Building Blocks of Action Brands

Building Blocks of Action Brands

Note: this is cross posted at the 360 DI Fresh Influence blog.

avaaz450Recently, some of us around the 360 DI team have spent some serious quality time with the  international advocacy-movement building experts at Purpose Campaigns.  Inspired by one of his Australian quotable quotes, I asked co-founder Jeremy Heimans to answer a few questions for the Fresh Influence blog.

VM: I recently heard you say that “newsletters are the enemy” for building advocacy movements.  Given that you have built a number of global  movements from the ground up (Global MoveOn compliment  Avaaz (pictured above), anti-nuclear Global Zero, and GetUp Australia to name a few), can you share a few core tenets of designing and maintaining a truly “action”-oriented brand?

When you’re building a movement, the central aim is to drive people to action, not simply create awareness or spark conversation. To do this, you have to communicate very differently. Newsletters are the default mode of communication for many advocacy groups, organizations and brands, but they’re usually snooze-worthy, they lack a distinctive voice or personality, and they don’t ask people to do anything.

In online organizing, you’re always in persuasion mode. That imposes a discipline — to get best results, you’re best to usually focus on just one ask per message, rather than presenting many small parcels of information without a specific way to engage the reader. And rather than communicating at fixed intervals, newsletter-style, you communicate at moments of urgency — when some news has just broken or when immediate action is required. This is much more like the way people communicate with their friends and colleagues, and that’s what makes this kind of communication much more likely to be passed along.

Over time what you discover is that by focusing on action – not just talk or information – people become invested in much deeper ways. It’s one thing to read an article about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe or even pass a link along to friends. It’s quite another to craft an argument and to appeal directly and personally to a decision-maker or to friends about that issue — as we do in online organizing.

VM: Online programs allow for very quick scaling in terms of numbers, but there is still a large percentage of folks around the world who lack online access, how have you tried to bridge the gap?

We faced this challenge when building We wanted to create a truly global brand — one with a distinctly internationalist – and not just Anglo-American – voice. I think Avaaz has made a terrific start at doing this (operating in 13 languages helps!), but it’s absolutely the case that participation by people in developing countries is limited not just by access to technology but also by the fact that many people in the global south are understandably more focused on meeting their basic needs than they are engaging in online political activism.

So in developing countries, you have to do more work on the ground. Avaaz has a truly global, multi-lingual roaming staff, including in the global south. Mobile technology – which is far more widespread in most developing countries – can be very powerful for some kinds of organizing. Avaaz ran a very interesting text message campaign inside Iraq — something it simply couldn’t have done using more conventional techniques.

VM: What is the main difference in counseling corporations on movement building vs. social organizations?

We can’t simply leave online organizing and movement-building to advocacy groups and politicians. We need companies to engage with progressive causes, and to champion them with their consumers. Problems like climate change simply won’t be solved without the serious engagement of the private sector. A company like GE, for example, could be using its tremendous reach to engage consumers on the benefits of wind power or a smart electricity grid, and asking them to appeal to Congress to ensure these investments are made.

When we advise brands, we encourage them to think like organizers, not marketers. Rather than make an ad telling their consumers they’re donating money to that save-the-rainforests fund, we ask them to think about what kinds of asks they could make of their consumers as part of a genuine effort to champion a cause or issue. So the brand demonstrates its seriousness not only by taking action itself but by asking its consumers to do the same.

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