How Brands Can Harness The People To Achieve Real Impact

Instead of flash in the pan campaigns, what if big companies enabled all citizens to make lasting change?

How Brands Can Harness The People To Achieve Real Impact
[Painting by Paul Corio]

There’s broad recognition that people’s power to connect and communicate has been transformed, but alongside this new reality comes radical new means of organizing and leadership. While political movements have embraced the potential to organize local leaders, few brands have. That’s a huge opportunity to achieve ambitious goals that benefit the brand and the wider world–what we call “moonshots.”


Leaderless movements

For so long, citizenship has been largely passive. We would absorb information from the mass media, distill it and form an opinion, but we had little influence over the outcomes or the ability to spread our point of view.

But there is a new dynamic in the world. Everyone is now empowered as a potential leader. Individually and collectively we are more powerful than ever.

We’ve seen the emergence of “leaderless movements” all over the globe. They emerge with huge speed and force, without Che Guevara-like iconic leaders. The recent uprisings in the Ukraine and Venezuela, the Arab Spring, the Brazil World Cup protests, the reaction to the 2012 Delhi gang rape, and the No Mas FARC movement in Colombia are all visible examples.

But in reality, these are not leaderless movements at all. They are led and promulgated by thousands of individual leaders who engage and activate their networks online and offline to spark change. These “microleaders” are compelled to action by shared values, and apply creativity to effectively use their unprecedented connectivity online to drive change offline.

Big shared goal + Creativity + Connectivity = Moonshot impact

Within politics, these microleaders have long been recognized and empowered: Marshall Ganz of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, whose work underpins the best modern political campaigns (most famously, the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012), focuses on the creation of local leaders as the primary means of affecting big change.

Rather than viewing supporters as a resource to man phone banks and stuff envelopes, they are seen as leaders who get involved for personal reasons, take responsibility for the outcome, and own the campaign themselves. Why just get a supporter’s vote and volunteer time when they can become a champion for a cause that is personal and take ownership of it? Instead of a drone, you have a dedicated participating, reaching out to their networks, influencing people, recruiting others to join, driving action, and tracking their progress


The campaign becomes personal to the local leaders and about their belief in the shared goal, rather than the “brand” of the candidate.

Brands rethinking marketing

Despite the huge success of these organizing models within politics, few companies have embraced their potential to achieve big things. Brands often view themselves as sole actors in realizing big goals: their product development and marketing efforts need to be powerful enough to achieve the end. So the old techniques of marketing are employed: flashes in culture that typically occupy consciousness for a brief period, but rarely create lasting impact. This has traditionally been done with showpiece paid media campaigns, and the same tactics have been applied to social media (e.g. the Oreo’s Superbowl blackout).

Rather than the ultimate consumer engagement level being “super fans” or “influencers,” we believe empowering microleaders that work towards a brand’s big, shared goal is significantly more effective. People are more motivated and adopt the goal as their own.

A new era of brand-led moonshots

Some companies have shown what’s possible. Our team’s work with the Pepsi Refresh Project showed that microleaders can mobilize large numbers around things they believe in (around 1,000 project owners rallied people to cast over 80 million votes); in 2013, Kickstarter enabled 19,000 project owners to rally 3 million supporters. And when we worked with Google to launch Fiber in Kansas City, the approach enabled the local community to rally their friends and neighbors around the shared goal of transforming education, health care, and their community with Fiber. Google enabled this community organizing with offline and online toolkits for everyday people to become local leaders.

Many campaigns that inspire people also have the power to ignite people-led movements. What if Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty empowered women everywhere to act as microleaders building a movement of self acceptance? What if Levi’s Braddock campaign armed people to reimagine and revitalize their own community? And what if Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign enabled microleaders to lead a new grassroots youth sports initiative? “Greatness” could become leading change as well as personal achievement.

We at Enso believe that just as microleaders have propelled modern political campaigns and protest movements, everyday people will join with companies to mobilize around moonshots that better the world.

About the author

Sebastian Buck co-founded Enso and leads strategy. Brian Hardwick drives strategy at Enso to shape the message and empower people to take action.