Why are activists such great marketers -- and what we can learn from them?
Why are activists such great marketers? We "real" marketers have billions of dollars. They have pennies. Yet activists always seem to get the sky-high return on investment (ROI) when trying to get a message across.
Every time an activist trumps, co-opts, or outmaneuvers the "system," I get a weird, insecure feeling, as if I were a marketing phony.
This unshakable imposter complex traces back to Spring 1986, when I was attending the University of California at Santa Cruz. The university was considering divesting holdings from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. The student activists humbled me with intuitive, savvy marketing tactics that would make most Madison Avenue creatives salivate.
Sure, they used some predictable tactics, such as striking emotional chords with motivational poetry, and taking over the school library and renaming it the Nelson Mandela Library. But they went beyond that. The activists ingeniously (albeit illegally) transformed the campus email infrastructure into a "wired" global protest network of over 200 universities. They had e-newsletters, online mailing lists, and more -- nearly a decade before Andreesen cranked out the first Mosaic browser.
A bunch of indignant, inventive rule-breakers made this "in the system" student-government type feel phony. They also won my deep respect with the tangible, measurable results they achieved. (The UC Regents voted for divestment only three months later.)
Ironically, I've since acquired an ostensibly respectable marketing pedigree from both Harvard Business School and Procter & Gamble. I'm supposed to really know my stuff. Yet I often wonder whether my marketing achievements owe more to those divestment activists than to seasoned soap marketers.
The Five Ps
What drives great activism? What can we learn from it? I put that question to an AdRants/Soflow discussion forum and was blown away by the level of spirited, engaged response.
After reading all the feedback, I did what all respectable marketers would do: I created a Michael Porter-style consulting framework known as the Five Ps. These are the five adjectives that describe great activist marketing:
Activism clearly has its dark side: extremism. Marketers trying to imitate activists often look like shills or fools. But there's much to gain by observing activists' resource-constrained tactics, especially when we're all under pressure to do more with less. Today's consumers are starting to look and behave more like activists, too, and that can't be ignored. We can't complain about it, either, because we're the ones who educated them about the Web and armed them with blogs and other strong-result CGM tools.
Putting on my own activist hat, I must admit it feels really good to seize power. Last week, in less than two hours, I created my own pseudo-activist blog entitled SaveThePool.com dedicated to saving our local community pool. The site cost me all of 10 bucks for the domain name. It features comments from neighbors, streaming video testimonials, photo sharing, donate-now buttons, meeting notes, and a blog.
SaveThePool.com is tame compared to what's about to unfold before our eyes.
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Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."
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