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Brand’em acts of kindness

How do you delight your customers without looking like a brand trying too hard?

I’ve seen a few campaigns lately where a business will ‘randomly’ surprise a customer (and film it of course!) and then call it a random act of kindness and plaster it all over the internet. We all like to see someone doing good and the reality shows – when they surprise someone, they always manage to have me in tears. It’s that feel good factor!

It seems like these brands are giving away products for no good reason, fixing a customer’s problem without being asked, or even giving away dollars or products that seemingly don’t relate to their own products. But there is a good reason and there is nothing random about it. It has the potential to be of far greater value to their brand than traditional advertising or marketing, and at a fraction of the cost.

The KLM example is a good one: The Dutch airline did background research on people who have checked in on Foursquare at airports and then surprised them while they waited for their flight with something personalised to them. This campaign generated more than 1,000,000 impressions on Twitter. Not bad for a few tailored gadgets and some research!

Don’t get me wrong – they are clever and fun to be a part of, even as a viewer, but I would also say that there is nothing kind about it. These strategies are used by big brands exploiting the human quality of kindness as a marketing tool to promote their product. Many will look at a person’s following or circle of influence and only choose those who have the ability to spread the word. Others will choose a very public place in the hope that onlookers will help spread the word. Either way, the outcome is the same: good publicity, that often goes viral.

How does this relate to you in your small business? By all means, do something legitimately because you care about your customers and you want to say thank you, but beware of using human emotions just to pitch or sell your product. It can work, but it can also backfire, and in a day when consumers are more wary of staged publicity, you want to think carefully before trying to fool them with a clever campaign.

You will be remembered for these acts of kindness – because of your authenticity, not your big budget marketing campaign. Here are some tips if you are going to engage in random acts of kindness:

1. Be authentic. Do it because you want to delight your customer, not because you want something in return. Unsolicited rave reviews about your brand are the best publicity you can get. The more authentic you are, the more authentic the review will be.

2. Be consistent. Make sure the ‘Act’ fits with your usual brand attitude. If you have negative sentiment and you try to turn it around with random acts of kindness, it is likely to backfire. Work on delivering consistent quality and service, and then use random acts of kindness to go above and beyond.

3. Be personal. If you are going to surprise someone, make it personal. But don’t be a stalker! Some people may feel that your personal response to a Tweet or post may be an invasion of privacy. Find the middle ground. A lighthearted gesture should be well received; an intrusion into a personal grief or upset is likely to backfire.

4. Be generous. You are better off being generous to a few people in a big way, than average to lots of people (think Qantas and pyjamas). Although, being kind all the time is a great business strategy!

5. Be selfless. This isn’t about you, it is about them. Don’t use it as an opportunity just to sell. It defeats the purpose and will reflect poorly on your brand.

6. Be online and offline. It isn’t all about social media. Even random acts of kindness offline are likely to be shared online. Last Christmas Eve, as passengers were waiting for their luggage, Spanair sent Christmas presents out on the carousel with name labels for each passenger.

We put the call out for some good Australian examples and got some lovely responses.

Stephanie at www.littlewedhen.com: “Pat Foley from Dremt Photography sent me a beautiful gift box containing a small planter and some seeds as a thank you for helping her business ‘grow’.”

And thanks to Joanne for this lovely story: “Our local pool is the 5 Star Swim Centre at Kincumber NSW. They teach kids to swim. We’ve been going there for more than 7 years with one kid after another as they get up to squad standard – just the regular stuff: two squads per week, year in, year out. Tony, the owner, who only just knows us by sight, apparently spotted our youngest kid in pool the other day and asked the desk staff who she was.

“The next thing I know I get motioned by desk staff on the way out after swimming ‘Oh, Tony decided to waive your December swimming fees as a present. Happy Christmas. He does this sometimes, randomly.’ WOW!

“I tell you, a hundred-or-so-dollar saving in December is a wonderful thing. Ho, ho, ho! Had us completely chuffed, made us feel like someone had noticed. I sported a stupid grin all that morning! Small gesture for him, huge PR value for us, and yes, we are going back!”

Hayley shared about www.tynteflowers.com: “For the past several months, Tynte Flowers has been taking notice of their followers’ tweets and if someone is in need of a random act of kindness, Tynte asks for their address and sends them flowers. On International Nurses Day, Tynte singled out one of their followers, a nurse who works in the Nuclear Medicine department, to bestow a random act of kindness by way of a bunch of flowers.”

One final story to inspire. I was recently speaking at a conference at the Sydney Harbour Marriott and one of the delegates tweeted that it was the afternoon slump and he needed ‘some wings’ (tag line for Red Bull). He used the hashtag of the conference and also the hotel.

Within minutes, he received a tweet saying there was a Red Bull waiting for him at the concierge with his Twitter handle on it. There were no film crews, no song and dance, just a genuine gesture from the hotel. This delegate only had 100 or so followers, so the benefit to the hotel was minimal, although I now use it as a case study in my workshops and keynotes and I am writing about it in this article. Well done Sydney Harbour Mariott!

Have you received a random act of kindness from a business or do you do something special for your customers. Let us know!

Kate is a social media specialist and the founder and CEO of Social Mediology. She is passionate about using online technologies to connect businesses with the customers, communities and causes they care about. Social Mediology specialises in ‘from the ground up’ social media strategy, implementation and training for small and medium sized business and the not-for-profit sector.

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