Lessons from Burning Man on How to Set Your Brand on Fire 🔥

Photo credit: Sari Blum Photography, 2012

As someone who didn’t manage to go to Burning Man this year, I seriously don’t want to see any more posts on Facebook or Twitter of how much fun people are having there right now! Or how it’s helping connect to people to their true selves or find the meaning of life… (Ok, maybe I’m just a little jealous of all the desert costumes and experiences with new found friends.)

But as a business owner, it would be an absolute dream to build a brand as hot as Burning Man.

This brand, annual event and movement has all of the elements every brand manager and business owner gets hot for (enough burning puns?):

  1. Masses of people that share their vision and volunteer endless time and effort to carry forward that vision — prepare for and contribute the annual event, hosting local gatherings throughout the rest of the year, and recruiting new members;
  2. A cult-like affiliation that has instilled such a strong sense of identity that people actually say things like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been a burner for 5 years now” to compare their tenures as members; and
  3. A sustained year long brand awareness campaign as people await and prepare months in advance of an annual event and then spend the rest of the year talking about it.

So what makes Burning Man an amazing movement? And more importantly, why do we as individuals really need many more movements like this in our lives?

We all have a tension within us. We want to be special. We want to be inherently better than the person sitting next to us and have more meaning ascribed to our lives. At the same time, in an ever growing and crowded global population we want desperately to belong to something, some group of similarly aligned or special people. People we feel excited to be special with.

Movements support these disparate needs within us, and impress upon us a reason for being. In this desire to be special, we are also driven to find a sense of purpose. We are drawn to the convenience and comfort of living routine lives, but fear operating in autopilot and not using our free will to pursue some higher purpose.

This is where movements like Burning Man come in. They respect and address our conflicting psychological needs.

Movements Help Us Feel More Powerful By Bringing Us Together

Movements unlock a power and understanding of impact that is only saved for big groups. In the age of globalization, the internet and urbanization, many people feel powerless and lonely. Movements create a sense of togetherness that overcomes these feelings, provides a path toward action and truly has no parallel in the human experience.

To unite and empower people, movements require a defined mission statement and vision of what the world can look like as a result of following that vision. Burning Man has 10 principles to guide its members and attendees in a journey of radical self-reliance and expression. To build a movement that attracts people, you must present a simple vision for your members that will unite them and create a sense of purpose. Your vision should support the belief that together you can all achieve something greater and more powerful than the sum of your parts or efforts. If you wanted to create a movement amongst your company partners, for example, you could create a more involved or detailed vision around the way you see your company and its ecosystem in the future. You could focus this vision around a state of being more harmonious and grateful for each other. What would that look like? And what benefits would you and your partners enjoy as a result?

This is the point of a vision. It’s the ideal that everyone can call upon to motivate them in challenging times and feel connected with, whether it’s imprinted on a poster or handwritten on a notepad. It’s the very point at which everyone following your movement will be focused on developing into some tangible completion. Your vision must be clear, your group must be able to easily and immediately visualize the associated goal(s), and they must be passionate about taking on the identity your movement projects.

Movements Make Us Feel Special by Celebrating Our Uniqueness

Burning Man is clear about uniting the creatives of the world. The free spirits that are usually considered fringe or not 100% relatable in the corporate 9 to 5 world. And it embraces those who may be fairly conformist most of the time but look forward to having a “safe” space to expose or experience their more creative side and connect to a different purpose.

The identity of your movement should speak to some characteristic or behavior that feels unique. Unique to the point of feeling a bit extreme or almost unacceptable. And then — celebrate this characteristic or behavior that is otherwise seen as unique or even undesirable. Suddenly, what some consider an affliction becomes a point of distinction and empowerment for a segment of society. And further, this positioning makes this trait something that a group of people can individually and collectively identify with while others may begin to aspire towards developing the associated behaviors.

These are the powers — and requirements — of movements. They make us feel more powerful and purposeful together. And They enable us to feel special and unique amongst others who are like us.

Movements are now the “new power” of organizations and individuals. We’ve seen their ability to drive impact from the bottom up. With people being more connected and sharing ideas and goals more broadly and quickly than ever before, you no longer need money or top-down power to drive a purpose forward.

Mass participation is the new medium, and movements are strengthened and give strength through their networks. Just imagine what your business would look like if people would passionately anticipate your product releases, define themselves through your brand, and promote your values around the world?

Later this week, we’ll be posting about the tips that build off of these more emotionally charged steps to tactically develop, drive, and sustain movements. Stay Tuned 😉