THE BLOG
11/23/2015 04:25 pm ET | Updated Nov 23, 2016

2016 Is the Era of Cultural Movement Marketing

Unless you've been on another planet the past few weeks, you already know the story of how T-Mobile has crushed it's competition and ignited a mass marketing movement among millenials and Gen-Z for it's brand and against the staid and established operators in America. This is the clearest example of the sheer power and force of cultural movement marketing.

Putting aside the fact that it's led by a charismatic CEO 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 affect the way advertisers think about fundamental questions like "What do we stand for?" And "Who do we stand with?"

If CMOs, CEOs, or brands haven't fully answered those questions, they'd better. Because if there's anything we've learned in recent months through this and other examples such as the rise of Donald Trump, it's that we're living in an era of movements and the age of Uprisings. And the uprisings extend beyond politics or social issues, spilling into the world of commerce. Today, if you want to devise an effective marketing strategy you inspire people to rise up for an idea or against an idea. This is unleashing one of the greatest marketing powers known - the passions of millions of people, harnessed through a values based community driven marketing strategy.

Welcome to the age of the activist. They have the will and the passion and the social media tools to make impacts, grow brands and businesses, move the world and wreak havoc on organizations. Old traditional brands seem more often than not to be the offending party. And to the established brands, if you stay the same or do something that ticks people off, they're going to rise up against you.

Case in point: The Long Live Pets movement turning the highly fought after dog food sector on its head. When we developed the Cultural Movement strategy and program for a rising pet food brand - Nature's Variety Instinct, we did not do create ads for the pet food. The ads didn't show smiling pet owners and happy well-brushed dogs. Rather is was a stand for something, and a movement to connect with the millions of passionate advocates in America who stand for the loves of shelter pets. We crystalized the movement with a credo and motto called LONG LIVE PETS and partnered with Best Friends Animal Society to launch a movement that swept the nation. Watch it here. This is how brands will have to market in 2016 in the age of movements.

Why now? Why is 2016 so important for movements?

There are several factors. Firstly millennials are in the seat of power and they are, by nature, the most aspirational generation for a long time. They also favor brands that tackle the bigger issues and are more likely to buy from a cause based brand. Of course technology is linking like-minded people together who share values and we are seeing more issues that need to be overcome, which inspires this generation to want to act.

Then there is a lack of brand trust and the subsequently the need for an increase of brand trust. In a recent paper released November 3, 2015, David Rogers, Columbia Business School Professor said, "Consumers are far more savvy about their data than we originally suspected, and one of the most important factors in data sharing is how much a consumer trusts a brand."

Furthermore, in their recent paper titled "Insights 2020: Are marketers truly consumer centric," Millward Brown Vermeer conducted research among 10,000 respondents and presented at the recent ANA conference that clearly over-performing companies link everything they do to a clearly defined purpose. Speaking at the 2015 ANA conference, Marc de Swaan Arons said, "Eighty percent of the people in those over-performing companies told us that they linked everything they do to a very clearly defined brand purpose.

Values-based activism is another way to describe the marketing approach I am describing: "Some of the world's biggest brands are increasingly entering the fray over divisive political and social issues, particularly in the United States. Putting a stake in the ground on social issues such as marriage equality, immigration and the Confederate flag inherently raises business and communications questions. We need to consider such issues when working for, or counseling, these brands," so says the 2016 predictions of market insights leader Hotwire.

When AirBNB, a killer competitor to the traditional hotel industry, launched it's new marketing recently, it did't spend it's money explaining how its services work to the millions of people who have never used it. No, instead it introduced a provocative movement strategy called "Humankind" challenging people to explore beyond their comfort zone and in the process challenge people to live up to the values of a kind human.

So again, we come back to: How will marketers react to all of this, going forward? 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?

This new research above indicates that we are living in a time of movements and uprisings. In the marketing and advertising sector, CMOS and Marketers are searching for the marketing framework for 2016 as the landscape becomes overwhelming, ad blocking disrupts and big data gives everyone a level playing field. New research reveals that the era of movement marketing is here, and will accelerate in 2016. Movement marketing, also known as Cultural Movement, is the marketing framework that I brought to the world in my movement marketing strategies for Smart Car, IKEA, and Emirates Airline

Looking forward, it's a big leap for marketers to stop thinking about digital advertising or brand positioning and rather work up a strategy that leads to a brand stand and a movement strategy. I worry that some may react that way: The lesson they may take away from this new era 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.

In these volatile times, brands actually should become more willing to take a stand. Movements can help marketers overcome the problem of brands not paying enough attention to their customers and what really matters to those people. What are the issues that are on their minds? What are they passionate about? What are they talking to each other about?

In our experience at my agency StrawberryFrog, we've found that 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 don't need to ride on the back of a Donald Trump. They're in a position to do more than just run ads; they can launch an initiative, or better yet, a movement. Brands now must demonstrate their values and beliefs through action.

In 2016, brands that can do this can actually tap into the passion and volatility of this new era, instead of running from it. The idea is to be more proactive: to take your own stand, instead of letting some talking head (supported by your ad dollars) take a stand that has nothing to do with you. And to be out there marching with people, instead of worrying that someday they might be marching against you.

So what are the important marketing trends for 2016? Well, after looking at where millennial culture yearns for, and in studying movements for over 20 years and having sparked a few for iconic clients, I believe brands in 2016 must connect with that passion and activism somehow. If you fail to respond to this shift in the culture, you run the risk of being out of step with your customers. Your company could end up looking like a "status quo" brand in a revolutionary world.