The Fundamentals of Brand-Fueled Movements: Insights From Deloitte’s Science of a Movement Study

Simon Mainwaring
5 min readSep 29, 2017

Brands that position themselves as vital catalysts in cultural movements not only build consumer loyalty, goodwill, and advocacy, but also distinguish themselves as leaders in social change.

What does it take for a brand to mobilize a movement? And, how can brands join larger movements that are affecting society in an authentic way?

There’s no formula for how to build a brand-fueled movement, yet we can gain understanding from previous branded movements that have successfully influenced culture, engaged consumers, and catapulted the brands behind them to lucrative gains.

Deloitte’s recent Science of a Movement study, which compiled insights from marketing professionals around the world, reveals valuable lessons for brands looking to make meaningful connections with consumers.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, let’s define what a brand-fueled movement is. According to Deloitte, “a brand itself cannot be a movement on its own, but it can help spawn a movement. That usually happens at the point of intersection between a brand identity and a social trend, unmet need, or untapped passion.” In other words, a brand-fueled movement is a cultural phenomena that speaks to societal issues beyond a brand or industry and has a long-lasting impact on large numbers of people.

An excellent example of a brand-fueled movement is American Express’ “Small Business Saturday.” Eight years ago, the financial service provider invited consumers to shop local on the day after Black Friday, in support of small businesses instead of major corporate retailers. The campaign turned into a movement, sparking emotional resonance in conscious consumers; it’s since been promoted by business owners around the country and was even acknowledged by the United States Senate.

Although they may be successful, movements are not amazing ad campaigns, groundbreaking business models, passionate companies without a social mission, or fads.

“All movements, regardless of their genesis, address an unmet need, galvanize people, and truly let the people take it over,” said Jerry Wind and Catharine Hays of Wharton Business School.

Let’s look at 5 core elements of brand-fueled movements, as identified in the study:

1. They speak to a higher purpose: It is essential to connect your brand with a purpose that goes beyond your company or industry and truly speaks to a social cause that resonates with consumers. Movements inspire consumer passion, loyalty, and goodwill by helping people get involved in something they believe in. This is much more powerful than purely selling great products.

2. They touch upon cultural issues: Brand-fueled movements resonate with cultural attitudes felt throughout society. This could be the need for more jobs and products made in America, universal healthcare, or climate action. By speaking to people’s core values and beliefs, brands can deepen emotional connections with consumers.

3. There’s a clear and simple call to action for consumers: Like other aspects of branding, it is vital that companies promote a core message and make it easy for consumers to take action. This not only progresses the movement and amplifies brand communications, but also ignites a feeling of involvement within their consumers, which is critical to community-building.

4. They mobilize cultural or behavioral change: Brand-fueled movements go beyond great advertising campaigns in that they spark a tangible change in society and the people involved. These changes can include alterations in purchasing decisions, changes in core beliefs, or how people spend their time.

5. They are long-lasting: Unlike fads or trends, which get rapid traction but die off after the initial hype subsides, movements stand the test of time.

Ultimately, being a mission with a company, rather than a company with a mission is crucial to cultivating the environment necessary to inspire consumers, build community, and start a movement.

Airbnb is a great example of a brand that puts its mission — to help others ‘belong anywhere’ — first and, in turn, has catalyzed a global movement. The app that revolutionized the hospitality industry has also opened doors for millions of people around the world, created communities, and built a culture of inclusion. Furthermore, Airbnb leverages its platform to connect with larger cultural issues — such as immigration rights — to build upon a current movement, stay relevant, and expand its social impact.

In addition to the aforementioned elements vital to brand-fueled movements, Deloitte specified some critical actions that strong brands can take to build movements.

Here are 5 essential steps for brands looking to start a movement:

1. Foster an emotional connection in consumers: Just as emotional resonance is essential to making sticky creative campaigns, it’s also vital to building movements. Emotions help us remember past experiences and, can therefore, influence consumers to stand behind a movement.

2. Invite consumer engagement: Once you’ve struck an emotional chord with your target audience, it’s essential to awaken consumer activism. This means empowering people to take tangible actions that progress the movement. Consumer engagement will not only strengthen the bond between customers and your brand, but also amplify your communications’ reach and progress your social mission.

3. Form community: While engagement sparks interest and passion, community keeps the flames of your brand-fueled movement alive. Social media is an amazing tool for bringing people together, cultivating discussions and connections with consumers, and maintaining community over time.

4. Make it easy for advocates to showcase support: It is important to showcase your movement and brand via recognizable logos, copy, and design. Further, tap into consumer advocacy by creating trending badges that promote your brand and cause. This could be anything from a LIVESTRONG bracelet, cat years that symbolize one’s support of women’s rights, or a water bottle that supports a zero waste lifestyle. Essentially, the key to leveraging your community to spread your messaging, is through branded material that they proudly wear.

5. Be authentic: In today’s digitally connected world it’s increasingly difficult for companies to deceive consumers. It follows that, if accused of cause-washing, brand run the risk of facing consumer backlash and bad PR. Ultimately, it’s critical to ‘walk-the-walk,’ put in the hard work, and always maintain transparency when it comes to social good and cultural movements.

There’s no silver bullet for creating a brand-fueled movement; however, as the Science of a Movement study suggests, leading with a social mission, connecting with a passionate demographic, building employee culture, and consistently standing behind core brand values are the key components of branding success.

Furthermore, it’s important to measure progress through a combination of business metrics, evaluating social and environmental performance, as well as community involvement via social media engagement, and other forms of measurable consumer advocacy.

The key takeaway is that although brand-fueled movements are rare and difficult to create, using your business as a force for good, building a passionate employee culture, igniting consumer engagement, and telling meaningful stories are powerful ways for your brand to expand its impact, presence, and relevance.

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Simon Mainwaring

Founder/CEO brand consultancy, We First, bestselling author of We First and Lead With We, host of podcast, Lead With We.