move beyond the obviousGenerosity is increasingly used as a word of mouth marketing tactic. Is there room in a business context for generosity that goes beyond the relational dimension and becomes the unexpected? Do you understand the needs of people if they are not expressed and detected?

“Generosity is the habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return. It can involve offering time, assets or talents to aid someone in need”. That’s what Wikipedia says about generosity. Giving freely without expecting anything in return isn’t typically what you expect from a business. It’s even rather rare in human relationships. In fact, a lot of the time we do expect something in return.

We just don’t always realize it, and it’s often on the long run: the balance of a human relationship is made over a longer period, but it gets made sooner or later. What we expect in return can really take many forms, such as a sense of recognition or gratification. That’s OK. We need it now and then.

The ‘quid quo pro’ in need fulfillment

There are occasions when we really absolutely just want to give. However, no one can always give without getting something in return. And if your sole purpose of giving is getting something in return, you better don’t do it. If you need something you can best ask it instead of doing all you can to “receive” it.

Which brings me to that other part of the definition of generosity: aid someone in NEED. Hey, that’s a word we know in business. Needs. Don’t our customers, prospects and everyone we would love to touch, have needs? Of course. Hearing and understanding the needs of others is not easy, however. Not in life, not in business. It requires empathy, genuine listening and obviously that those ‘others’ express their needs.

To identify needs and thus hear and understand them from a marketing perspective, we need ways (which we call tools and processes) that enable us to. We often give the expressions or signs of needs fancy names such as ‘digital footprints’ or ‘online behavior’.

Understanding people’s needs and acting upon them, is a marvelous thing, you should try it now and then, without thinking too much about the “why” as I just did. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.

When looking at the business and marketing perspective of needs, we often have the tendency to think about fulfilling people’s needs on a ‘per need’ basis. “In this stage of their customer journey they need abc, so we must give them xyz”. It’s the ‘quid pro quo’ approach.

Generosity has become a marketing tactic

Generosity is about more than that. It goes beyond responding to needs. It’s about really giving without expecting. It’s a bit awkward to talk about generosity in a marketing context.

However, the truth is that generosity has become a marketing tactic. Businesses that strive for word of mouth know that giving without expecting anything in return works very well in a word of mouth and social media marketing context. It gives them a lot of respect and attention.

Is using generosity as a tactic wrong? As I said, as human beings, we often are generous for a reason we ignore. Marketers know why they use it as a tactic.

If you really can get in a mindset of giving a lot without expecting back in the short run, generosity can become something that goes beyond what’s measurable (such as a driver of word of mouth). However, it requires you to be open for the unexpected. And that takes more than a tactic. It takes a consistent generosity, a will to ‘give freely’, time, investment and courage.

word of mouth and listeningMaybe the unexpected will never happen and all you will get is a thank you and probably lots of word of mouth. For most, that’s enough and that’s OK. In the end, a business aims to make a profit and thus there are limits to how ‘generous’ it can be (although the ROI, which is another really awkward word in this context of generosity is really high from a word of mouth and recommendation perspective). However, word of mouth is not just about engaging people so they speak about is, using generosity as one of many triggers. It’s actually also about listening to what others express.

If you want to go further than the obvious generosity to one that is free from immediate gain whatsoever and understand human needs, even when they are not expressed, you care. And caring is what makes us different. Here’s the thing: soon, every business that wants to tap into the “power” of word of mouth, will act ‘generously’. Being generous doesn’t require a lot of investment, so everyone can – and probably will – do it, to get ‘brand reputation kudos’. What will set you apart is going beyond it and genuinely looking at people from their own perspective.

Doing the unexpected: beyond relational expectations

Imagine this: you are sitting at home, surrounded by your family. If you have no family, just think about your friends. Everyone is doing something and seems happy. No one seems to have an immediate need. You look at them and realize that, despite the fact not all is always well, you’re really blessed to be surrounded by them.

When you realize how blessed, you are, you start really looking at them in another way. You don’t see them from your perspective but as different people. You realize that you often don’t know what occupies them, what’s on their minds and what their dreams or fears are. You feel that you (and that goes for all of us) are often so busy with your own duties, ambitions, dreams, fears and hopes that, although you live with them, you often really live beside them. And that’s OK as well. It’s human. We are not the other.

When you start seeing your ‘significant others’ as individuals that really mean a lot to you, a feeling of wanting to cherish them out of the very bottom of your heart and just for who they are, might settle in. And at exactly that point, you can do something that goes far beyond generosity: the unexpected act of truly wanting to make them feel happy and loved. The impact of showing love and appreciation, entirely out of the blue in one of those moments of really realizing how blessed you are, is tremendous. Not for you, for them. Because they need it to survive and grow.

Should you do that as a business? After all, a customers does not want to be your friend, remember? No one forces you to. However, only if you realize how blessed you are to have such great customers, connections, etc., and you can do the unexpected by really caring, the unexpected can happen to you. Needs don’t have to be expressed all the time, many needs exist universally, without being openly expressed. Can you hear those? Can you meet them when it’s not expected?

Is this all too ‘emotional’, ‘spiritual’ or ‘new age’ for you? Is it crap from a business perspective? Is it not measurable or scientific enough? Maybe. However, you’ll never know, if you shut the door for what people really need now and then and for the unexpected. And you’ll never know if you settle for the obvious generosity as a word of mouth tactic either.

Go beyond the ‘quid pro quo’ and beyond generosity sometimes. Look at the other as such instead of the others in relationship to you now and then. Do something unexpected that exceeds the possible expectations people may have and without having your own, immediate expectations. Everyone shares the same human needs. Respond to them – unexpectedly – and you’ll be amazed about the impact on what matters most in business today; the customer experience.