Understatement alert: it’s been an eventful 11 days since the Inauguration. This weekend’s Executive Order (EO) on immigration sparked righteous outrage and alarm at the order’s unabashed defiance of the Constitution, compassion, order and the values on which America was founded.
But the EO also sparked a brand war, epicentered at JFK airport. There, the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance organized a one-hour cab strike, both because the 19,000 members of the Alliance are largely Muslim and largely immigrants, and to express their solidarity with those protesting the ban.
Uber reacted swiftly, announcing that despite the spike in demand, they would get rid of surge pricing for cars serving JFK.
Surge pricing has been turned off at #JFK Airport. This may result in longer wait times. Please be patient.
— Uber NYC (@Uber_NYC) January 29, 2017
The company says it was trying to avoid the appearance of profiting from the immigration ban and resulting protests, as it has been accused of profiting from natural disasters and other strikes in the past.
But the Internet interpreted the Uber announcement differently. Many viewed it as Uber’s effort to break the cab drivers’ strike. Within hours, the hashtag #DeleteUber took off. One of the earliest tweets with this hashtag was retweeted over 23,000 times last weekend, and also included the hashtag #DownloadLyft.
The response of Uber’s little-guy competitor, Lyft, to the immigration ban took a different course. The company sent out an email to customers making a pledge of $1 million over 4 years to the ACLU and stating boldly that “We stand firmly against [Trump’s] actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.
Lyft started the weekend at #39 in the iTunes App Store. By the end of the weekend, Lyft was in the top 10. This was the first time Lyft has ever surpassed Uber for downloads. Ever.
Manifesto marketing is real and it really “works.” But it is not a stunt. Some have accused Lyft of using the opportunity of Uber’s misstep to deploy the ACLU pledge as a “marketing stunt.”
It is marketing. But it is not a stunt.
The umbrella of marketing encompasses any and every communication or interaction between a company and its customers, which this clearly was. But calling it a stunt implies that it was a one-off project cooked up by the marketing team to drive a quick hit of increased business.
This was not that. This is what I call Manifesto Marketing in my new book, The Transformational Consumer: Fuel a Lifelong Love Affair With Your Customers By Helping Them Get Healthier, Wealthier and Wiser (March 1, 2017; Berrett-Koehler Publishers). Manifesto Marketing is a phenomenon that takes place when a business makes a bold statement about their motivations, values and beliefs outside the scope of the product they actually sell or the industry they operate in. Manifesto Marketing is a way that companies signal what they stand for to consumers who share those values. Manifesto Marketing works, in that it magnetically creates a loyal tribe of a company and its customers around an issue. But it is not a one-off thing.
Manifesto Marketing is risky, and real. (Witness: the boycotts of Target after its support of LGBT communities and issues.)
Lyft’s ACLU pledge is Manifesto Marketing because Lyft didn’t have to say anything on this matter. And they still would have probably seen a bump from #deleteUber. But they took the risk.
This is Manifesto Marketing, vs. a marketing stunt, because Lyft didn’t do any of the things it would have done if it were trying to optimize this announcement for downloads. Lyft didn’t send their ACLU pledge first to TechCrunch or the New York Times. It sent it to existing customers. [Side note: Uber eventually pledged to create a $3 million defense fund for their own immigrant drivers. Consumers didn’t seem to notice too much.]
This is Manifesto Marketing because it’s bold and principled. It was not designed with the first objective of driving sales or business. Google’s statement on the EO said essentially that Google disliked the impact of the ban on Google’s employees. Mark Zuckerberg praised immigrants in general, but then said simply that he was “concerned” about the impact and direction of the EO.
Consider this: Mark Zuckerberg has very publicly backed the Black Lives Matter movement, but the most he, the CEO of behemoth Facebook, was willing to say on the EO is that it he’s “concerned”. Having been on the executive team of a tech company, I can beyond doubt assure you that in no way did the marketing team at Lyft unilaterally spin up such a bold statement of disapproval of the EO and a $1 million donation to the ACLU for PR purposes alone.
The Lyft statement and pledge is Manifesto Marketing because it took the risks inherent in taking the stand. It risked losing customers that disagree, on principle, with the statement of values it made. This risk is real; Starbucks was the subject of a boycott after pledging to employ 10,000 refugees. And it made the bold statement anyway, much bolder and more clearly than companies like Google and Facebook were willing to make.
TREND: Spotted – Customers and employees will increasingly cry out for companies to state what they stand for. Simon Sinek says that people don’t buy what you sell, they buy WHY you sell it. I’d take this way further: people buy WHY you sell it, they buy HOW you sell it, they also buy WHAT you believe and hold dear and they also buy HOW you operate as a corporate citizen of this country, of our world.
