Alex Weinstein
On Growth, Product, and Leadership
Marketers, Stop Trying To Be The Loudest Voice In The Room

In a timeless 1970s book “Influence,” Robert Cialdini speaks of a hard-wired human behavior that drives a lot of our actions: reciprocity. It’s the principle that makes us want to give something back to someone who’s been kind and helpful to us.

There’s an obvious evolutionary explanation: Imagine taking turns standing guard at night for wild animals. You won’t sleep well if you don’t trust that the other guy has your best interest in mind. Those that break the trust are naturally selected against – kicked out of the tribe or eaten.

As a result, most modern humans are what Adam Grant calls “matchers” in his book “Give and Take.” They are those who want to give back as much as they’ve received – that is, match what was given to them. This desire is subconscious, uncontrollable and quite fundamental to the social glue that underpins modern society.

Please stop shouting at me

Despite being surrounded by this phenomenon, many marketers often forget about its power. They think that marketing is just about creating awareness – the noisiest, most visible presence that proclaims, “HERE WE ARE! Look at how awesome we are! Don’t you want some of what we have?”

That’s only a slight exaggeration. If you look at the email newsletters or Facebook posts of many brands, you will see there are thinly veiled pleas to buy, buy, buy more stuff from the brand. There’s no relationship, no value created for the customer. What the marketer demands is the immediate transactional exchange: Here are your dollars, here’s our product. Enjoy it and next time when you want something, bring more dollars.

Stop the shouting

This, of course, often falls on deaf ears – there are many others shouting out there. An average consumer today receives more than 100 emails a day and is exposed to hundreds of noisy “look at me” ad impressions throughout their day. Each screamer has a single goal: out-scream the others, which only secures them a spot in the graveyard of other transactional, no-value-created messages. I call that graveyard “deleted/ignored without being read.”

What’s the other way, though? Isn’t marketing supposed to be all about driving awareness with my customers about the products I have to sell? It is, but to drive that awareness, the source of the message must be trustworthy. We trust our friend who just bought a car to give us advice on negotiations with dealerships. We don’t trust that same friend to give medical advice; we trust the doctor with that medical advice.

How can a brand be seen as a trustworthy advisor, not someone whose incentive is to just sell, sell, sell? Well, act like it. In every outbound communication, brands should create some value for their readers without asking for anything in return. That’s the key – without asking for anything in return. This is exactly what’s going to trigger Cialdini’s reciprocity or Grant’s matcher mindset.

Creating value

For example, if a brand sells makeup, it can share tips about foods that are linked to acne.

If a brand owns a massage clinic, its emails can describe stretches and home exercises that will benefit the client’s health.

If a company offers sales training, it can send a case study about an interpersonal conflict that in and of itself helps the reader learn something – without veiled attempts to upsell.

Or if a company specializes in residential real estate, it can send monthly home maintenance tips to its readers.

Modern consumers, especially digitally native millennials, can smell an advertorial from a mile away. If the intent while sharing is to drive immediate sales, the reader will get it. And they’ll move along. If it is, on the other hand, to selflessly drive value to the reader, they’ll trust you and will come back for more.

Once a brand has that trust – once consumers know it has their best interests in mind – it can ask for something in return. And the reader will be more than happy to give it to them. As Cialdini would say, “a ton of bricks off my shoulders … I can finally give back to these folks. They’ve helped me so much.”

Measuring success

How do you know if your efforts are successful? How do you judge whether this non-direct-response content is actually moving the needle, driving incremental sales? Run real A/B tests and measure revenue across two groups – without expecting that the revenue will come from this content play.

That is, don’t fall into the trap of last-click attribution here. For example, if you’re testing this concept in email, split the audience in two, send the content to group A and observe whether the totality of the activity in group A – within a few weeks of receiving your message – is higher than group B.

This post was originally published on AdExchanger.