Why The New Social Marketing Is About Generosity
Too often in marketing, we talk in terms of “getting:” getting customers to buy, getting people to click, getting people to convert, getting more followers on Twitter, getting bigger market share, etc. But the truth is, in today’s business climate, the best marketers stand out from the competition not by how much they “get,” but by how much they “give.”
Part of this spirit of generosity is behind the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Many big companies now have built-in programs for CSR, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon – people today expect companies to do something to contribute to the public good in a way that previous generations did not. For example, in 1970, economist Milton Friedman once was famously quoted as saying that “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…”
The best marketers stand out from the competition not by how much they “get,” but by how much they “give.”
While making a profit is crucially important, most Americans today would agree that profit is not the only reason to be in business, and that companies have a broader responsibility to the communities they serve. Consumers – especially younger consumers – increasingly expect businesses to want to do good while doing well, and will reward them for it. For example, a 2011 survey of Millennials found that 7 in 10 young adults consider themselves “social activists,” 1 in 3 boycott or support businesses based on the causes they care about, and 3 out of 4 believe that “corporations should create economic value for society by addressing its needs.” A study from the Marketing Science Institute (cited in Fast Company) found that “investing in good causes not only creates goodwill towards a company but also bolsters consumer perceptions of the performance of company products.”
This sense of giving goes beyond simply donating to good causes or partnering with nonprofit organizations for promotional events. One powerful new trend today is “generosity marketing,” where companies integrate an attitude of generosity into their everyday interactions with customers, industry peers, and even with their competitors. Here are a few examples of how “generosity marketing” is getting people to spread the word about companies – and hopefully leading to bigger sales:
Zappos is technically an online shoe retailer – but this company is known for so much more than shoes. Founder Tony Hsieh has turned his company into an innovative laboratory of customer service with a one-of-a-kind corporate culture. Zappos’ strategy is based on offering excellent, radically generous, “high touch” customer service. Instead of trying to get customers off the phone as quickly as possible (like most customer service call centers), Zappos encourages customer service reps to talk with customers and get to know them and be their friends. Even though it takes more time (and money) to serve each customer, Zappos is betting that their generous customer service will make people spread the word about their company – leading to better marketing results than they would have gotten from running a more “traditional” customer service operation.
Consumers – especially younger consumers – increasingly expect businesses to want to do good while doing well, and will reward them for it.
When was the last time you felt happy on an airline – especially when you were traveling during the holidays? JetBlue partnered with Zappos to put a happier face on the image of air travel by offering a special “Happiest Travel Day” for flyers on Thanksgiving. As passengers arrived at their destination airport, Zappos and JetBlue staff made handmade signs and greeted people with personalized cheers, as well as offering prizes such as free round trip tickets on JetBlue and UGG slippers from Zappos. Other airlines have done similar “surprise” efforts like these that have led to viral YouTube videos with millions of views – and valuable publicity for the airlines.
Elon Musk’s electric car startup is trying to change the way Americans drive by developing the first mass-market electric car. Although Tesla’s cars don’t come cheap, Tesla committed an act of radical generosity when it announced that it was surrendering its patent rights in hopes of moving the entire electric car industry forward. The “open source” movement of app development is a similar concept to this, where innovators get better (and get richer) not by keeping secrets from each other, but from sharing the inner workings of their industry’s platform.
Companies have publicly declared themselves as being dedicated to the public benefit and having a social mission beyond merely making a profit.
Another recent trend in “generosity marketing” is the concept of B Corporations. These companies have publicly declared themselves as being dedicated to the public benefit and having a social mission beyond merely making a profit. The B Corporation organization has a list of benchmarks that B Corporations are expected to meet in order to maintain their status as a designated “B Corporation.”
The strategy of generosity marketing is not just about being good – it’s about making money while making a difference. Obviously every business needs to make a profit, and generous marketing is not just a matter of being virtuous for its own sake – these companies believe that if they treat customers with overwhelming kindness, if they do business in a way that “gives” instead of merely “gets,” they’ll attract publicity and positive word of mouth that is worth far more than the cost of the generosity. In today’s interconnected world, where customers can spread the word about your business on social media faster and farther than ever before, generosity is good for business in a way that Milton Friedman might not have imagined.
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