Greta Thunberg is a phenomenon. In just 16 months, she’s gone from an unknown Swedish schoolgirl to addressing the United Nations, meeting with world leaders and inspiring millions to protest against climate change.
While Greta is not a “brand” exactly, she has sparked phenomenal awareness. And brands and marketers can learn something from her. In our conflicted times, they can be inspired by her example to find new ways to grasp consumer attention.
Greta appeals to a new breed of consumers. In a world of virtue-signaling and “clicktivism,” she’s an action figure who has decided that just talking about climate change isn’t going to help. She’s unafraid to call out adults who don’t make this stuff seriously enough, even if they’re world leaders.
Others are following her example. People across cultures and generations are changing their behavior by being more action-oriented. They volunteer for nonprofits, fund good ideas on Kickstarter, wear fitness trackers and demonstrate to address climate change. These are people for whom doing, engaging and acting is the new badge. They are doers, not talkers. And they engage with brands they see as acting according to their values.
In the absence of functioning governments, people want brands that act, help and do. They’re tired of powerful organizations that make empty promises and are instead looking for corporate action. It’s no longer enough for brands to just send their own messaging and wait for people to listen and act.
Look at Greta: We’ve seen her demonstrating outside Sweden’s Parliament, meeting the pope, addressing the EU and the UN, giving a TED Talk, contending for the Nobel Peace Prize, gracing the cover of Time magazine and referenced by global leaders. Her personal mission has become a global mission of gigantic proportions.
While the rise of brands is hardly ever as comet-like as Greta’s, it is possible for most brands to have far more impact. Many brands are doing a great job by creating consistent brand moments at scale. However, most brands fail to be interesting or stimulating.
No matter how smart and inspired your brand strategy might be, it’s just strategy. People never experience brand strategies, they experience brand moments. So if you want to become the Greta Thunberg of brands you have to focus on these moments, concentrating on how your brand behaves and the actions you take at every touchpoint. Let’s call it “story-acting” rather than the popular “story-telling.”
Take REI”s #OptOutside 2016 campaign, in which it physically closed its doors on Black Friday in order to discourage consumerism and encourage outdoor experiences.
In October, Miller Lite encouraged people to unfollow it on social media, as it tries to tackle social media addiction. At Publicis, our recent work for Diesel has portrayed the brand as an outlaw. Its “Enjoy before returning” campaign encourages people to wear its clothes and then return them—something it knows people do anyway.
Such campaigns exemplify how a brand story and purpose are more credibly brought to life through action than meaningless statements. So, how do you become a brand of action?
First, search for your sweet spot between brand DNA, product strength and consumer tension to inspire marketing actions. Call it your purpose, belief or whatever else you choose.
Define the persona who guides all your actions. Be a hero, a caregiver, a creator, an explorer or a sage. Go by archetypes or any other persona
model you prefer. Whoever you choose will determine how you speak.
Then capture your brand’s actions in an inspirational, behavioral statement to which every creative can relate.
This can even work in a crisis. Take KFC’s “FCK” apology ad, which diffused the situation when its U.K. store ran out of chicken. You could even draw parallels with Greta’s reaction when Donald Trump characterized her as “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” She trolled him by changing her Twitter bio to that description.
While your brand might not be addressing the UN or meeting the pope, Greta’s attitude can inspire us all.