Okay, connect through kindness, but you have to mean it.

Brands connect through kindness more and more these days. Imagine, you step up to the counter at Tim Horton’s and order. You try to pay, only to find out that the person in front of you picked up the tab for your coffee. Or, you find out that someone anonymously paid $900 for 500 large coffees, and you are now the lucky recipient of one. This actually happened in Edmonton in 2013.

Momentary movement or enduring human truth?

How do you feel about random acts of kindness and paying it forward? For some, these are inspiring, motivating, and help restore our faith in the human race. For the more skeptical among us, they are new-agey trends that self-help authors write about to sell books. In his review of the movie Pay It Forward, Roger Ebert scoffed at the idea saying,

It’s a seductive idea but in the real world, altruism is less powerful than selfishness, greed, nepotism, xenophobia, tribalism and paranoia. If you doubt me, take another look at the front pages. —Roger Ebert

It’s true that these en masse acts of kindness come and go. But the idea of paying it forward dates back to 317 BC, when Menander featured it in his play Dyskolos. If kindness is futile, as Ebert would have us believe, why does it feel good when we’re kind to others? What can brands learn from this feeling?

Happiness chemicals

Next time you hold the door for someone pay attention to how you feel. There’s a good chance 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. Chief among these neurochemicals is oxytocin, which is released when you build a social alliance. How does that promote your survival? We can think of it this way: the new bond with the person you held the door for represents a new friendship. You’ve got one more person watching your back. One more member of the village willing to share food with you and your offspring during a drought. One more supporter ready to help you raise a child. While none of that is never going to happen, to your brain it all means you’ve increased your odds for survival.

The Spirit of York

Now, imagine how the decision-makers at Spirit of York Distillery might’ve felt when they realized they could solve a huge problem for their community. Rather than shutting down completely, they chose to pivot production to hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 crisis. They probably enjoyed a nice hit of dopamine, which motivates us to reach an important goal, even if it’s difficult. When the news broke and York was lauded for the effort, they undoubtedly got a major dose of serotonin, which comes with respect.

When we all heard about the initiative, we felt some dopamine as well, because finally someone was doing something positive and helpful. We felt oxytocin as well, because of the sudden surge of trust and goodwill we felt for Spirit of York. The act, which felt truly altruistic, built an authentic bond between York and its current and potential customers.

Kindness is timeless

In the new reality of the COVID era, many brand owners are wondering how they can re-establish connections with their audiences. Brands are

  • Revisiting their brand positioning, re-examining their values, and considering playing a more intentional role as a force for good in the world.
  • Discovering how they can help their organization be better prepared for dramatic change, be it opportunity or challenge.
  • Developing strategies to achieve a new level of readiness for the future.

Done right, altruistic behaviour isn’t just helpful, it’s necessary for organizations in this new reality. What acts of kindness can you consider? You’ll be surprised at how many initiatives your organization could implement. These acts of kindness would be perceived as altruistic and result in a stronger, more enduring emotional bond between you and your audiences.

Brainstorm with your people. Push boundaries and initiatives that on the surface won’t earn monetary credit for your organization quickly or overtly. Remember that the neurochemicals our brains produce, or don’t produce, are beyond our conscious control. If your act of kindness is perceived as too self-interested, it will not produce the desired results. This is good. It keeps the bar high as we all think about how to be better corporate citizens of this new world.

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