Marketing and Comms
A New Era for Movement Brands:
6 Lessons from the Women’s March

January’s Women’s March was one of the biggest global movements of recent years. An estimated 5 million people marched in 17 different countries to show their support for basic human rights — freedom, equality, justice and personal security - which are increasingly under threat across different areas of people’s lives.

It hasn’t stopped there - the movement is maintaining its momentum: With 1.3 million hashtags posted to date and growing every day, the conversation is very much alive with its roadmap of 10 Actions in 100 Days, including the call for a day of action (“A Day Without a Woman”) to support International Women’s Day on 8th March. The effectiveness of such a mass follow-up will be revealed in the coming months as actions continue. Nevertheless, the impact of the movement to date provides many useful lessons for organizations or brands looking to engage people at scale.

It is incredible to think that this all started from just a single concerned person on Facebook (a retired grandmother in Hawaii). Some of the success of the movement clearly sprung from the way the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign galvanized the public and raised awareness of multiple threats to human rights issues – threats that continue into the new administration. However, there are other fundamental factors that have driven the movement’s success. It understands that change is driven by action and that action (human behavior) is influenced by 2 questions:

1. How motivated am I to do this?

2. How easy is it for me to do this?

Both questions have an influence on our behavior at a personal, social and structural level. The Women’s March movement has successfully influenced and encouraged its community’s behavior at all three levels. As brands increasingly become involved in or create campaigns focused on social issues, there is much that they can learn from the huge reach and depth of engagement generated by this particular movement.

At a personal level

1. Movements are the organizational expression of a shared personal belief

Brands need to be clear about the core human value used to inspire individuals to take action. Despite the complex mix of issues - including gender, race, economics, age, health and representation - what the leaders of the movement did well was to define the core issue that they were fighting at the most fundamental human level. This was about social (or human) rights - an issue that matters to many (hopefully all) people. At the heart of this is a fight against the exclusion and divisions which pose an ever-increasing threat to our world, and the livelihoods of minorities in particular. From the title of the initial action - a “March for All” - to the lengths that the leaders of the movement went to make it clear that this was a movement for all (black women, LGBT women, disabled women, girls as the next generation and men and boys), it was clear that this community was living up to its core beliefs and values. The movement grew its potential scale during this time by incorporating and welcoming many different groups. By taking care to clarify the specific goals and actions of the movement, they were able to structure their fight in a way that delivered scale (inclusion of many) but with ‘chunk-sized’ deliverables. Rather than boiling an ocean, they were tackling lake-sized challenges.

This is an approach that others have successfully adopted, most notably Ben & Jerry’s, whose broad fight for social justice addresses the different pillars of the environment, people and communities, economic and peace. Furthermore, individual campaigns have tackled specific fights such as climate change, marriage equality and political lobbying. Social justice is a very clear and strong ideal and identity for people to buy into. It allows communities to get involved in supporting a wide range of causes that are relevant to their core shared belief.

Both of these examples demonstrate that if you build your movement on large-scale, fundamental human values, many people will be personally motivated to build scale for impact.

Low cost of entry = high level of commitment. Joining a social fight in a significant way can seem a pretty daunting task to most people. To make a real commitment (beyond small tokenism) suggests real effort – both literally and emotionally. So, getting the balance right is not easy. We want to encourage actions with sufficient weight to signal a strength of feeling and support that are able to have an impact on those we want to sit up and take notice, without these actions being so onerous or tough that they are never performed. It is best to make it ‘easy’ for those people whose behavior we want to influence. The actions that the Women’s March required came with lots of support, advice and tools to make it easier to put them into practice. These ease-of-use elements included simple templates to create content, existing posts that could simply be reposted, instructions for how to organize transport to marches, etc.

Whilst the actions were often simple to execute, they were all significant in their impact as they were clear and public expressions of people’s support for the movement and anger at the issues. Whether participants created posts on social media or joined the physical marches, they publicly committed to the cause. These tangible and visible actions were performances that, when delivered by 5 million people, were a clear sign of strength of feeling and commitment.

