Activate your bandits

artest_peta_adIngrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said, “thinkers may prepare revolutions, but bandits must carry them out.” Her speech is often dripping with social movement metaphors – she clearly recognizes the importance of turning boardroom theory into action.

Since your brand is the personality of your organization, it’s that which is responsible for inspiring action. It cannot be merely an intellectual endeavor; it must be able to move people on the ground level.

For consumer brands, this simply means convincing people to buy products, but the cause world is more difficult. Indulgence is an easier sell than benevolence. Inherently, a non-profit’s ultimate goal is to start a social movement: getting people to come together to fight for a cause. But more often it’s the consumer brands that have defined cultures.

Which is easier to describe: a Harley owner or a YMCA volunteer? Is there a reason one has to be more distinct than the other?

Ingrid Newkirk would say no. In fact she’s built a powerful non-profit brand, rife with personality and culture. Whether you support their tactics or not, you could describe a PETA activist to a “t”… it probably involves a can of paint.

PETA has achieved social movement status (2 million members) because its brand incorporates all the critical aspects of social movements as discussed in my first post:

1. A common identity: It’s not merely belief in a common cause (that there are no dominant species) that brings PETA members together, but more so that they share core values or personality traits: veganism, extremism, and risk taking.

2. Rituals or codes: PETA members rally around a very clear credo of behavior: “direct action.” Defining a code of behavior is a natural way to build a culture around a cause, which social movements have used forever (for example see nonviolent resistance).

3. Social interaction: PETA has always forced word-of-mouth through controversial action. This ad is a perfect example.
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Finding celebrities to support a cause is on every non-profit’s agenda, but PETA gets them naked. That is to say, they stay true to their brand, and infuse their ads with controversy. If a given celebrity won’t take the risk, then he/she wouldn’t fit the brand anyway.

PETA takes controversy to an extreme, but without a strong opinion people will have no reason to talk about your organization. Newkirk also said, “we’re the biggest group because we succeed in getting attention.” PETA didn’t start as the only animal cruelty group and they’re not the only one now, but they succeed to a higher degree because they create word-of-mouth. They use celebrities for good (Pam Anderson) and bad (Michael Vick) to force themselves into everyday culture.

4. Emblematic event: PETA emerged on the national scene in 1981 when they had a scientist arrested for experimenting on monkeys in a lab in Silver Spring, MD. The controversy ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court where an amendment to the animal welfare act was made. It was then that PETA’s culture of national attention and dedication to “direct action” were conceived.

5. Voice of leadership: Clearly Newkirk has worked hard to perpetuate the culture that has made PETA such a success.

If you can piece these elements together you stand an excellent chance of creating a brand that can truly move people on the ground level. For help taking your brand out of the boardroom and into the streets check out BRANDEMiX.

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Brand comes from the heart not the mouth

If you’re looking to craft a brand that naturally attracts donors and volunteers the way social movements attract followers, start by getting a mirror. Just about everything you need to know about your brand can be found by looking within your organization.

A brand isn’t just conjured out of thin air. There must be substance behind it or your brand will never amount to more than just a catch phrase. Your organization’s culture and the personality of your people should serve as the greatest source of inspiration for your brand. This will keep your brand grounded in something real and tangible while attracting followers magnetically.

Social movements sell culture. Aside from a shared passion for the cause at hand, movement followers buy into all of the cultural elements of a movement like rhetoric, music, art, and the feeling of empowerment that comes when you join a like-minded collective. These are the elements that make movements grow virally and organically.

Consumers’ connection to a brand will always be less than or equal to employees’ connection to it. The same can be said about non-profits and donors, volunteers, and board members. If they’re not evangelists, you can bet no one else will be.

The first step in leveraging your culture is to find out what it is. You probably don’t know it as well as you think. Do some internal research to figure out why, and to what extent people within the organization connect with the brand. Set up some employee focus groups and interview executives. Look for discrepancies in how the different constituencies articulate the values of the company. How do they describe the culture? What is the temperament of the organization? How do they describe its personality? How much do they really understand the brand?

You may find out that your culture is rather nondescript and bland, in which case your brand is weak. If you do have a well-defined culture, that is to say, there’s a distinct style, attitude, and personality, it’s time to apply that to the communication channels – this is the fun part.

Your mission statement should have the tone and voice that your employees have. Your email campaign should have an attitude. Your tweets should be undeniably “you.” People will join your cause not because of all the rational reasons that you present so vividly, but because you’re speaking their language. You share their core beliefs, opinions, and passions: their culture. And if you don’t have one, they won’t find you.

For help doing internal research check out BRANDEMiX.

What’s in it for me?

37406361_a1604773a0In my last post, I lamented the fact that too many brands (and non-profits in particular) communicate in such a way that forces people to think analytically. Logic does not tell someone to become a brand evangelist. Logic does not tell someone to open his or her wallet and hand out money for nothing in return. However, emotion does … in particular self-interest.

In the consumer world, smart branding is when you can escape the urge to pontificate about as many product attributes as you can conjure, and instead highlight the emotional benefit of the total package. In other words, people don’t buy drill bits, they buy holes from which they can hang pictures of their family. People don’t buy lawn mowers, they buy a lawn that makes their egomaniacal neighbor jealous. Advertisers are extremely adept at activating consumers’ self-interest on an emotional level.

What I find fascinating about social movements is that they’re essentially a group of people acting in concert with one collective identity who, at the same time, are motivated by self-interest and are bent on expressing their individuality. They force group action by telling stories that move people on a personal level (like the story of Rokia in the previous post).

Non-profits and causes, in theory, are built on selflessness so triggering self-interest feels incongruous. However, rationally we all know that giving money is far from being a purely altruistic endeavor. People still want their name on the library and daddy still wants little Larry to get into school. Would Paul Allen have donated $1 billion if Bill Gates hadn’t done it first? Self-interest will always play a role in giving so we might as well understand how to leverage it.

The good news is that self-interest doesn’t have to imply materialism or narcissism. Social movements promise the benefit of enjoying meaningful change in one’s life or the euphoria of joining a group of like-minded people. For donors, self-interest could mean assuagement of guilt, self-actualization, transcendence, and many other things. You’re not selling the importance of fighting alcoholism – you’re selling heroism. You’re not selling the importance of reducing homelessness – you’re selling peace of mind.

One great case study on leveraging self-interest for a public cause is the “Don’t mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign created by Dan Syrek. He determined that the typical litterer in Texas was a truck-driving, rifle-wielding, beer-drinking, young male (as if there’s any other kind). Guilt, shame, or fear was clearly not going to be enough motivation. The ads he created featured Texas icons, like football player Too Tall Jones, crushing a soda can and saying “don’t mess with Texas.” It implied that real Texas men don’t litter, and anyone who does, is instantly an enemy of the state, and if you’ve ever been to a Cowboys game you’d know that this is not acceptable. Syrek was able to appeal to self-interest through identity … which is exactly how social movements work.

One last example. Consider this ad that was designed to get young people to vote.

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It makes a personal appeal, and it’s certainly emotional, but where’s the appeal to self-interest? What does this have to do with the collective identity of young men and women? What’s the benefit of not silencing yourself? This ought to be spelled out.

What if the ad said something like “Are you still letting your parents make decisions for you? That’s what you’re doing if you don’t vote.” What if it was a picture of a 45-year old man in a suit and said “would you normally let this man tell you what to do everyday? That’s what you’re doing if you don’t vote.” Young people are very individualistic and rebellious, so theoretically they should care deeply about having others make decisions for them.

For help creating ads like these, contact BRANDEMiX.

Activate Their Little Devil

red-devil-bigThe super-ego is the part of our psychological makeup that’s responsible for making you behave in a socially acceptable manor. While your id plays the role of the devil on your shoulder, begging you to do whatever your little heart desires, your superego works to override those urges. It keeps you from acting on impulse. It’s the part of your brain that says “no” when your id tells you to burp in a nice restaurant.

Unfortunately, the superego is also the enemy to those of us in the marketing profession. Giving people all the logical reasons to do something, regardless of how poignant they may be, will only engage the part of our brains that works to PREVENT action.

In the consumer world, creating an emotional urge to buy is the gold standard. If consumers were analytical we wouldn’t have terms like “retail therapy” and no one would drive a Scion.

Social movements don’t develop because people start balancing the pros and cons of revolting against an injustice. Movements are described with words like “fever” and “momentum.” They’re collective emotional outbursts not premeditated events.

