a movement without even knowing it.
I was reminded of this story while reading Scott Goodson’s thought-provoking book Uprising: How to Build a Brand – and Change the World – by Sparking Cultural Movements.
The premise that Goodson, the chairman and one of the founders of the eminently successful StrawberryFrog, puts forward is essentially this: We live in a post-product era, a time when the Rosser Reeves’ USP is dead because imitation of any successful distinctions happen too quickly for a product to maintain a meaningful edge. At the same time, however, we live in an unusually turbulent time, one which Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future characterizes as one full of “VUCA” – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. And during times like these, people have, according to Johansen, a high proclivity for joining movements, because movements provide meaning. As Johansen says: “In times of turbulence, anything that gives people a sense of meaning tends to grow. 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.”
In other words, if we live in turbulent times and products have lost their meaning, and if people flock to movements during turbulent times because they seek meaning, it follows that smart marketers would want to incorporate movements into their marketing. And judging from StrawberryFrog’s client list, track record, and growth, it would appear Goodson’s on to something.
What does it look like? Goodson describes it this way:
Rather than starting with this: ‘We’ve got a phone to sell how do we get people to buy this product? What’s the USP? It’s got a new button here – how do we market that?’; We started with this: ‘What’s going on in the world? What’s on people’s minds? What is culturally relevant?
Now, I want you to consider a couple of things about that statement. First is how it – rightly, I think – shifts the conversation from one about the product to one about consumer needs. People don’t buy a drill bit, the old saying goes, they buy a hole (so if you want to sell them a drill bit, talk to them about the hole they want to make).
But there’s another thing going on here that’s a little troubling, namely the perception of a feature as being completely divorced from the need it was created to meet. And while I have sat through too many meetings that sound exactly like the one Mr. Goodson describes to say that people don’t talk like that, I do think there’s a middle ground that he’s leapfrogged. Namely the simple redirection of marketing away from features and back towards benefits.
But perhaps that’s another book.
In this book, Mr. Goodson goes to great lengths to be clear about why movement marketing can be – and has been – so successful (there are literally dozens of case studies and sidebars). He is also very clear about the challenges facing marketers who wish to go down this path. They have to be willing to give up control to the public. They have to be patient, because these things can take time. They have to make sure their internal culture reflects the external message. They have to understand what they as a company bring to the movement.
And while all of these things are legitimate and I have no doubt will increase the odds of success, they also require a tremendous amount of time and effort for marketers – two qualities they are woefully short of already. Which raises the interesting question – does the revolving door that exists in marketing departments pose the greatest threat to companies achieving the kind of success that Goodson promises them?
Because it’s one thing not to implement Mr. Goodson’s tactics because you disagree with them; but it’s quite another simply because you’re too lazy or your company is too much of a dinosaur.