The Rise of Movement Brands

November 01, 2016 | Jeff Macdonald
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The relationship between brands and people is being transformed before our very eyes; the old-fashioned, binary model of companies selling and people consuming is dead. Traditional, rigid hierarchies of control are being replaced with more fluid and open peer-to-peer networks. We are rapidly adopting the principles of a sharing economy as the mainstream norm and there is a new world order forming.

You can choose to see this as either a challenge or an opportunity but the brands that will win are the movement brands that are brave enough to let their consumers take an equal stake in setting the agendas and creating content.

There are two core factors behind these profound changes:

  1. Empowerment of people through digital technology
  2. Positive social activism that underpins a more outward-looking, civic-minded and connected millennial generation

As a result, we are seeing the rise and rise of social movements. When mobilizing collective action properly, people are able to use their collective actions and combined power to ignite transformational change. Whether it be Occupy, lesbian and gay marriage rights, or climate change action, it is remarkable people, not traditional institutions, that are setting the social agenda in our world and driving positive disruption.

Brands need to radically change how they operate if they are to stay in tune with these changing cultural dynamics. It means a complete shift in what you offer and how you operate. Which is why millennials tend to have more affinity with smaller, newer movement brands. These brands have either been born in this new era and this new way of operating comes naturally to them, or, are small and agile enough to more easily make the changes required in their way of working. They come with brand purpose, meaningful narratives and work in collaborative partnerships with their fan base community. They embrace the democratization of brands as an inspiring and liberating way of doing and creating amazing work.

For the bigger brands — with more traditional modes of operation — they will need to rapidly reassess what they offer and how they interact with people if they want to remain relevant and retain their leadership positions. Where once brands sold stuff to make us look remarkable, people today want brands to empower and support them to be remarkable (in a fun, exciting and inspiring way). Our basis of identity has moved from image to beliefs and actions. The relationship between brands and people, from transactions to collaborations. The core of the marketing campaign, from interruption to interaction. If your primary focus as a marketer is still on creating ads to sell your brand’s functional and emotional benefits, you need to take a closer look at how today’s generation is engaging with the world.

These shifts have a wide-ranging impact — across strategy, activation, structure and culture. But the benefits of changing your way of operating are huge. Beyond the obvious ability to be competitive with and chosen over other brands (traditionally the basic goal of a marketer, right?), this new approach opens up many more opportunities.

To be a movement brand that is truly motivational to today’s generation, you need to be doing something meaningful — and, crucially, let them be part of this (you need to design for participation!). This generation is driven by a fundamental human desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. Help them to achieve this and together you co-create a value proposition that really does have value. And don’t confuse brand purpose with being worthy. Doing something meaningful can — and should — be inspiring and exciting.

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Patagonia’s environmental mission, for example, touches every part of its value chain. It has carefully designed its products, services and activities to bring the brand belief ‘build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’ to life through the active collaboration of a passionate community. Through initiatives such as Worn Wear, Patagonia encourages and supports their willing advocates to connect and amplify the brand story in an authentic and engaging way, working with grassroots movements to seamlessly blend the online and offline worlds. As a consequence, the brand generates a rich and constant stream of brand- and user-generated content that in turn further strengthens their love for the brand and their willingness to act to achieve its environmental goals.

Patagonia literally wrote the book on grassroots environmental activism.
Patagonia literally wrote the book on grassroots environmental activism.

This kind of approach offers a hugely exciting opportunity for brands and businesses to create truly iconic work around the big cultural ideas that matter to people. Innate Motion has worked with brave leaders such as Coca-Cola and Unilever to do exactly this — building movement brands around culturally relevant ideas, mobilizing collective action and mobilizing their communities to participate.

With purpose at the heart of your brand and an approach to activation that invites people to openly contribute to the change that they are trying to make towards a better world, you will create a more inspired, committed and active tribe of passionate believers—both inside and outside the business. Co-creating more authentic, edgy and relevant ideas and content. That is a pretty powerful and exciting prospect. This is when brands and people can come together to contribute to amazing changes in our world. This is when remarkable can happen.

This article was originally published on Sustainable Brands

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Jeff Macdonald

Born and raised in Scotland, Jeff now lives near London, having arrived there via Canada and India. It was whilst taking his Masters degree in Economics that he first got interested in the study of human and social behavior, subsequently applying this to global marketing roles for the likes of Nestle, Bacardi and Nokia, across a broad mix of positioning, comms and innovation projects. Understanding the reality of the complexity and challenges big global organizations operate within, Jeff seeks to help clients break free of the limits and constraints that this can create. A passionate believer in the power of ideas to inspire people to greatness, Jeff is an optimistic dreamer who enjoys helping clients to find their culture narrative to unlock the magic in their business and brands.