Furthermore, it’s been proven that people are more likely to donate money (and more of it) when they’re in an emotional state of mind. There’s a great case study on the subject as described in the book Made To Stick written by Chip and Dan Heath.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon conducted a test in which they sent out two versions of a donation request letter to a pool of respondents. The first version of the letter showcased statistics about problems facing children in Africa similar to: “more than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.” The second version of the letter focused on one young girl. “Any money you donate will go to Rokia, a 7-year old girl from Mali. She is desperately poor and faces the threat of severe hunger.”

The people who got the letter about Rokia donated twice as much money as those who received the other letter did. It’s been well documented that people identify more with an individual than an indeterminate problem, but what’s particularly interesting about this case is what the researchers did next. They tested a third letter that combined the statistics AND the personal story and found that the letter about just Rokia still outperformed the combined letter by a factor of 2.

The researchers theorized that when people are fed statistics they are put in an analytical state of mind and are thus less likely to act emotionally. So they conducted the study once again. This time, they primed the respondents to think analytically before reading the letter by asking them to do math problems. And amazingly, the average gift of those who read the Rokia letter was cut in half!

People who think analytically are dramatically less likely to chip in than those who are emotionally activated. And yet we still see so many communications that force people into that kind of thinking.

People don’t respond to abstract, they respond to people. That’s why social movements work. That’s why we hate dealing with employees who act like robots. It’s always tempting to build a case based on all the “right reasons” that people should donate, volunteer, or contribute in some way, but we must put those aside to appeal to the real reason they do. Empathy is an emotion all humans share – It’s just a matter of finding it more often.

For help activating people’s emotional side contact BRANDEMiX.

When movements go off-brand

lyon-1963-420-1I’ve spent a lot of time advocating that a brand is not merely a marketing device. It’s not a spectre that operates in some ancillary business silo. It’s the culture of an organization. It’s the style, temperament, and personality of a collective – whether it’s a social movement or a non-profit.

That is, of course, where the whole idea behind SMM came from in the first place. Building and selling culture is what takes ordinary business-to-consumer relationships to a higher order of collective action.

I was reminded recently, as I stumbled upon a book I read for a college class about America in the 1960’s, what happens when a movement goes “off brand.” That is, when an organization or cause abandons its culture and personality.

The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), pronounced “snick,” was one of the most influential organizations in the American Civil Rights Movement. Originally, it started as a series of student-led meetings in North Carolina, but soon got the attention of white, liberal students in the Northeast who joined the cause.

SNCC organized “sit-ins,” “freedom rides,” and other protests designed to rebel against segregation in a non-violent way. In addition to their opposition to violence, SNCC had another unique aspect to its culture. Leadership and decision-making were democratic, not top-down. All decisions required consensus and meetings often lasted over 6 hours while everyone voiced their opinions.

It only made sense to founders like Ella Baker that a movement for the people should have an organizational structure owned by the people. It may have been inefficient, but supporters were passionate and it was certainly “on brand.”

However, things changed – Stokely Carmichael became chairman of SNCC. He was closely aligned with the Black Panthers and a major proponent of using violence. Some SNCC leaders supported Carmichael and he was able to push through some violent agendas. As these agendas progressed, Carmichael even changed the name of the organization to remove the word “non-violent” and SNCC became the Student National Coordinating Committee.

As Carmichael took SNCC out of the mainstream movement and into the radical violent one, a major rift developed within SNCC, and not surprisingly, the organizational structure became more top-down and autocratic. Carmichael expelled all white employees and volunteers, many of whom had helped start the movement. By the late 60’s SNCC had become almost entirely ineffective and by the 70’s it was all but extinct.

I think SNCC is a great example to explore because it’s both an organization and a movement. Culture is what binds a movement, and when it’s neglected, the fallout is potent enough to derail an organization with rich history and incredible popularity.

When an organization takes on a strategy that is so radically off-brand that it must change its name and management style, then you can be sure it’s destined to fail, no matter how trendy it is at the time. In many ways, this case exemplifies the power of brand. It must pervade everything from the name of an organization, to the management style, to the very personality of the people. Without that, no one inside or out, will understand where you’re going or where you’re coming from.

For help finding your organization’s personality, click here.

The movement generation

1-Millennials-TonyPettinatoOn a business trip to LA last year, I found myself in the unusual state of having some free time. I sat down at an outdoor table at a pub on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. As I sipped my beer, I noticed a group of 10 teenagers hanging out on the street. They walked up and down the block aimlessly – each kid being very careful not to get separated from the group. They looked like a school of fish.