The movement made it easy for people to participate on a personal level, and to realize that they could do it. The low cost of entry made it easy for as many people as possible to join the fight.

3. The most solid and authentic foundations for a movement are found at a local level

Look for opportunities to build from existing community-based groups and leverage their existing social ties. The Women’s March movement was not created by a big launch and top-down approach. Instead, it was built bottom-up, around real people and their existing grassroots communities. This gave the movement a huge amount of authenticity but also provided a large amount of the social motivation and influence that drove so much of the action. As people, we place significant value on our social ties. Our desire to be part of the group - and to be seen to contribute positively to that group by supporting its values and the people within it - means that peer pressure can be even more powerful than personal motivation. We do not want to let others down; if they are showing commitment, we feel that we must do so as well. In this contentious political time, many have expressed their points of view solely via social media. As members of their social group began to step forward and make commitments to a ‘point of action’ by joining the march, the rest of that group felt compelled by social pressure to do so as well. There was often a very powerful social network multiplier at work.

This is a key lesson for building movements at scale. If you want to influence individuals, the most powerful way to do so may be to influence their social networks. It creates a situation where at a social level, many people feel compelled to say “I want to do this.”

4. We are creatures of habit, so make it fit around people’s lives and social structure

Build your brand movement and activities around existing social infrastructure and habits. Using local groups and movements as the foundation for the organization made it easy (and natural) for the Women’s March to generate actions. The movement was built around existing relationships and the associated social infrastructure, which created a friendly, open and positive vibe. Members could largely continue operating within existing local groups, now simply connected to a bigger network of activists who shared common values and concerns at the broader level. Recruiting new people to the movement was conducted through known local networks and figureheads. Strong existing social bonds and relationships were maintained, creating a real sense of warmth and familiarity to this movement that made it feel easy and comfortable for people to join and participate.

Using people’s existing social ties and habits these makes it easy for people to realize they can contribute to the cause within the bounds of their existing, natural behaviours.

At a structural level

5. Reward people for the right behaviors

The ‘carrot and stick’ approach may seem somewhat old fashioned but it still works in today’s world. Rewards plus fun can be a strong combination: Applying a layer of gamification, especially linked to social networks and apps, can be a great way to drive the desired behaviors and actions. Interestingly, to date, it hasn’t been a big feature of the Women’s March movement but that may simply be a reflection of the strength of feelings already at work – the strength of the personal and social motivations makes incentives unnecessary. But if the momentum slows, it could be a useful additional element to add to the other strategies. There may come a time when the movement needs to give its community more reasons to want to participate in the next series of actions.

6. Facebook is for more than sharing funny animal videos

A checklist for engagement at scale

The fundamental variables to a successful movement can be summed up in a very simple equation: More people x more actions = more impact. This seems like a logical equation, but it is in fact about applying human logic to find the optimal solution. Designing your movement in such a way that you maximize the motivation to participate and minimize the barriers to entry will increase the likelihood of success. By deploying human sense, the Women’s March created a movement that people wanted to be part of and could easily support through meaningful actions.

So, to maximize engagement at scale for your social purpose initiatives, consider the following checklist to give your campaign enough human relevance to motivate and inspire action from the people at the heart of your movement:

  1. What is the fundamental human belief that motivates people at a personal level?
  2. Are you making it easy for individuals to take action?
  3. Are you using the strength of existing social ties to motivate people to action?
  4. What existing social infrastructures and habits can you build upon?
  5. Are you incentivizing people to engage in the desired behaviors?
  6. How do you design the environment to make it easy for people to take actions?

If you, too, are inspired, as we are, by the Women’s March Movement, download our latest e-book, Beyond the Powergirl. Our contribution to the cause of gender equality, it helps brands and organizations to imagine the many positive female identities, qualities and values that can be unlocked in a future where women feel free to express and share their full capacities in society. Play our Tribal Game to discover your own future female identity.


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