Adam Grant
Give people something they will truly appreciate. Adam Grant and Huib van Bockel.

Are companies giving customers more?


Design a Company will publish reviews of books, podcasts, courses and webinars on subjects of interest to entrepreneurs, executives and people within the creative industry.

Several newly published books state that you can have a closer relationship with your customers by giving, give some more and yet give even more. It’s not easy to discern if this is a personality trait or merely a marketing tactic. Are companies becoming nicer or should they become nicer?

The giving company

Huib van Bockel is the former Chief Marketing Officer of Red Bull. Their slogan is "Red Bull gives you wings" which alludes to the energetic feeling that the drink gives you due to all the caffeine in its concoction. For years, their marketing strategy has been about giving experiences away for free to an audience. These experiences are mostly extreme sports events such as trial cycling or B.A.S.E. jumping. Where the participants have actually got wings – with their wingsuits.

Van Bockel uses the metaphor of a bank account to describe the interactions that companies have with their customer. The free events that Red Bull arranges may be reckoned as 'deposits', and subsequently, the money paid for the product a 'withdrawal'. Huib van Bockel also considers regular incessant mass marketing to be reckoned as a withdrawal.

“People will only seek out your message and share it with others if you give them something of value.” – Huib van Bockel

Huib van Bockel has written a book called “The Social Brand” where he encourages companies to be social with their audiences, literally, by engaging in social events and social media, so that the users, and customers establish a relationship with the brand. To establish this relationship the company has to give experiences which feel valuable and relevant to the customer.

For a company to have a strong relation with its customers (aka positive balance on your bank account) you need to give (deposit) more than you ask (withdraw).

Give, give, give and then ask nicely

Gary Vaynerchuk is a young marketer who got the chance to do the marketing for his father’s liquor store. Together they knew that there was more money in wine than in liquor, and Gary recognised that the motives and actions of wine collectors were the same as the kids from his childhood who used to collect football cards. Vaynerchuk decided to become a curator of wine and started a video blog talking about wine in an unpretentious, energetic fashion, using a football helmet as the spit bucket.

Vaynerchuk's thesis is that in a new media landscape customers prefer to find the things that interest them themselves, rather that be invaded by media trying to sell them something. As a marketer, you should give content that has value, give information and even give entertainment so that once in a while you might ask if anybody in your audience might be interested in buying your wares.

“Become a giver – whether it’s at the brand level or at an individual level. ” – Gary Vaynerchuck

The title “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook,” refers to a boxing term, where one of the boxers lets the opponent deliver quite a few hits in order to tire him out so that the boxer can later place a major blow. Marketers publishing content on the internet and through social media may give a lot of valuable content for free and on a few occasions they may ask their audience to consider buying something.

The 'jabs' are pieces of content that benefit your customers; right hooks are calls to action that benefit your company.

The art of asking nicely

Amanda Palmer is an artist and musician within the niche of 'Cabaret Punk' who built her career on giving her music away. She started her career by arranging concerts in places that were not necessarily destined to be concert venues, and after a gig, she would pass around a hat and ask the audience to give money so that the band could continue to give concerts. As a result of them being very generous with their time and attention, her following of dedicated fans grew; after concerts she and her band might spend as much time talking to the audience, giving autographs and greeting people as they spent playing music.

“The Art Of Asking can be applied to music business, politicians, and non-profits… ” – Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer is convinced that if you ask them sincerely, people want to give money for something they value. She has developed a philosophy based on the premise that you can build a business relationship with your audience by being generous. She thinks an audience will stand by you, and want to give back when you have shown them that you care by consistent producing and giving of yourself. She still holds the record of getting the most funding in a Kickstarter project to fund a record release. She asked for funding of $100,000 and received $1,200,000. She attributes the success to the fact that the people who were giving money knew they would get what they were paying for, knew that they would get their money’s worth because Amanda and her band had been giving them music and entertainment for years.

Give and take

Adam Grant recognised that there are different ways in how people approach interaction with other people. Every time we interact with people we either try to claim as much value as we can, or we give value without worrying about what we receive in return. There are three personality types: the takers, the givers, and the matchers. When you are a giver, you help without thinking about the personal cost at all; you help others without expecting anything in return. If you are a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. For matchers, their preference for reciprocity is to strive for an equal balance of giving and getting.

“There is such a thing as being good-natured.” – Adam Grant

Grant found that people who have the attitude of giving have more success in business relationships, namely because they are building relationships with people, and that is valuable to them. Active givers build a network of strong relationships that are of value in themselves, both to the giver and to the recipients in the network. Sometimes a situation comes up where the recipient might be able to help the original giver, and thereby become a giver themselves. Naturally, occasionally givers are exploited and get burned, but if givers manage to avoid being a 'doormat' by matching reciprocity, the givers can experience great success in leadership, influence and networking.

It comes down to purpose

Is this the end of the business culture where companies reap the benefits without thinking about the consequences? Corporations won’t stop trying to make as huge a profit as possible, but not at any cost; the results of those who’ve just been taking without thinking about who’s bearing the cost has now come full circle. The act of exploiting resources without thinking about the costs incurred by the community, the society, or the world, is now becoming a cost to those who where responsible for it in the first place. Institute B's documentary “Not Business as Usual,” tells the story about the visionaries who wanted to start companies that had a bigger vision than personal wealth. They wanted to be economically viable, but they also wanted to be sustainable in a bigger context. They didn’t want their company's activity to put any tax on natural resources, to be unhealthy, or to the detriment of any living organism. These attitudes were revolutionary only 30 years back, but are today becoming the norm. Customers are no longer willing to engage with companies that are not aware of their impact.

Research has confirmed that companies that make an effort to be responsible do better than those that seek only to make a profit. The research “An Analysis of the Organizational Core Values of the World’s Most Admired Companies” shows that monetary growth was the value least emphasized among customers. Even though all of the most admired companies turned a substantial profit, none placed this goal above the broader objective of attaining sustainable value for its stakeholders.

Peter Shankman's book “Nice Companies Finish First” is based on his findings that show that the more companies pay attention to their audience and the nicer they are towards customers and employees, the more money they make. He also discovered that you might cut your marketing budget by being nice, because the people you have been nice to do all the public relations for you.

Being nice is a personality trait that feels natural for some corporate cultures. Giving without thinking about personal gain is something that some people feel inclined to do. When more giving people realise that it will benefit them, even economically, they will not try to hide their soft-hearted, empathetic way of interacting with other people. These people run and work in companies and they make their companies nicer.

Huib van Bockel (2014) The Social Brand

Gary Vaynerchuck (2013) Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook

Amanda Palmer (2014) The Art of Asking

Adam Grant (2013) Give and Take

Peter Shankman (2013) Nice Companies Finish First
Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg is a visual communicator and branding consultant. He specialises in building brand strategies and brand identities. Christian has worked with several specializations within visual communication as well as teaching and being an author. Christian now works on his third stint as an entrepreneur.