The Acquire Podcast Ep. 11: Movement as marketing and transformation with StrawberryFrog’s Scott Goodson
- StrawberryFrog’s founder and CEO Scott Goodson joins us on the Acquire Podcast.
- We talk about doing marketing with soul and intention, the shifting pyramid of power where the boss is no longer God, and the power of truly taking on corporate responsibility.
Welcome to Acquire, Tearsheet’s Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Tearsheet’s head of studio, Rebecca Cohen. On today’s episode, I’m speaking with Scott Goodson, founder and CEO of StrawberryFrog, a marketing agency that works with some of the largest financial brands in the industry. This past February, Scott spoke at our Acquire Conference, where he told us about how StrawberryFrog strategized and executed the brand process behind the mergers that made today’s Truist and First Abu Dhabi Bank.
I invited Scott to talk to us about his recent book, Activate Brand Purpose: How to Harness the Power of Movements to Transform Your Company. Ultimately, though, our conversation ended up covering much more: doing marketing with soul and intention, the shifting pyramid of power where the boss is no longer God, and the power of truly taking on corporate responsibility.
Typically on the podcast, I speak about specific campaigns with CMOs, creative directors, sometimes CEOs, founders and product folks. This conversation is a bit different, since StrawberryFrog is not a fintech or FI at all, but rather a marketing agency that for the past 20 plus years has been dreaming up and executing the campaigns for some of the biggest names in finance and tech, and more.
I’m excited for our conversation today and to bring our listeners some of Scott’s pearls of wisdom about brand and purpose.
The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
What makes an amazing marketer?
I would say empathy, and trying to put myself in people’s shoes; both people who run large financial institutions and the people they serve – all different stakeholders. If you start with those individuals, you come up with a really different solution. It’s less about trying to sell people products, and more about trying to build architecture within which people feel compelled to engage with an organization because there’s a shared purpose that they and the financial institution are striving to achieve together. And in today’s world, that’s really the key.
The first step of a 20 year journey
Our first client was the launch of the Smart car, which was developed by Swatch and Mercedes, and the marketing idea was a movement to reinvent the urban environment. It wasn’t the launch of a B-segment car; the traditional car ads are about ‘here’s a new car with two doors and fancy tires’. Instead, we thought: the cities of Europe are congested, parking is crazy, traffic is worse; somebody’s got to come in and do something about it – it might as well be Smart. So Smart took the initiative to create a purpose and then activate it through a movement. Today’s Smart is still around, and it was a very successful framework.
The purpose activated brand thinking started in the early 90s. I was born in Canada, but I started my career in Stockholm, Sweden. And in the late 80s to early 90s, the consumers in the Nordics started demanding more of the companies that were delivering products. They wanted less packaging, more women on boards; the consumer was driving progressive issues. And as a result, companies started to change their hiring practices and basically everything.
In those early days, we didn’t call it purpose, but it was purpose. And we started developing purpose strategies for a lot of the Swedish multinationals like Ericsson, H&M, and IKEA (which today is still a very purpose driven organization). And that worked very well in the Nordics as well as Northern Europe, like the Netherlands and Germany. But as soon as we started launching Ericsson and other Scandinavian companies in Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, Brazil, and believe it or not, the United States, people were like, ‘Purpose? What are you talking about? That’s crazy, I don’t understand it.’
I realized at that point that purpose is very theoretical, and we’re not a university, so we should be designing a movement; using the principles of societal movements to build a group of passionate advocates around an idea that both the company and the human can get behind to seek some form of positive change.
Asking the important question
The first and key thing is, ‘What is the change we want to drive?’ That’s the first question. And what’s important is that it has to somehow connect back to the brand purpose, or the brand culture, in some way. There’s so many examples of companies that are just flat footed, where they tried to piggyback on a popular social issue, but it doesn’t make any sense. For example, in the United States, there’s a peanut brand called Planters, that a year ago ran ads decrying the need for equal pay between men and women. Why would a peanut brand advocate women making the same as men? Of course, women should make the same as men. But do people really think that a peanut brand should do that? Another example was Audi, who said women should get paid the same as men. And of course, nobody in the executive leadership team at Audi was a woman. So again, how can you come out and say that when you don’t have representation?
