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Businesses cannot be on the sidelines any longer

Instead they ought to connect with the social change movements swirling around them

Gulf News

We’re living in a time of movements — you just have to pick up a newspaper to know that. Depending on what day it is, you’re apt to find front-page stories of women taking to the streets in Washington, the Red Shirt teachers movement, TimesUp movement, and Students against assault weapons marching across the US.

In the US more movements are likely to resurface as the weather warms and the political season heats up.

For those of us in business, it may seem as if all of this is transpiring in a separate realm, well outside the corporate bubble. Unless the protesters are specifically targeting your business, it’s natural to think, “This new era of protest makes for lively news, but has nothing to do with my company or brand”.

But the new social unrest is everybody’s business, including yours and mine.

At StrawberryFrog, we believe that the most significant marketing programmes often come through social movements, and that despite the differences between private business and society, company leaders, CEOs and CMOs can learn from how these initiators engage and mobilise the masses to institutionalise new societal norms.

One leader who understood this well was Heineken headquartered in The Netherlands. When the leadership decided to become the main sponsor of the Champion’s League, we developed a Marketing Movement “Welcome to Champion’s Planet” where hard core football fans and even those loosely connected with the sport could join “Championism”.

Something significant has changed in our global culture over the past few of years. Blame it on global economic pressures, general restlessness, or the new hyper-connectivity that enables people to instantly organise around causes and hot-topics.

It’s probably some combination of all of these factors, but the net result is that business leaders are now dealing with a populace that is more socially engaged, more aware of what’s going on in the world, and hungrier to get involved and be heard on various issues.

If you sell at these people they will ignore you. If you ignite a movement that they can belong to they will be ignited and participate, and through that relationship they will be more inclined to buy.

We know about the mini-uprisings in recent months against brands like Hertz, Liberty Mutual and Allstate and others ignited by Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg for their support of a Fox TV show. And we might say, “Well, they made bad decisions.”

But in part, their mistake was not to realise that the world had changed around them. In this new world, their “customers” could easily become activists — either for or against them.

So how does a smart business respond in a time of heightened passions and greater activism? Rather than becoming more cautious in hopes of avoiding any kind of backlash, I believe brands 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.

Better to join in the march. If uprisings and movements are happening all around, then your business needs to somehow become involved in movements — or better yet, start one of your own.

Let me be clear — a brand movement needn’t be political. For Dubai to increase its relevance as a leading business centre in the globe, it would help to launch a movement that is relevant to where the world’s business culture is.

In doing so, Dubai would engage a new group of visitors, millions of passionate individuals who would see Dubai as a unique destination. This would help accelerate the number of visitors to Expo 2020 in Dubai. And this would be a strategy alongside the beach and sun visitors to Dubai.

We’ve launched movements that tried to bring about change in schools and more responsible consumption. And as I worked on my book about movement marketing, I encountered everything from a pet food company that launched an animal welfare initiative to a shoemaker that began a worldwide movement to put shoes on poor kids’ feet.

In each case, a company rallied people around an idea that mattered, an idea on the rise in culture, enabling customers to become activists. In the process, the company demonstrated that it was engaged in people’s lives and cared about something more than just profits.

This isn’t just a new spin on old CSR programmes. It’s not about giving to a laundry list of charities. To crystallise and spark a brand movement, you must do more than make donations.

The company must become an activist itself on behalf of something it believes in — something that also matters deeply to its customers. Movements start on the inside.

Scott Goodson is founder and CEO of New York based StrawberryFrog.

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