Martin Luther King, Jr. faced one of the most challenging tasks marketers can ever face: to take a product that has been devalued, run down, and even criminalized and restore its value, reestablish its inherent goodness, and elevate its status in the eyes of the general public. In his case, the product wasn’t a product at all. It was an entire group of people who were being treated like trash, marginalized, and devalued solely based upon the color of their skin. For him, failure was not an option. It truly was a life-or-death situation. Even though he died before he could see the transformation he was attempting to make start to become reality, we can learn a lot about marketing from the things that he did.
1) Know your value
Know the value of the product or service you are marketing. Know its worth, not only to yourself, but to the world at large. Martin Luther King, Jr. never lost sight of the fact that every single person he was fighting for had a real value to offer the world if the world would just allow it to shine. He knew his own worth, and he knew the worth of his people. He never let the negativity that people threw at him, never let the setbacks he faced, or the obstacles in his path cause him to forget that value.
2) Don’t allow your competition to define you
For a very long time in American history, the black culture received its definition from the dominant “white” culture. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood the damage this was doing and so he took pains to redefine for blacks who they were, what their place was supposed to be in society, and how they should expect to be valued. He told them they were to be valued by their actions, not their skin color; that their place was as equals with the “white” people, and that they were children of God every bit as much as the whites who were oppressing them. When you allow your competition to define who you are, don’t be surprised if the definition comes up lacking.
3) Hold the High Ground
When you take steps to redefine and revalue a product or a brand, you can expect to meet resistance. Some of it might be fierce, and there might be harsh words spoken. There certainly were threats, harsh words, and worse when Martin Luther King, Jr. began to redefine and revalue the black culture. However, he never allowed his own actions to stoop to the level of those who stood opposed to them. He held on to his dignity and held the high ground. Following his example ensures that your company never has to apologize to anyone for their behavior.
4) Think Long Term
Realize that redefining and revaluing a brand or a product is not a short battle, but a long term war for the hearts and minds of a people. As such, be prepared to make continual sacrifices as you go down the road. Always keep the end in mind, just as Martin Luther King, Jr. did. He knew that every sacrifice he made was a necessary step toward achieving the goal of equality.
5) Be prepared for the mud
There were plenty of people who doubted Martin Luther King, Jr’s motives, integrity, and methods. Even those who agreed with him about the end goal of equality did not always agree with him about the methods he used to achieve it. Some people went so far as to cast aspersions on his character. If we can learn anything from his example, it is that the closer you come to achieving your goal, the better a job you can do, the more mud you can expect to have thrown your way.