So the first point is you really need to connect back with the culture of the organization and the brand purpose. Otherwise, people think it’s just BS. And today, everybody’s waiting for you to not deliver against your purpose.
People don’t sit around watching TV and advertising on television anymore. They just don’t. You’re spending all your time on social media and probably watching the news these days with what’s going on in the world. So if you want to engage with people, you’ve got to engage them in a way that piques their interest. Of course, price, convenience, and slick advertising can help. But if you want a sustained engagement with people, you need to think bigger than that.
An example of that is the merger we did for the largest financial institution in the world a couple of years ago, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and the First Gulf Bank. When we sat down and said, ‘Okay, what do we want to say? What is it that this organization can do that hasn’t been done before, and is needed in the world?’ The world doesn’t need another bank. I mean, there’s a lot of banks out there, and especially in the United Arab Emirates. And we said, ‘Okay, this country needs to help its citizens grow stronger, because there’s economic change affecting the citizens of Abu Dhabi.’ At the time, all the prices were very low, the government was changing things, and they needed to increase financial literacy among Emiratis. So we want to help the Emiratis grow stronger, become financially literate, and understand how to bank and how to deal with their financial situation. We also want to help Abu Dhabi grow stronger, both in the region and globally, because they had an aspiration to engage with the world.
And third, we wanted to also inspire the merged employees to want to come together and work at this new entity (because when mergers happen, people leave). We wanted it to say, ‘If you stay here, you’re going to grow stronger, because we’re going to teach you, we’re going to inspire you, we’re going to grow you as an employee of this organization.’ And finally, we wanted to also explain why these two organizations were merging. So the Grow Stronger Movement did a great job of doing that – it was about helping the customers, helping the employees, helping the society, and helping people understand why.
One of the first pieces of communication we did was about a woman, who you see her rising in an elevator, among a number of men. And as it ascends to the top of this tall building in Abu Dhabi, the men one by one leave the elevator. As the elevator arrives at the top, it’s only the woman left, and you realize that she’s actually the head of the company. It was a statement about what it takes to grow stronger, and it was a really powerful philosophical idea.
Amazingly, two years later, the bank appointed the first woman CEO in the history of the region for a financial institution. So I’m not saying directly that that had a major influence, but I think it certainly created the idea that was acceptable, and not only acceptable, but valued.
Corporate responsibility: The real
I think corporate responsibility was a term developed in the 1980s, when people realize that Milton Friedman was wrong. It’s not just about making as much profit as possible, but that there’s a role for smart leaders, men and women, to do something that not only sells products, but actually doesn’t poison the customer. It’s actually in the interest of the company to keep your customers alive and wealthy.
Today, what we’re seeing from the Purpose Power Indexes is that consumers are demanding companies do more. And sometimes they’re extremely vocal in their requests. CEOs have spent a few years going home at night and their kids are saying, ‘What are you doing? I don’t get it. You’re ruining the world, dad, come on.” They heard that from their kids for a while. Now they’re hearing from the customers and the consumers. So I think there’s an impetus for them to really institutionalize a better path forward. And it’s a completely new level.
This puts CSR at the center of the whole strategy. It opens up a whole new world of thinking. We did an event last year with Inc. Magazine called the Purpose Power Summit. We had a number of CEOs speak, including Bill Rogers, who’s now the CEO of Truist. And he said, the first thing he did together with Kelly King, who was the CEO of BB&T, was writing the purpose for Truist. It was the first thing they did before anything else. So when COVID hit, they didn’t think twice. Truist was the first financial institution to engage in the community. That purpose gave them a rudder, so they could sail their ship right into the middle of the storm, and not be thrown off by gale force winds and 17 feet waves. They were able to navigate, because they had that purpose.
