When Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013, he left behind a legacy of wisdom and positive change around the world. This year marks Mandela’s 100th birthday, and on July 18, a number of organizations celebrated that legacy.
- The Nelson Mandela Foundation launched a Mandela exhibit, which will travel the world for five years.
- The South African Reserve Bank issued commemorative banknotes with his image.
- And, the UN General Assembly held a peace summit in his honor. On the same day, Mandela Concerts held the largest musical tribute in history, hosting live shows in multiple cities.
These celebrations, of course, can show us a thing or two about marketing, and Mandela himself had just as much to teach us about building a loyal following and crafting a powerful message. Use these four Mandela quotes as mantras when you’re confronted with a marketing challenge:
1. “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”
The challenge: Past failures can make you timid in decision-making.
The lesson: Trying new things will ultimately lead to success.
Successful marketing is the culmination of a lot of trial and error, but marketers still forget that trial and error is a process that ultimately leads to positive results. Failure, in this context, is inherently an optimistic thing — it gets you one step closer to success.
Failure also gives you the opportunity to show your brand’s humanity. For example, in the wake of its recent data privacy failures, Facebook didn’t cower; it started a campaign to empower its users to control their own data. If you fear failure so much that you don’t try new things, your brand will become stale and difficult for consumers to relate to.
2. “It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.”
The challenge: Work doesn’t get easier as you see more success.
The lesson: Pursuing growth means pursuing difficult work.
Quite often, success creates its own hurdles. It’s great to be recognized for your work at the end of a huge, successful campaign, but as a marketer, your work is never truly finished; there will always be new knowledge to incorporate and new goals to pursue. Each success brings with it the potential for bigger and better challenges.
Pandora, for example, revolutionized online radio in the mid-2000s before going public in 2011. But it wasn’t enough for the company to rest on its laurels, as the years since have seen the rise of stiff competition like Spotify and Apple Music. Over the past two years, Pandora has risen to the challenge by boosting its premium membership numbers and, most recently, partnering with Snap for social media integration. Now, Pandora’s stock is on the upswing once again.
3. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The challenge: Doing the same thing doesn’t produce different results.
The lesson: Learn what works in the real world and adjust accordingly.
In marketing, it’s important to always think of where you want your brand to be and how you’re going to get there. We tend to forget, though, that you only develop those plans based on lessons you’ve learned from experience. What did customers or prospects respond to in the past? How did they prefer to interact? What did they like and dislike most? A campaign’s end goal is important, but the journey is where the learning happens.
We’re now seeing marketers try to evangelize this mindset to other industries. WeAreTeachers employs several of the iterative improvement tactics marketers use to build products driven by in-classroom results. It creates curricula for specific topics, produces videos to facilitate student engagement and publishes blog posts to help teachers navigate the small challenges — like uncomfortable shoes — that keep them from being as effective as possible. Like marketing, teaching will never be easy, but it can always be made more effective.
4. “I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”
The challenge: Operating only from your own perspective limits your reach.
The lesson: Focus on learning new ways to provide value.
In business, giving something away for nothing seems counterintuitive, but it’s one of the most effective ways to build genuine customer relationships. Something as small as offering free memes or fun videos to share can improve your audience’s affinity for your brand. You don’t always need to be selling something. You can build a substantial grassroots campaign simply by giving your audience something to start a conversation over.
Quill, a partner of WeAreTeachers, saw value in this approach as well. To call attention to how much money teachers spend out of pocket on school supplies each year, Quill and WeAreTeachers threw a “teacher shower,” in which the two organizations gave away school supplies to a teacher and hosted a party to celebrate. By hosting a fun, feel-good event and using it to create shareable content, they were able to call attention to the problem at hand and start a conversation.
Mandela’s legacy of promoting education, personal growth, and connectedness has inspired millions in both their personal and professional lives. As marketers, we should all be trying to make our brands seem a little more human.
About Kristina James
Kristina James is director of marketing at MDR, the nation’s leading education marketing group. A division of Dun & Bradstreet, MDR provides education marketing data, services, sales tools, and digital marketing solutions to the education industry and Fortune 500 brands.
Featured image via: Flickr Paul Simpson