All the while, each kid was frantically texting. Soon enough, kids started coming out of the woodwork, one after another, joining the school of fish. Before I knew it, there were over 30 of these “Millennials” shifting about, dominating the sidewalk.

I don’t remember hanging out in such large groups or inviting that many people to hang out on the sidewalk with me. I just did everything with the same motley, 4-man crew that I still hang out with today.

The next generation of activists, donors, volunteers, and nonprofit entrepreneurs in our country are growing up in a high-touch, ultra personal, socially sensitive, movement culture. Having had wireless connectivity since birth, Millennials are accustomed to spreading ideas quickly and involving as many peers as possible…even if the idea is just “lets go to the movies.” For this generation, Social Movement Marketing will be the norm, and nonprofits need to prepare.

Though it’s popular to lament this generation’s prospects for leadership or to lambaste them for having short attention spans and for having been raised with an “everyone wins” mentality, I think they actually represent a bright future in many ways.

They are the most diverse generation and the most culturally aware. They are the most creative, entrepreneurial generation yet – 8% of them are already making money on the Internet. They are multi-tasking machines who do more in a day than previous generations used to do in a week. William Strauss and Neil Howe call them “the next Great Generation.”

Perhaps even more encouraging is Millennials’ insistence on meaningful work. The importance of money in work has been rated lower by this generation than by any previous. Not surprisingly, they show very little loyalty to their employers as they have no patience for jobs with no social significance. Accordingly, they also show very little loyalty to brands. In fact, the only thing Millennials seem to be loyal to is people.

They see brands less as products and more as a culture of people. The line between consumer and employee is blurring as everyone is just grouped into one dynamic brand culture. This is good news for non-profits since they’re more about people than products by definition. Nonprofits that learn to build culture and create brands that employees and volunteers buy-into and promote will be the marketing gurus of the next generation.

The best way to sell culture is to get your employees and volunteers to start running their traps. They’re not just people working for the organization, they are the culture of your movement so get them to start blogging, Tweeting, and everything else. NPR requires all editorial staff to attend multimedia and social networking training and encourages them to speak up on the Internet as much as possible. How many people in your organization are blogging about your cause?

To get a head-start on building your internal culture check out BRANDEMiX.

Personify or perish

At the end of my last post, I casually threw out the idea that people relate to people not organizations, and accordingly, organizations must take on a personality of their own or risk being perceived as ordinary.

But why is this the case?

Because personification is how humans go about understanding inanimate objects. We tend to personify things that we feel the need to have an emotional bond with. We name our cars, think of our boats as women, and treat our pets like children.

My mother used to guilt me into wearing certain sweaters when I was a kid by telling me they felt sad because “they never get to be worn like the other ones.”

We also personify what we don’t fully understand as a way to be rational about things that scare us. We name hurricanes and atomic bombs. We take abstracts like God, death, and the devil and anthropomorphize them into concepts that we can deal with like the grim reaper and Mephistopheles.

You’ll notice that when we lend human personality traits to objects we are celebrating their individuality, uniqueness, and importance. By naming your convertible and talking about it like it’s a woman, you are establishing that it’s different than all other cars on the road and that it’s of emotional importance to you. Conversely, when we want to dehumanize someone, we treat them like objects and strip them of their individuality and importance. Essentially, we un-personify them. Racists dehumanize people by saying “they all look the same” and sexists treat women like objects.

Companies build brands with human characteristics to help us find a way to relate to their products and to differentiate from the competition – essentially celebrating their corporate individuality.
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NPO’s and causes don’t sell products to which we can assign human traits, so what to do? We can sell the culture the way social movements do.

The paradoxical brilliance of social movements is that they’re able to build strong, unified cultures by encouraging individuality. Freedom of expression solidifies culture not the opposite. Aside from the traditional channels of expression for social movements like language, art, and press, web 2.0 has given us the “golden opportunity” to put the onus on all organization members to lead conversations and energize the cause. All members should be encouraged to contribute to blogs, share videos, and tweet about the cause…and it must unfiltered and authentic. Encourage self-expression through any and every channel.

Let your people build the organization’s personality for you. Without it, you’ll just be another inanimate object.

– For more information on building your internal culture visit BRANDEMiX.
– To join a free webinar on communicating the personality of your brand RSVP to webinar@brandemix.com