Doing things differently, top down
When you sit down with senior executives and walk through the thinking about this idea of purpose, and activating that purpose of the movement, they agree. They understand it, because they’re living through it.
I’ll give you a really good example. At the top of the traditional Pyramid of Power is the boss, God, whatever you have as your as the thing that you look up to for your inspiration. When we grew up, a few years ago, the boss knew everything and when the boss said do something, you did it. Today, people are getting their inspiration, news, and messaging from their peers – not from the boss.
10 years ago you looked to the editor of Vogue for your fashion inspiration. Now there’s 50,000 Instagram bloggers. So the world of the pyramid is shifted. Now it’s the bottom first, and the pyramid’s upside down. So as a CEO, you’re trying to motivate 10,000, or 100,000, or 2 million employees; Walmart has 2.5 million employees. How do you engage them? You do it by demanding compliance, or do you do by saying, ‘We, together, want to do something that’s relevant to all of us, that matters to each and every one of us. Let’s come together and solve this together.’ That is going to achieve greater impact than simply the more traditional approach. The more traditional approach was designed for a time when people listen to a tiny group of leaders – they don’t anymore.
A movement for the masses
I think the message of a brand looking to activate its purpose should speak to all of us. If you make it too narrow, then you risk making it irrelevant to a lot of people. And that’s not the trick.
There are certainly opportunities for certain types of brands to get super specific and very much push on an issue. For example, on television right now, there’s an employment agency advertising and talking very much about the need for equality and pay. Now, that makes sense, because they hire women and they hire men, and they’re reaching out to both in a really intelligent way. That to me makes sense. Less so for Audi, less so for peanuts. So in some instances, that very specific message is important.
But the key thing is to develop a very sophisticated message that can appeal to a broad range of people. For example, we were given the task to activate the brand purpose for SunTrust Bank, which was a very large bank based in Atlanta, now part of Truist.
The purpose was leading the way to financial well being. However, lighting the way to financial well being can sound a bit theoretical. If you’re a teller of a bank, have a high school education, and making an hourly wage, where does lighting the way to financial well being meet you? It’s hard to figure that out.
So we activated that purpose with a movement called On Up, which was short for onwards and upwards. On Up was a movement against financial stress and for financial confidence. We designed the message to be highly motivating for the employees of SunTrust, and the CEO and leadership of SunTrust were really great at coming up with ideas for us to deliver on as well.
We came up with a really intelligent program, which was spearheaded by another person inside the organization named Brian Ford, called Momentum On Up, which was an employee based financial literacy program that was created by SunTrust, first for their own employees, and then packaged and given away for free to 200 of the largest corporations in America, like Delta Airlines, Home Depot, and many others. It helped people understand some basics about finance, so it added a real benefit – helping people, as opposed to just simply selling them products. It builds a deeper relationship versus just superficial product selling.
Movement as marketing, and transformation
The first book I wrote, Uprising, was full of about 50 case studies of movements that we’ve done across different sectors. It was about how you design a movement and how you activate the movement. It’s a great tool to introduce the concept of movement as a marketing concept, but also a transformational concept. What we realized was, though, that we were missing a link to purpose, because a lot of companies now are talking about purpose, and they couldn’t connect the dots.
After we had done the first study, The Purpose Power Index, we saw that the biggest challenge for leaders today is getting beyond toothless purpose; the CEO has a purpose, he puts it on the wall behind him, and nothing ever happens; the CEO writes a purpose and she hands it out on a to her C-suite, and no one does anything.
That’s the biggest challenge: actually getting them to activate, and after talking with CEOs and other leaders, we realized that we needed a how-to activate brand purposes, looking at different C-suite leaders; there’s a chapter for the CMO, CRO, CFO, Chief People Officer. And of course, we also included many cases as well. That’s the intent of the book, and I think the response has been very positive.