There are two kinds of people on the Internet: the greedy and the generous.
The greedy want you to pay for everything. Every link is an affiliate link. Every recommendation has a profit motive. The really good content is locked away until you fork over some money.
The generous want to give you everything free.
It never occurs to them that their time or expertise has value. They’re kind, selfless, giving, and (too often) dirt poor.
But there’s a third kind of person on the Internet. And yes, they belong to the Third Tribe you’ve been reading about.
This person understands that you can’t be greedy and build a following. But you also can’t just throw all your treasure to the wind. This is the person who understands the power of focused generosity.
To help understand this and get a little perspective, let’s look at how this works in the real (non blogging) world. It’s an idea that has been used by savvy marketers forever. Here are just two examples.
The first act of generosity happened one December. I had recently ordered holiday gifts from Amazon. A package arrived in the mail from them, with a letter inside signed by Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder and CEO:
With the holidays approaching, I wanted to thank you for making this year such an exciting time for Amazon.com. We really couldn’t have done it without you.
As a small token of our appreciation, we’d like you to have our special coffee tumbler (I’m particularly fond of this year’s quotes). May you use it in good health.
Thank you again for all your support, and best wishes for a holiday season filled with family, friends, and happiness!
I don’t drink coffee very often, but this little thank you struck me as particularly effective. You’ll notice that nowhere is there a solicitation for more business, but I felt so good about Amazon, I wanted to immediately log on and order a book . . . or anything.
The second act of generosity came in the form of unexpected customer service from Current, a printer online that specializes in bank checks.
For some time I had been struggling with an ancient, plastic checkbook cover which was slowly deteriorating from hard use and age. (My wife is responsible for most of the “hard use,” but that’s another subject.)
It was a small thing, but I didn’t know how to go about getting a new one. So I wrote a note to Current explaining my problem.
To my surprise, a brand new checkbook cover arrived a few weeks later with this note, signed by the customer service manager:
Dear Check Buyer,
Thank you for your recent inquiry about Current Check Products. Enclosed are the materials you requested.
Current offers a full line of check products including checkbook covers, address labels and stampers. We also have a complete line of business checks — 3-on-a-page, laser/ink jet, continuous checks, and more. Call us for information.
If you have any questions or would like to place your order by phone, please call us TOLL FREE at 1-800-204-2244, Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time.
Once again, thank you for your interest in Current Check Products. We look forward to serving you in the future!
Cool! I had expected them to send me a web address or catalog so I could order a new checkbook cover. The fact that they just sent me one — placing my problem above their profits — impressed me greatly.
The note was clearly written for general inquiries. That suggests that sending my checkbook cover wasn’t part of their corporate policy, but instead a judgment call, a pure act of generosity for a loyal customer. A personal letter would have been a smart addition, but the gesture on its own works pretty well.
The power of focused generosity
You might shrug off these two small acts of generosity. But there’s something important going on here. And it’s related to the principle of reciprocity. Someone does something for you. Then you feel obligated to do something in return.
It might or might not translate immediately into a purchase. Instead, it could be tweeting your content, recommending your email newsletter, linking to one of your blog posts, or otherwise getting the word out about what you have to offer.
Researchers — and yes there is an entire field of study dedicated to such matters — have referred to this idea of doing for others and getting something back in return as a “web of indebtedness,” a form of social interaction that is “central to the human experience, responsible for the division of labor, all forms of commerce, and how society is organized into interdependent units.”
In other words, being generous is a very big deal indeed. It’s the ultimate in guerrilla marketing. Much more than simply being nice, it’s a central, essential, and incredibly potent way to do business.
You might say that there is a “payback” urge hardwired into our brains. And it’s very difficult to resist. Remember the last time a friend insisted on paying for lunch? (No? Maybe you need new friends.) When it happens you immediately swear you’ll pay for the next one, don’t you?
Which is why you should spend more time thinking about how you can be generous on your blog or other online ventures, and a little less time thinking about how to bludgeon people to death with requests to buy, buy, buy.
Those who get the most tend to be those who give the most, while also keeping a few desirable items that they aren’t afraid to sell.
Making generosity work for you
Okay, so how does this work as a business strategy online? Here are a few pointers.
Offer something free. It can be an ebook, a blog tool, a product sample, a subscription to a genuinely terrific newsletter, or any form of valuable information. It can be anything really, as long as it’s free and relates to your core product or service.
One newsletter I subscribe to used to barrage me with products to buy. I was just about to unsubscribe when suddenly the publisher started being generous, sending occasional emails with valuable information and tips with no hard sales pitch. That made the other more product-focused emails a lot easier to swallow, and I remain a loyal subscriber to this day.
Give something beneficial. Of course you have reasons for being generous, but don’t make people feel manipulated. Do something for the recipient’s benefit. No conditions. No self-serving verbiage.
Allow the “payback,” if and when it happens, to come naturally.
Not only does this make you more likable, it can actually change the way you think about people. They stop being “marks” or even “prospects,” and start being real people you honestly care about. And that will come through in your content.
Give something of value. What you give should have real value for the person on the receiving end. If you run a blog on financial planning and want to “upsell” your readers to a paid online seminar, don’t just give them a self-serving “tease” that piles on the sales patter . Offer an informative sample of the course with solid value even for those who don’t sign up.
Put a personal face on your gift. Take off the corporate suit and tie. Don’t have the gift coming from your “business.” It should come from you personally. It is much easier to feel indebted to a person than to a faceless, formal company. And people are more likely to be loyal to you as a person than to your business empire.
Nice guys finish first
Here’s another classic example from the offline world, and this one may be revealing my age.
Ever heard of Amway? Years ago, some bright business person got the idea to have distributors go door-to-door and give homeowners a package stuffed with cleaners, deodorizers, and other product samples.
They called this package the “BUG.” The distributor would leave a BUG with a homeowner for up to three days with no cost or obligation. They only asked that the homeowner try out the products.
Later, the distributor would come back to pick up the BUG and, of course, to ask for orders. By this time, having used the products for free for so long, the homeowner felt obligated to buy something from this generous distributor who seemed almost naive in his trust and generosity.
Just how successful was this nice guy approach? As one Amway distributor put it, the response was “Unbelievable! We’ve never seen such excitement. Product is moving at an unbelievable rate . . . .”
The point is that you should consider what people really care about. Instead of always asking yourself, “How can I squeeze more money from people?” occasionally ask yourself, “How can I help people?” In most cases, focused generosity ends up being more profitable in the long run.