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The Power of Being Provocative with Purpose

I’ve been thinking about Miley Cyrus lately and wondering who her team of advisors and consultants are. While she is clearly a mega star, public opinion does not seem entirely favorable towards her.

Maybe that’s an understatement, but this is purely anecdotal. Over a conversation with friends, someone said, “Her team is doing their job. She is getting tons of press. Everyone is talking about her.”

Chipotle Take a Stand

Chipotle’s Scarecrow video shows how a brand can be provocative with a purpose.

Really? Is that how it works? It doesn’t matter what they say as long as they say something? That strategy might work in the pop music industry, but it’s less likely to be successful for corporate brands. Or is it?

At about the same time, Kenneth Cole is making news yet again for his controversial tweets. While many are asking “when will he learn?” I think most people know he’s doing it to make a statement and bring attention to his brand.

And we as marketers and consumers will help him spread his message in outrage, pretended indignation, and even at times, exhaustion. Just like I am right now.

Is that a sustainable strategy for long-term growth? It’s a rhetorical question. When asked, Kenneth Cole claims his sales are up due to his tweets, I couldn’t find anything to show correlation. It certainly could have been due to restructuring of ownership and management. You can read Amy Tobin’s take on that here.

What if brands were to use their platforms differently? What if, rather than making a statement, that energy was funneled it into what Erik Wahl calls being provocative with purpose?

Let’s take the new Chipotle Scarecrow video as an example. More than likely, you are one of the 4.8 million people (as of Tuesday) who has already seen the video. By raising awareness of where our food comes from and about the cruelty involved in factory farming; by challenging the status quo, Chipotle is being provocative with a purpose.

It’s a polarizing spot and certain to make some people very angry, but it ties in strategically with their own messaging – the importance of sourcing food from more responsible and humane suppliers. And it is getting a great deal of publicity.

It’s of course too soon to see how it will affect sales, but this is the stuff that creates longevity and goodwill. It takes a message to the mainstream audience, causing them to question where their food comes from and hopefully helping to make real change.

Being provocative will get you noticed, but being provocative with a purpose will do a lot more for you.

It creates:

  • Loyal fans: You’re giving people a reason to love (and hate) you.
  • Longevity: Your customers will come back and they will spread the word about you.
  • Resiliency: Brands have their ups and downs. Those who have built a community of loyal fans and a bank of goodwill will have an easier time bouncing back from the downs.

Being provocative with a purpose means you stand for something, it means you become a “change artist in a sea of same.” In this interview with Fast Company about his book Unthink, Erik talks about the elements needed from an individual, professional development standpoint. He suggests we as individuals:

  • Step outside our bubble
  • Live outside our comfort zone
  • Ask for forgiveness rather than permission
  • Start small

If we applied this thinking to brands, I think it looks something like this:

Question the status quo, and bring your loyal fans along with you. Chipotle does a great job of this in their new infomercial.

Take A Stand PatagoniaShake things up. Be counterintuitive. Just because it’s not done this way, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Patagonia tells you not to buy this jacket. Last year, for Cyber Monday, The New York Times ran this ad as part of their Common Threads initiative with the message that our culture of consumption is straining our natural resources.

How can you apply these ideas to your own brands? How can you take a stand rather than make a statement?

For more marketing advice from Lisa Gerber, click here. 

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