How to create a movement
A conversation with David Griffith, Chief Strategy Officer at POP
A religious cult may not be the first place your mind goes when you think of great marketing, but when David Griffith began to examine the mechanics of movements, he found the nuts and bolts of movements offered some intriguing insights. A movement, after all, whether in politics, religion or marketing, isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s not the subject that determines whether or not something constitutes a movement, but how the movement itself behaves.
Griffith’s perspective has been shaped by a diverse range of thinkers, including cultural anthropologists, marketing experts like Guy Kawasaki and even the C.I.A.
We caught up with David and asked him to distill some of his insights.
What exactly is a movement?
Movements are fundamental social phenomena. In basic terms, it’s when you have a group of people that are all aligned around something and moving in the same direction. Typically, it’s people coalescing around a cause, trying to effect a change. Movements are usually about making something different, not just cruising along with the status quo.
Movements pop up in all kinds of different ways, with a huge variety of objectives. Sometimes they’re good; sometimes they’re bad. McCarthyism was a movement. It was evil in a lot of different ways, but it was a movement nonetheless.
I do think that people have a natural tendency to want to belong, and that’s why a lot of movements are successful — they give people a sense of belonging. And to that end, they’re a very powerful tool for marketers.
Any good movement has an enemy.
— David Griffith, Chief Strategy Officer at POP
Why do you think movements work?
People like to participate in things, so that’s what it really comes down to. When you build a movement-oriented brand, you’re actually building a participatory brand, which is one that you can contribute to, one that you feel like you’re a part of. You’re buying into something versus just buying from somebody.
Human beings like to run in packs. Most of us don’t do well on our own. We like to feel like we are a part of a bigger group, so we tend to stick together.
Look at it this way: Say you were walking down the street during the day, and you walked past two bars and you saw that one was kind of ratty and looked like it had probably been around for a few years, and the other one next door was bright and shiny and gleaming with a really cool interior. You might look at the two and go, okay I would rather be in the one that’s new and interesting versus the one that’s old and a little ragged. But if you come back at night and the old ragged one is crowded and the new shiny one isn’t — which bar are you going to go into?
What is the first stage in a movement?
Typically, a movement begins with flag planting. It is the part of the process when you’re making people aware of what it is you’re all about. To paraphrase the legendary creative director Bill Bernbach, if you stand for something, some people are going to stand with you, and some people are going to stand against you. But if you stand for nothing, you’re going to stand alone. You need to state what you stand for, and you need to say it as clearly as possible.
How does a group define the issue?
To define the issue is to answer why this is important. You’re articulating what’s wrong right now — what’s missing. You’re outlining what you’re not getting when the status quo is maintained. Defining the issue is important, because there is something out there that you think you have a solution to.
Part of defining the issue is letting people know what the problem is. Any good movement has an enemy. There has to be something that you’re pushing back against, like McCarthyism against communism or racism against unequal treatment. Or like Nike and the idea of getting people off their couches to be more active. There’s always an enemy that threatens the cause, and you need to clearly define that.
What is the first stage in a movement?
This is where you need to be a good marketer. You’re asking people to take some sort of action. You’re trying to provoke them into doing something. The marketing needs to be provocative, and a lot of people forget that. Often, people think that just delivering some information will be enough, but the strategy needs to have an edge to it. What you really need to do in this attraction phase is make sure you have something that people are interested in. There has to be something useful. There’s got to be something new and different about what it is you’re putting out there. Otherwise, what’s the point?
It’s like dating. It’s where you’re kind of putting yourself out there in an interesting and engaging way so someone wants to come and find out more, wants to investigate. It’s painting a pretty picture of what the world would be like if we could just do it this way.
How is belonging reinforced?
This is where you engage the community and give the audience ways to become a part of it.
Years ago, I was working with a Fortune 100 company to promote STEM learning. They were spending a ton of money to support the cause but weren’t very successful. The thing is, everyone sort of figured, “Well, this big company has this taken care of, so I don’t need to do anything.”
