Entrepreneurs

The Best Startups Are Movements for Change

Movement Thinking has changed behavior and minds for generations. Now it’s time for startup founders to apply this to the core of their business to drive tangible change. Our economy and our world need it. And these founders will be rewarded. 

As a startup entrepreneur you need evangelism among your team and people outside the organization. Most often, startups are born because an entrepreneur sees a need that isn’t being met — they are innately dissatisfied with the status quo. At the very beginning, they have a “movement seed” built in, but too often, that gets lost in the bustle of rapid growth, fundraising, and / or operational evolution. The trick is to crystallize that movement idea, preserve and nurture it so that it grows alongside your business. When that happens, it becomes a true driver of growth that is additive, above and beyond to more familiar business drivers.

For entrepreneurs, political and social movements may seem part of a separate realm. But in the new age of movements, startup founders galvanize when they speak about something larger than dollars and cents. They are best when they start a movement, not just a business.

“The world is full of problems to be solved, says Dion Hughes, co-founder of HiBAR, the world’s brand of salon-quality, plastic free shampoo and conditioner.”Each one of those represents immense opportunity for start-ups. Why focus on ideas the world does not need, when there’s good business in solving problems? 

“For us, addressing plastic pollution was a movement, before it became our business. Just on a personal level, I could not find a good, zero-plastic shampoo. Not with clean ingredients, high performance, or a brand I felt represented optimism for the future. So, we made one ourselves. We were not entirely certain we were the right people, with the right product, at the right time. But then the ‘movement’ came along and lifted us up. We’ve been able to both build AND ride that wave. I’d say we are very fortunate that our purpose is very clear and public. Our mission is to eliminate single-use plastic from everyday life.”

Movement Thinking (we originally called it Movement Marketing) is a proven approach, a pragmatic framework brought to the world by StrawberryFrog back when we helped launch the Smart car as a startup back in the early 2000s. Smart was a call to arms to reinvent the urban environment, not just another launch of a B-Segment car. Social and political movements rally people to a cause larger than themselves. So too do startup movements.

Movements can touch every sector and consumer, from mass market to luxury. For instance, the fast-growing startup Courbet, the Paris-based luxury man-made diamond jewelry company begins all of its product unveilings by explaining its purpose: Without goodness, beauty means nothing.

Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Co-founder and Creative Director of startup Courbet says: “Sustainable and ethical jewelry is science and innovation at the service of our very fragile planet. It is the future of the jewelry industry and an example of a transformation that all industries should accomplish.”

Notice how the core essence of the purpose is ingrained in her words. She continues “In the jewelry sector sustainability and ethics comes without any compromise whatsoever on quality. Both the recycled gold and the laboratory grown diamonds are optically, chemically and physically identical to their analogs dug up in mines. At Courbet our mission is to transform the industry by setting an example of how the good and the beauty can be combined. Our hope is that many more will follow.”

Real Estate disruptor Zillow started as a movement. Aimee Johnson, CMO of Zillow says: “From the beginning, Zillow was about giving people the power to unlock life’s next chapter. It started with the Zestimate, making home information previously held under lock and key widely available to everyone. This desire to give people the data and tools to move forward continues to animate our business. Our movement is about helping people move forward, moving from one home to the next,to moving to better lives. When people move forward, we all move forward. And that’s good for everyone.”

Startup founder and CEO Yolanda White, of DAYO, the women’s loungewear brand which has been a rocket ship during the pandemic told me: “We launched movement focused. Our movement serves as our commitment to women and guides everything that we do from innovation, marketing, packaging, experiences and more.  Two years later our movement remains strong as women are transforming their at-home loungewear to show themselves more self-love. Collectively we are redefining how we as women confidently show up at home in a way that breaks conventional paradigms… reimagined loungewear with today’s modern woman at the forefront is what we do and how we are driving growth.”

