Dear CMO: When we think of our relationships to institutions, we can categorize them in one of several ways. There are brands, and we talk a lot about them here and elsewhere. There are causes. There are memes, ideas, manifestos, and viruses. And then there are movements.
All of these are pushed to the innocent listener except the last, which assumes the acceptance of your message and its re-transmittance. We all giggle when we hear the earnest CMO proclaim, “Our plan is to launch a series of ‘viral videos’ on YouTube.”
This is like hearing a Hollywood studio chief say, “Our plan to revive our sagging fortunes is to launch a spate of hit movies.” It isn’t viral unless other people say so, and implying that you have the ability to predict with Carnac-like accuracy the public acceptance of your thirty second bit suggests that you’re not quite street enough to talk this particular talk.
But let’s not give up just yet, because I think this can work in some cases, but not all. Let me float a half-baked idea for your feedback and see where it takes us all.
We can launch a brand …. Nike, Starbucks, and Fox Racing Shock Absorbers are all brands …. which, to oversimplify, is a connected series of evoked feelings we elicit in the minds of our consumers.
We can embody a movement — from Mark Pollan to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Sir Bob Geldof, and even Al Gore …. which requires that we ignite a spark in our collective imaginations that continues to fire other imaginations long after we’re history.
A movement can become a brand: look at Project(RED) or LiveAid or “Global Warming” or The Civil Rights Movement. It’s stretching the bounds of what we’d usually call a brand, I know, but stick with me.
Can a brand become a movement?
More importantly, can a brand become a movement on purpose?
If you were launching a company and aspired to a unique, relevant and ownable brand, could you plant the seeds of a movement within your messaging architecture and outbound communications? I think in some cases, the answer is ‘yes,’ although clearly not in all. If you sold great ball bearings, you could have a great brand but I think moving towards “movement” status might be impossible. What would you stand for that wouldn’t just be “branding”? You need to have certain prerequisites that define what constitutes a movement …. here’s a draft:
- You must be replicable, in spirit if not in form.
- You must have transparency in your mission so that your ‘branding’ is clear and easily adaptable to related works by others. There must be a consistent ‘arc’ to the story …. a movement must have internal consistency.
- You must be willing and open to not just release control of your ‘brand’ but to acknowledge that your brand and movement are owned by a collective group of people who may never actually meet.
- Importantly, for a brand to become a movement, there must be something deeply emotional and communal that connects users, providers and influencers to a degree that transcends simple functionality. There must be something to it that is “right.”
- And as a free-market entity, there must be something in it for you.
If my friend Tom who is launching (soon) TaxLifeboat.com took this approach, how would he do it? He’s in the business of helping those at the bottom of the pyramid who are most in need of help by giving them a disruptively affordable and immensely robust web 2.0 solution to tax delinquency. Instead of charging them thousands of dollars, he’s charging $199. On purpose. He could charge more, but he’s keeping the cost low to ensure that those who need help the most can afford it. This isn’t price elasticity, it’s altruism. Tom mentors inmates. He feeds the homeless. He cares about people.
Tom is a movement. And fortunately, his company name lends itself to the mission. A lifeboat is a powerful metaphor. It saves people who are adrift and would otherwise drown. If Tom looked at “the lifeboat” and said to the 1-percenters who are paying attention, “take the lifeboat wherever it makes sense to go and use it to do the kind of work I’m doing here,” would others respond? We didn’t have this in mind when we first starting working on this idea, but it could work. If you were providing substance abuse prevention or treatment, tax preparation, debt consolidation, financial planning, affordable housing, healthcare, education, tutoring, after school programs, or counseling of any kind, how would you take this mission and make it your own?
If you created a “lifeboat” logo that anyone could use as a mark …. not necessarily their logo, but an identifier that says, “my business runs in the spirit of other companies that also use this mark” …. would it stick? Could it be a self-policing “Good Housekeeping” seal? Would the community actually do the policing?
And what about Tom, who’s made this his mission. Beyond the altruism, he gets something bigger. Because every person exposed to the “lifeboat” wherever it happens knows that ultimately, if they need his services in tax delinquency relief, they will come to him. His movement supports his brand and his mission.
It’s a living, breathing, self-policing, free-market wiki of aligned people.
Frankly, I’m not sure this all holds up to the scrutiny of my peers in its first iteration, but I like the idea. Tell me what you’d do with this. Here, take the lifeboat–