Can you catch lightning in a bottle? Practically speaking, it might be a little hard to contain within those brittle glass walls. But that’s exactly what movement marketing is. It’s the moment when a brand (including the values and products that it represents) becomes more than just something that people buy. In a way, the message behind the brand becomes bigger than the brand itself. That’s powerful stuff.

By creating a movement, you begin something that unites people and becomes part of their lives. It’s difficult to master. True brand-fueled movements are as rare as unicorns and hard to deconstruct. But if you get it right, you’ll have a long-term marketing strategy that won’t just place your brand at the forefront of your industry – it might even change the world.

What’s movement marketing?

Let’s step back for a second and look at what movement marketing is. Broadly speaking, it’s a brand-fueled movement that creates an enduring phenomenon which organically transcends the brand. It connects and engages customers with each other, the brand, and the bigger movement itself.

In an increasingly competitive, noisy and cluttered marketplace, movements can help build communities and mobilize people. Lauder Professor at the Wharton School of Business, Jerry Wind, and Wharton Future of Advertising Program Executive Director, Catherine Hays, put it well when they said, “All movements, regardless of their genesis, address an unmet need, galvanize people, and truly let the people take it over.”

That means that a brand itself cannot be a movement, but it can help spawn one. Usually, this occurs when a brand meets a social trend, an unmet need, or an untapped passion.

Movements at work

TOMS shoes achieve this well. It was founded on the basis that for every pair of shoes sold by TOMS, another pair would go to someone in need. It has since expanded to providing glasses and water to developing countries, plus investment and social entrepreneurship projects. Although the concept and mission were close to founder Blake Mycoskie’s heart, it was the brand’s customers that sparked the movement.

Then you have WeWork. Their mission is to build a community where people work to build a life, not for a living. It’s at the forefront of a wider mission where people prioritize personal fulfillment over the traditional career ladder or earning money. WeWork’s net worth is now estimated at $20 billion.


Generally speaking, there are five characteristics that are essential for strong brands. Only strong brands can spur a movement.

Create emotion: All successful brands inspire and evoke emotion, but a movement occurs when a company or brand creates a grand statement and its customers get behind it.

Encourage involvement: Great movements will offer opportunities for customers and employees to become involved and empowered. There needs to be a common meeting place for everyone to communicate and inspire each other.

Build communities: Brands can achieve this through social media (such as Facebook groups) or in real life. WeWork has a physical community established in every office and nurtured through regular events. It also has a virtual one via a Slack group.

Commitment: If people feel they are part of a movement, they will commit to it in the long term.

Authenticity: People can smell a fake a mile away. Only authentic brands will succeed in creating a movement. The movement itself needs to be part of a brand’s bottom-line and a certain amount of accountability means stakeholders will be invested in it.

Key barriers

There are some key barriers to achieving great movement marketing. You cannot create a movement if you are 100% focused on your return-on-investment (ROI). If your organization has silos that prevent people from working together effectively, then your movement will likely fail. Therefore, slow-moving, inflexible and overly bureaucratic companies aren’t going to make movements. Movement marketing cannot be reversed engineered either. A successful brand-fuelled movement cannot be retrofitted to a brand’s DNA. Instead, it needs to be the other way around. A mission with a company built from it, like TOMS shoes.

Beyond the normal

A brand-fueled movement moves beyond a normal brand:

  • It contributes to the greater good or to some purpose within broader society.
  • It captures something of-the-moment. Both 2016 presidential campaigns tapped into the deeper cultural and political attitudes of the time and ultimately created movements that were bigger than their candidates and platforms.
  • There is a strong call to action and a clear role for a brand’s customers to play. Plus somewhere where they can meet and share ideas.
  • It drives cultural or behavioral change, aligned with a fundamental shift in social values. For example, WeWork and the movement towards working as a lifestyle.
  • It has an enduring impact – if you can make a documentary about the brand, it’s a movement.

Positive impacts

This is illustrated perfectly by Small Business Saturday. American Express founded Small Business Saturday to support small business owners. It meets all the criteria for a movement. It has a purpose and a strong emotional component. The call-to-action is built on local values, personal connections, and community support. It calls people to shop local, on the first Saturday following Thanksgiving. It has grown quickly since its early beginnings in 2010. Small Business Saturday is now across all 50 U.S. states and has had a shout out from the President. Last year, almost half of all Americans shopped locally on Small Business Saturday. There’s also ongoing support for small business owners all-year-round from American Express. Helping them build on the momentum from Small Business Saturday. 90% of consumers state that the movement has had a positive impact on their local community.

Unique to you

Of course, all movements are unique. There’s no playbook for making a movement. Plus, some brands might not wish to create a movement – resources might be seen as better invested elsewhere. However, many companies would pay top dollar for the kind of rapport that movement marketing can create.

All businesses want a warm, authentic, and long-lasting emotional connection with customers. It forms the foundation of any strong brand. In that way, movement marketing can create something beyond a brand, that sweeps a company along with it. As a movement grows, so too can a business. There are untapped opportunities for brands to capitalize on social trends and help make a better world. You just have to be aware of what’s out there and how your business can help. With the right steps, your brand can be at the center of a movement that changes the world.

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