Marketing is a part of all successful business, whether you're selling yourself or selling a product. The relative merits of different marketing styles is a subject that not only could, but does, fill many books. However, over the course of several decades, each style has been employed to achieve a singe goal: Selling.
Inbound marketing is a business methodology that seeks to attract customers by creating valuable content and experiences to form connections with consumers. The overriding goal is to offer something of value, to help solve existing problems, or to start a conversation. It differs from previous advertising and marketing efforts in one vital way; it tries not to intrude on a person's life by offering something that is unwanted. In yet simpler terms, inbound marketing is designed to help the public discover a particular company even before any need for a product or service is acknowledged. It creates brand awareness, builds recognition and, ultimately, helps to develop brand preference. The expected outcome, of course, is a purchase.
All such marketing effort is strongly linked to the prospect of a sale, and that is grounded in the expectation of positive return on investment. "Giving," in a very real sense, is always tied to "getting" something in return; in this case, a lead, a sale, or a commitment of some kind from the prospect. The marketing strategy is to form a connection that is lasting and mutually beneficial - in other words, it's good for the customer and profitable for the business. It offers something of value - information, entertainment, ideas for dealing with a specific situation or solutions to a problem the customer hasn't yet acknowledged. It succeeds when the consumer actually "buys in" to the proposal, the idea, or the product.
Inbound marketing is personalized, and it has proved to be extremely effective as an alternative to outbound marketing, or a "hard sell" approach. Salespeople hone in on a prospect's pain points, even if they are unrecognized, by acting in the capacity of trusted consultant. They give helpful suggestions and offer sage advice, adapting their sales process to the buyer journey. It is not an overtly sales-oriented approach, even though a sale is the ultimate goal.
The New Concept of Benevolent Marketing
Inbound marketing has been extremely effective. The public is comfortable with the approach, and individuals retain the feeling that they are the decision-makers, still in the driver's seat so to speak, using all available data to make wise decisions. But is that really the case, or is it another form of manipulation? As a marketing strategy, it may have become formulaic and ignorable.
Perhaps it's now time to shift the focus of marketing by targeting the concept of customer satisfaction, placing the emphasis on what is beneficial for individuals and for the general population rather than addressing specific pain points of potential customers.
In an age of acknowledged consumer-centric choice, choosing this new, kinder, direction can send a powerful message of relevance and positivity. Today's consumers take notice when they encounter a sales pitch, and they tend to resist. They also respond favorably when a brand provides value with no sales effort attached to the message. A company that seeks acceptance as a stakeholder in consumer well-being becomes, in effect, a partner in the search for kindness, health and happiness, a harbinger of beneficial change. That encourages loyalty and trust for a potential customer, and that is empowering. By meeting consumers on their terms, you can craft meaningful interaction. The challenge is to ensure that it's truly beneficial.
Satisfied customers are three times more likely to believe that a company will put customer needs above its profit goals, all or part of the time. That's a truly enlightening belief. Customer satisfaction hinges on being made to feel important! This is what is now termed customer-first marketing, and what we like to call benevolent marketing.
Benevolent marketing is the opposite of disruption, it is about choosing kindness first. A cardinal rule is that it does not break in to a customer's space, but allows customers to make the first move, to engage with a brand if they have a question or need advice. Today's consumer sometimes backs away from advice that is freely offered, particularly if it comes from a stranger.
How to Build Trust Through a Kinder Marketing
Even though trust is at the heart of nearly every relationship, whether it's professional or personal, it can be somewhat difficult to understand when it comes to business applications. It is, however, an essential ingredient of brand success. Marketing professionals understand trust as the willingness to depend on someone else to act in a way you wish under conditions where they actually may perform in a different way. Does that sound counter-intuitive?
Three factors have a direct influence on consumer confidence or trust as it impacts business dealings:
Viewed in this way, the idea of trust takes on a new dimension.
A brand's ability to perform or to produce a product - competence - is tied with integrity, which signifies the intent to deliver on promises made in a timely, honest and effective way. If you view a company's ability in terms of how successful it is at helping consumers achieve their own goals, then education and customer support become central.
Also, the company's ability is no longer demonstrated only by the technical performance of its products. Instead, it is confirmed by consumers when they perceive that the company has positively influenced their success. That confirmation, either through personal experience, testimonials or statistics, demonstrates reliability and establishes brand honesty and integrity. In a very real sense, however, truth is more important in the eyes of a consumer than quality, and it may have little to do with price.
Honest product and service evaluations are respected, and consumers place value on the opinions and experiences of friends and family. Independent testing is another way to confirm or debunk a brand's claims. Dishonest claims and inflated praise are seen as reasons to avoid a brand or to reconsider previous brand loyalty.
The third component of trust - benevolence - is a bit more complex.
Will any brand put a consumer's needs above its own goals and profit motive? That is the serious question that must be faced in today's world. There are many examples of companies that have adopted kindness, with activities that impact the greater good. Brands that donate a percentage of profit to charitable causes, and those that, without question, offer product refunds or exchanged demonstrate a laudable concern for consumer satisfaction and well-being, In almost all cases, it can be demonstrated that such concern is appreciated, and that the companies reap economic benefits in return. They may even foster a belief that they're willing to sacrifice some percentage of gain to ensure that the customer is happy. It's an extension of the historical concept that "The customer is always right," a concept that not so universally practiced today.
Benevolent marketing has the possibility to restore that public trust and confidence, and to usher in a new age of cooperation and fruitful interaction between global brands and their international, highly informed and discerning customers.
The Benefits of Choosing Kindness
The proliferation of hard-sell advertising and what is deemed to be consumer exploitation is to be avoided like the plague in today's marketing world. As signs, slogans, conflicting claims and disruptive messages give way to more customer-centric, soft-sell methods, the techniques of inbound marketing can be interwoven with benevolence at a time when consumers are ready to shift their priorities.
The "friendly advice" offered by brands that seem not be selling anything at all is a relief, and is still a marketing direction with broad impact.
There will continue to be a place for that sort of brand development in the future. With the advent of social media, and the personalization of new marketing efforts, inbound marketing improves visibility, strengthens brand recognition, boosts sales and offers a competitive edge to those companies that use it wisely and well. However, it is still a fact, based on Nielsen findings, that 92% of global online consumers trust word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family above any other form of advertising. It is also a fact that, in comparative testing, consumers are more likely to select products produced by companies that are perceived to share important customer concerns, whether for the environment, social justice, charitable pursuits or political activism.
Being a "good neighbor" or a "responsible global citizen" carries weight with consumers who are looking for enrichment in their lives and want to believe that their favored brands share at least some of their concerns. There are numerous examples across all product and service lines, from allocating a portion of profits to existing charities, channeling efforts to social causes, using only sustainable materials, or responding with assistance in cases of natural and man-made disasters.
Moving Ahead to Growth Through Benevolence
We believe that the time is overdue for a rebirth of a kind of business selflessness.
In actual case studies, testing confirms that public perception, belief in, and understanding of brand benevolence fosters not only the intent to purchase but higher ratings as well. Such clear approval may also result in actual product improvement. Over time, the beneficial impact of benevolence expands the ripples of influence that impact every segment of performance, including profitability. In effect, consumers become partners with the brands they support and believe in.
Effective marketing can be used to strike a balance between self-interest and consumer well-being. The message is exceedingly clear: Consumer well-being is the future measure of business success. By establishing your brand as a partner in the pursuit of health and happiness, you secure your position as a necessary catalyst in the process of positive change. That's an enviable position, and it encourages respect, trust and loyalty, as well as satisfaction, in the eyes of individual customers. That will be reflected in your bottom line.