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  • Being Nice Isn’t a Marketing Tactic. Or Is It?

    Posted by wrttnwrd

    Being nice doesn't have to mean you have an ulterior motive. But if it does, that's OK.

    Ever since the Great Diet Coke Delivery that Charles made to my office, folks have been buzzing. I've watched the comments on Charles' YouMoz post regarding the whole adventure, and there are three schools of thought:

    1. I rewarded Charles with a link and mention because he did a really nice thing.
    2. Charles did a nice thing knowing it might result in a link and a mention.
    3. This is a savvy, cynical marketing 'stunt' that's worth repeating, and now SEOs the world over will be sending each other soft drinks.

    I had no plans to comment on the whole discussion. I took the gesture at face value: A #1 with a strong dose of #2. It totally made my day, week and month.

    But then I read a comment by Sha Menz that I found particularly telling:

    Now I suppose anyone in the SEO world that receives a silly surprise in the mail from me is going to assume there is some sort of ulterior motive behind the gesture. :( Of course, that's just tough for me (and the people I will think twice about surprising in the future).

    Is 'good' still 'good' when you do it expecting to be rewarded? I dunno. That's getting pretty deep for a bunch of marketing nerds. But here's why I wish everyone did more stuff like Charles, even if there is an ulterior motive:

    Nice is nice

    A genuinely 'nice', helpful act, performed with an ulterior motive, is just fine in the marketing world. That's called 'customer service' or 'networking' or 'being a mensch.' Zappos does it. Tiffany's does it. So does Virgin Airlines. It gets people talking. It also makes people happy.

    If I can build my business and make people happy... wow. Just wow. That's a perfect marketing utopia. Read Guy Kawasaki's Enchantment if you want to learn just how perfect it can be.

    Nice is currency

    I'm not saying this cynically: Nice is a currency. It has value. That value declines if you overdo it. For example: The telephone customer service rep who keeps saying "I'm really sorry, I understand your frustration" after two hours' of frustrating troubleshooting. Yeah, I'm frustrated. You want to make me happy? Fix my cable!

    Overuse reduces value.

    Irrelevant niceness is spam

    Send me a free pair of boxing gloves. You know what they are for me? Crap. So I remember you for sending me crap. AKA spam.

    Those gloves might be the best on the market: State of the art boxing gloves that the best fighters would beg for. Doesn't matter. My only punches are verbal.

    Send me a free pair of cycling gloves, when I already have three pairs? More crap.

    These kinds of gifts fail, because I don't need them. If I don't need them, right then, then the chances I want them are pretty slim. And the odds that I'll appreciate the gift are slim, too.

    Note that all of this assumes these gifts are sent to me from strangers. I'm not a completely ungrateful wretch. If a friend sent me boxing gloves, I might look at them strangely, but I'd still say 'thanks'.

    Nice proves you listen

    Most important, a truly 'nice' act proves you listen to me. The generic "I'm really sorry. I understand your frustration." fails because it's overused, and because the person saying it sounds like they're reading from a script. Which they are. They're not listening to me, at all. That reduces the niceness quotient to about zilch.

    Charles showed up with Diet Coke. Just a short time after my panicked tweet. Clearly, he listened. He went out of his way, just a bit, to respond. Totally fantastic.

    Nice is intrinsically rewarding

    If you do a favor with an ulterior motive, don't whine if you get nothing in return. That's tacky. If the warm feeling you get from the favor itself (the intrinsic reward) isn't enough, then you shouldn't be taking action at all.

    The extrinsic reward - the link, or the tip, or the new customer - is gravy. If you can't grasp that, stop.

    Rules for genuine niceness

    Go ahead and commit acts of kindness for strangers. Even if you do so expecting something in return. Just follow these rules:

    1. Be nice when appropriate. Don't slather it everywhere like cheap syrup on lousy pancakes.
    2. Do relevant nice things. Don't send crap to random people, or do favors no one wants.
    3. Listen first. The closer the match between the favor and the context, the more the recipient appreciates it. No match at all may mean you're a stalker.
    4. Do it for the intrinsic reward. Sure, expect something extrinsic. But ask yourself if the intrinsic reward (the warm glow you get) is enough. If it's not, you're making a mistake.

    I'm a pretty cynical guy. But I do think marketing communications can make the world a far better place. One of the ways it can do that is by rewarding acts of kindness, good behavior, etc. informing the community. So be nice!


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