I distill consumer insights for a living. In particular, I focus on helping companies design their marketing, content and products to fulfill the demands of a massive, growing customer segment I call The Transformational Consumer. These people comprise over 50% of the American consumer base, and they spend over $4 trillion a year in their efforts to live healthier, wealthier, wiser lives. Their “wealthier” aspiration includes the desire to be ever-better stewards of the money they spend, and “wiser” encompasses their effort to become more fully actualized humans, more conscious citizens of the world.
I spent a good chunk of last weekend doing what I do, observing the trends and natural language patterns of people around the web as they reacted to the EO and to these companies’ actions.
So let me sound the alarm to executives and entrepreneurs: consumers and especially Transformational Consumers, will increasingly demand and require companies to take a stand on these major cultural and political issues, in addition to providing truly transformational products and services, in exchange for their loyalty and brand love.
Think about this: only 26% of the voting American public actually voted for President Trump. Americans feel a dramatic leadership vacuum right now. They are looking for how to live out their own version of activism in these times, which is why over a million of them showed up to march over inauguration weekend. They are looking to connect with the other people and personalities that also stand for what they see as pure and sacred, which is why you see such viral spread of the comments by Elizabeth Warren, Michael Moore, now-Former President Obama and Facebook communities like Pantsuit Nation.
And they are looking for the business and tech leaders to speak on these issues, too, from the heroic perches we’ve placed them, as a culture. This outcry may seem misplaced or scary, but it also creates an opportunity to connect and engage with customers about something bigger than any product or brand. That’s what consumers want and need right now. The companies that give it to them, like Lyft did this weekend, will reap the benefits.
You can’t build a truly transformational company without taking a stand. By definition, transformational companies and transformational leaders use their products, their services and their presence in the marketplace to change the way we live and operate as a society. This is why they exist and how they show up in the world: to spot things that need change, and then to facilitate that change.
You can’t be bold, expressive and flow freely in one area, and be shutting down or repressing yourself in another area; the seams will burst. And the same goes for companies: if you claim that your company is all about innovating to create needed change, the only way to optimize for that objective is to integrate bold statements and actions in favor of a conscious world deeply into your company’s internal and external messages.
This is part of why employee disengagement is so rampant. most companies are either not transformational at all, or are hypocritical in giving lip service to being “disruptive”. Gartner says that over 70% of American employees rank somewhere on the disengagement spectrum between bored and actively, toxically hateful about their work and their employer. Transformational Consumers are employees, too, and they are tired of working *just* to make a big, rich company bigger and richer. They want to work for a company that is working on a problem bigger than that, and for companies that stand for more than just creating another revenue-generating widget.
The long game of Manifesto Marketing I had one more major insight while doing online listening this weekend to analyze consumer natural language patterns and conversations around this real-time battle between brands and values: Manifesto Marketing is a long game, and a cumulative one.
Clearly, this weekend was a dramatic moment in time, for both Uber and Lyft (and the world, for that matter). But on social media, many who followed the rallying cry to #deleteUber said that this weekend was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back for them. They expressed that they had been increasingly concerned about what they saw as a pattern of bad behavior by the company and its CEO.
This weekend was just the nail in the coffin.
And the opposite was true, too. The conversation around the #downloadLyft hashtag includes much chatter about Lyft’s pledge, but also their general reputation for treating drivers well and, namely, better than Uber treats theres.
The most powerful Manifesto Marketing doesn’t happen in a moment. It’s an ongoing cadence, an accumulation of statements, actions and messages, internally and externally, over time. Everything communicates. Everything. Transformational Consumers are watching what you say and what you do, as a company, all the time. And they lean, in general, toward being pretty forgiving of the companies that make truly transformational products, as many had been with Uber before the weekend.
They are forgiving. Until they’re not.
Trust is earned in drips and lost in buckets, the old adage goes. It turns out that so are brand love, loyalty, downloads and dollars.
ABOUT: Tara-Nicholle Nelson is the author of The Transformational Consumer: Fuel a Lifelong Love Affair With Customers By Helping Them Get Healthier, Wealthier and Wiser. She is the CEO of TCI, a marketing, content strategy and leadership development firm that creates transformational experiences for conscious leaders, businesses + customers.
Join her newsletter or her next 30 Day Challenge for Conscious Leaders at taranicholle.com.
Tara is the former VP, Marketing for MyFitnessPal and Under Armour Connected Fitness. She has been featured in The New York Times and was recently named the #1 woman Silicon Valley tech companies should be naming to their boards by Business Insider.