Nice guys finish lunch.
That’s my motto. And now Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton, comes along to tell us that nice guys can finish first, too. In his new book, “Give and Take,” Grant makes the case that people who help others without an expected return are among the most successful. “Givers,” as he calls them, can also be among the lowest performers, he cautions. The difference between those givers who succeed and those who don’t is less about talent and more about how they build and tap into their networks.
Inside Grant’s guide to personal success is also guidance for the modern marketer.
I heard Grant, an organizational psychologist, speak recently at a meeting at Wharton. He divides people into three types: Givers, Takers, and Matchers. While givers help others without thought about what they can get in return, takers are focused almost exclusively on themselves. Most of us are matchers, people who think of themselves as fair-minded and look to trade favors evenly. There are success stories for all three models, but when givers succeed, they usually are not alone–their success is part of a much larger pattern of success, one that can create ripples for years to come.
Grant’s research shows that the key to the success of successful givers is in how they interact with their networks and, most specifically, their “reciprocity style.” Givers, for instance, don’t simply depend on a small number of closely tied relationships. They seek out older, less active connections who often have more diverse experience and perspectives and can offer connections to still farther-flung people. Givers are honest collaborators, who truly put the team’s goals ahead of their own. Talent does not threaten givers. In selling and negotiating, givers ask questions of their clients rather than assert the answers. In short, givers build strong networks whose members often repay their generosity, sometimes many years later.
Grant can cite dozens of studies and personal stories, as he does in his book, to make the case. I recommend that you seek it out. But one of the striking things is how applicable its lessons are to building customer relationships through marketing. The posture of giving is perfectly in tune with the ethos of those marketers who are emphasizing content and social interactions to build direct personal relationships with their customers–and who are hoping those tactics will lead to relationships with their customers’ extended networks. These shared values set the foundation for applying the principles of Give and Take to marketing:
1. Build your customer base like you would your network. Networks are two-way (at least). You are not just building your network; you are becoming part of somebody else’s network. Go beyond an even exchange. Takers’ networks need constant refreshing because they burn their connections once they get what they want. “When takers build networks,” Grant writes, “they try to claim as much value as possible for themselves from a fixed pie. When givers. . .build networks, they expand the pie so that everyone gets a larger slice.” Simply making a sale does not “expand the pie.”
2. Stop thinking transactionally (for now). Givers give. What they give does not have to be big–in fact, small acts of kindness can build as much goodwill as big ones. But the giving is not transactional; there are no strings attached. Do not misunderstand: Grant makes it clear that successful givers are no less driven, disciplined, or goal-oriented than anybody else. Rather, they have an approach that puts the relationship above the transaction. As marketers, it’s easy to confuse the two. While there certainly is an important place for the transaction, marketers hoping to create lasting ties need to create the space for the relationship to grow distinctly from the transaction.
3. Take the long view. If you buy the first two tenets, as I do, then it follows that this is a long-term proposition. You aren’t looking for a short-term return–and you aren’t making bets on where the return will come from. You are simply doing the right thing. (If this sounds like “good Karma marketing,” that’s probably the matcher in you.) Marketers are under tremendous pressure to deliver results immediately. But don’t let that push you into a taker’s mentality. Grant tells story after story of the unexpected long-term benefits coming to givers and to those in their networks. The best, most enduring brands deliver results because they put the customer first. That is a long-term approach.
What does giving look like in the context of marketing? Content designed to educate, not to sell. A social presence that genuinely reflects the brand’s culture. Impeccable customer service. An open and collaborative culture. All the things the modern marker lays claim to. The question is, how can you execute with the values of a giver?
You can sample Grant’s thinking in a number of articles he authored, listed here. As you read about the virtuous cycle created by givers, think of it as a framework for creating an equally virtuous customer experience.