Now it’s up to us to make it happen

It’s going to be better because you and I and our brands will do better this year. For all the pain and disruption and loss 2020 unleashed, we’ve learned how fundamental it is to be better to each other and put our thoughts and prayers into actions and commitments.

These kinds of actions can be simple or complex. One simple idea has been going strong since 2013, with little maintenance required from the host brand.

Pay it forward

You drive up to the pick-up window at Tim Horton’s, get your fix, and try to pay. But the person in front of you has picked up your tab. You’re delighted, so you do the same and pay for the vehicle behind you. Does Tim’s get to claim credit for this? The short answer is no, as this is about spontaneous human generosity. But there is a longer answer. Tim’s does get to enjoy a soft build of its reputation as a place where good, kind people congregate for good coffee. This speaks well of the brand experience, and those who’ve been surprise-gifted in line tweet and post loudly about their delight. This is all good for Tim Hortons. After prudently standing back to let this behaviour grow organically since 2013, the brand is now providing people with its Tims It Forwardfeature which lets people send Tim Hortons digital gifts to family and friends.

The point I take from this example is not that brands should launch similar initiatives necessarily, but that they do well to create the conditions for good things to happen. Those conditions are far more likely to happen when they spring from the brand’s DNA, such as through its vision, mission, values, personality or experience design.

The idea of paying it forward dates back to 317 BC, when Meander featured it in his play Dyskolos. Why is the act so enduring?

Your brand chemicals

Try paying for the car behind you or holding the door for someone when social distancing eases. Chances are you’ll notice a small, tingly high course through your body. That’s a mix of neurochemicals rewarding you for what your brain perceives as survival behaviour. You are, in essence, building a social alliance with someone who may help you in the future. Brands that facilitate such behaviour also enjoy the benefits.

Thanks, 2020

We can at least thank the year for this: the bar has been raised. People are demanding more of their brands. More kindness. More empathy. Just keep in mind that any such acts of kindness must be genuine and authentic. If they’re perceived as overly self-interested, they won’t produce the desired results for your brand. This is a good thing. Our customers are keeping the bar high as we all think about how to be better in 2021.

Let’s make it a great year. Learn more about how you can shape your workplace strategy for 2021: