Should Brands Stay Out of Politics?
The President Stole Your Land. That’s the message that hit me between the eyes last week when I went to buy a pair of woollies on the Patagonia website. Stark white words on a black foreboding page, in what feels more like a death announcement than a place to find new ski pants.
Dion Hughes - a good friend of mine and founder of Persuasion Arts & Sciences - said on social media “No, brands should not stay out of Politics, they are an interface for business. And business is economy. Business is creativity. Business is belief. A business, like any one of us, has a right to speak.”
I agree completely.
Brands like Patagonia are smarter and better and more relevant when they take a stand and are able to connect their brand benefit or purpose to an idea on the rise in culture.
For organisations seeking to build a brand today, taking a stand on social issues is one way to engineer a social movement for change. And 'movements' are more effective than traditional brand building.
Sparking a brand movement is a strategy that can inspire change, optimism, engagement, passion, trust, conviction, and creativity among employees and consumers alike. The best movements aren’t green-washing, but sometimes a movement vision forms and it takes time for a company to fully realise its voice. Sometimes it takes baby steps to move the organisation into a direction where they can drive change. Once you have a movement you can do anything in a fragmenting media environment.
We believe that the most significant brand building ideas are those that are on the rise in culture. We have proven that company leaders can use movements to engage and mobilise the masses to institutionalise new habits and build global business.
There are big noble causes that brands can get behind where they believe changing society is in the interest of all. And there are smaller movements where change has a higher ideal, inspires motivation but isn’t political. Both seek to engage people based on a common dissatisfaction with something in our world that needs to change.
One company that understands this well is Google. We worked with the leadership as the company was growing to devise a 'Movement Inside' framework that enabled thousands of new employees to understand what Google stood for and what it stood against. Standing for something is the first step in devising a movement marketing strategy. It engaged employees and genuinely inspired them to align with and believe in the company culture, vision and meaningful difference.
Like Google, Emirates was faced with a fast growing international organisation, with new destinations and lots of new aircraft. Instead of a traditional brand strategy that would slow down the company, the management chose Movement Inside to establish its new culture.
This was launched through iconic actions among the employees inside the global firm. Thereafter, we launched the movement outside to the world. The movement? To make the world smaller and by doing so overcome misunderstandings and misconceptions between people. The motto befitting this new movement, which I wrote, summed it all up: “Hello Tomorrow”. The first global TV campaign bringing this idea to life featured people connecting with other people around the world, no aeroplane in sight, only a powerful human idea.
With more than seven distinct business units operating around the world and more than 110,000 employees, decision-making at India’s Mahindra had grown more convoluted and branches of the organisation had become misaligned.
Over the years, Mahindra had built in lots of procedures, and for many good reasons. But those procedures had also slowed the company down, not inspired the kind of innovation the leadership knew it needed to leapfrog the status quo and become a world-class company.
Anand Mahindra, the chairman, sought to evolve the culture to be innovative, and customer-centred. He knew it required a journey to align and galvanise all employees.
Over the course of several months, the Mahindra team worked with StrawberryFrog to learn about the needs of everyone. Together we defined and distilled the movement of the company, paring it down to one simple word that inspires both the customer and the employee: “Rise”.
Instead of plastering this new slogan on motivational posters, the leadership team began by using Rise to start guiding their own decisions and executives within the entire company. The goal was to demonstrate this idea in action, not talk about it.
Projects were selected to highlight the pillars of the movement: Accept no limits. Use your ingenuity. Drive positive change.
One such example was the drive by the Mahindra foundation to educate girls, which many believe is the key focus to reducing some of the world’s most pressing issues such as overpopulation, environmental destruction, terrorism, sex slavery to name a few. Many initiatives have been done such as the Girl Store.
The dog food company Nature’s Variety worked with us to ignite a movement to stop the killing of shelter pets in collaboration with Best Friends Animal Society.
What does a movement look like?
To draw parallels between the journey of these brands and a movement, we need to better understand movements. They are the evolution of purpose, which has become a strategy too inwardly focused rather than inspiring to both employees and consumers.
We often think of movements as starting with a call to action. However, movement research suggests that they actually start with emotion - a stand for a new vision of the world and dissatisfaction with the status quo. These ingredients mixed with the hand of experience can turn them into a movement with a positive force for good and a path forward inspires the crowd to act.
Remember, movements emanate from ideas but are grounded in action.
Remember that engagement and culture change only happens when people take action. That is where we start. Showing people the change we want to see in the world.
So should brands live inside politics/society or outside of it? Sticking your head in the ground might feel like a good strategy but in the age of movements it’s one way to become irrelevant fast.
Scott Goodson is CEO of StrawberryFrog based in New York City. He is author of 'Uprising: How to Build a Brand and Change the World by Sparking Cultural Movements'