One of New York’s most beloved chefs, James Kent, founded his new restaurant Crown Shy ahead of the pandemic as a movement rather than just another top eating establishment, and as a result have been able to manage through the difficult challenges posed when NYC shut down due to Covid. “For as long as I’ve been working in restaurants, they’ve been hierarchical and inequitable workplaces. In order to create a restaurant business that succeeds in the long run-particularly after the extinction event we just barely survived-we need to make sure that every team member is treated fairly and compensated appropriately for their time. What we’ve proven in Crown Shy is that a fairly-treated team will result in a better operating restaurant.”

What is the larger cause that your startup stands for? At Courbet, the founders have ignited a movement that is important both inside the company and in its external marketing. James Kent describes the change he seeks to bring about, why it’s important, and why people will benefit from it. This is not about dollars and cents, this is about being a warrior founder, issuing a call to arms to make positive change happen. 

Like Zillow and DAYO, a startup can identify, crystallize, or curate a movement. Once you have a cultural movement, you galvanize people. A cultural movement is when an idea on the rise inspires engagement by the culture. As a marketing framework, it amplifies your Big Idea. Besides the passion you curate among your employees and recruits, the movement also creates other business value. This includes mass engagement by the culture, earned media (on top of paid media) and greater penetration, evangelism, conversion and loyalty through word of mouth. Net, it helps build share by passionate advocates. This is described in detail my upcoming book, #ActivateBrandPurpose

5 TENANTS OF MOVEMENT MARKETING

In defining the right movement strategy for your startup, these five tenants will help you think through the necessary steps needed to land on the right stand for you. 

1.STRATEGY: What are you for, what are you against?

Define the change you want to make. This will include the behavior you want your consumers to have in relationship to your brand, and/or the social or cultural change you want to drive. This change should be relevant to your business challenge. Understand the people who matter to your brand inside your organization and out. Why do they behave as they currently do?  What is important to them – in the category and importantly, in life? Look for fundamental human insights. Understand the cultural context. What is happening in culture, in society that is relevant for our brand, brand purpose or brand benefit?

2.DECLARE:  Begin small to grow big

Be purpose inspired and benefit driven. People long to be part of something bigger than them. As such, Big Ideas that are true to your brand purpose have a strong potential to become a movement. Equally, any brand movement needs to ultimately serve a benefit equity and drive share harder. Begin the movement with your own people. Movement transforms culture and inspires trust, creativity, and motivation in a way that top-down mandates do not. It is not enough for you to simply proclaim your stand, you need to think through genuinely tangible actions that people can believe in. 

Your goal is to overcome a state of complacency.  This requires you to turn a deep human (vs. product) insight into a sharp instigation that stirs your audience’s souls and inspires them to do, not just think. Coming out of Covid we need more action, less talk. 

3.UNITE:  Ignite your passionate advocates

Build a community space to gather your advocates. The goal is to rally your people into a space that they can join to conversation, find ideas, actions, and help spread the movement to their network. Create “must-share” storytelling, content, language:  Consumers must want to share your content and message.  Your movement must also come with memorable language that the culture can adopt. Influence the opinion formers and influencers:  Get great content to your most passionate advocates first and to those who most influence your mass consumers. 

4.SCALE:  Spark mass participation

Have a simple call to action. Be clear on what you are calling your consumers to do. Ignite in key flashpoints. These are platforms where people will be disproportionately receptive to your movement messages, and where your influencers can help explode your message. Amplify to a wider audience. Once the movement has been seeded and momentum is building you need to broaden the movement by thinking big and finding platforms that can take it to as wide an audience as possible.

5.SUSTAIN:  Keep the fire burning

Let actions, social and cultural media be the oxygen. Movements need a place to form, so it’s critical that the social media channels are open and readily available for engagement.  Furthermore, PR and social and iconic actions play a big role in getting your conversation into pop culture. Nurture in real time:  Going from spark to explosion doesn’t just happen. It requires watching where the sparks start and engaging in the conversation there. You need to actively stoke the fire, adding bursts of fuel to make the flames jump ever higher.

For more details look for the new book #ActivateBrandPurpose on Amazon.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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