What we needed to do was make people aware of the problem. Rather than saying, “We’re spending this much money to fix the problem,” we said, “We need your help to fix the problem. We need you to get involved.” We gave teachers tools to bring into the classroom and communities the tools to promote STEM locally. We gave them more than just words on a page or a website; we gave them the ability to do stuff on their own and to really engage.
It’s the idea of building utility into things so that there’s a reason for the audience to actually involve themselves in it. And finding ways for participants to do their own thing with it. That can be tough for some consumer brands. But look at Dove with “Real Beauty” and what the company was able to do in terms of creating that community and setting up places where people could share in it. Dove found stories about people helping others along and gave all kinds of different avenues for people to engage.
Getting back to flag planting, it’s important to make sure that whatever you’re planting the flag for, it’s something that’s relatively large. It has to have what some people would call a higher-order benefit. It has a mission from that standpoint.
How do you make a movement grow?
The way to grow a movement is to teach people. You give people the ability to take this information and put it out into the world. You spiff them for doing it; you encourage them and invite them in. You create all kinds of schemes that allow evangelism to work, and you award the participants for bringing other people in. You create this sense of badging. One of the most powerful things that ever happened with Apple was when people began driving around with Apple stickers on the back of their cars, because they were buying into something bigger than just the Apple computers. People with Apple stickers were buying into the culture.
You need to give people the ability to put the word out. That can be through iconography; that can be through inviting people to chat sites; that can be through referral programs, which are a little bit more mechanistic. Anything that allows the people to engage with your brand to share what it is that you’re doing and what they’re doing with you.
Who makes up a movement?
You need a core group of people at the center of the movement. Then you’ll have a ring just outside of that core that will actually make up the majority of your sales target. You might think of it this way — it’s a difference between having a sales target and having a marketing target. The people that you want to be part of your movement, to represent the values of your brand, those are the people that your marketing really needs to reach. They’re the ones that have to believe in what you’re doing. They create the aspirational core, but you’re not necessarily relying on them for your sales. The bigger sales are going to actually be coming from the people who are just outside of that ring, because there are going to be more of them.
Does a movement need a leader?
Movements don’t necessarily always have a clear leader, but you need someone to articulate the mission and put the stuff out there for people to react to, to create the stimulants for the movement. Steve Jobs led a movement, for example. He was a charismatic leader. But there’s not always a hierarchy. There are going to be more active and less active participants, but there doesn’t need to be a pecking order. The important thing is that there shouldn’t be a barrier to entry into the movement. There can’t be things where you have to go through certain phases or gates before you feel like you can be a full-fledged member. You need to be able to join and dive in to whatever depth you want. Otherwise it won’t succeed. If you make it too difficult, people will drop out.
What can go wrong in creating a movement?
To create a movement and succeed, you have to commit to the message, and you have to over-commit to it to a large degree. That’s the biggest mistake that brands make trying to do this — the parent company declines to commit 100 percent to the message and instead, for example, chases revenue in a way that’s not aligned with the movement’s direction.
Brands that are successful at movement creation don’t dilute the message. A successful brand sticks to its guns and only does things in keeping with the message, regardless of the fact that occasionally the company might be leaving some revenue on the table. Because sticking to the message helps the long-term cause.
Are there times when creating a movement isn’t appropriate?
Your flag planting has to be about something that has value and importance to people. Think about “Real Beauty.” The reason that campaign worked for Dove is because they brand took a stand for self-esteem. Axe is the same company, same holding company and everything else. There isn’t the same level of participation in Axe as there is in Dove because Axe doesn’t have anything like “Real Beauty.” It’s a great marketing campaign.
This is the thing — creating a movement isn’t the only way to succeed in marketing, it’s just one way of doing it.
Are there any misconceptions about movements?
It’s a lot of hard work. It’s not easy. People want it to be easy. It’s not. It is about developing a complete brand ecosystem, not just about developing advertising. It is about coming up with a very programmatic way of doing things and making sure everything is in its place. When this works for brands, it’s because people buy the message based on brand behavior beyond advertisements.