Persuasive marketing using our need to help

I have to say I really admire businesses or (social) start-ups that give back to the community or part of their mission-core is to help others. And this is exactly why they’re successful — because they appeal to a need we have: to help other people, to feel like we’re part of something bigger, global and meaningful.

I haven’t studied marketing nor have I worked more than merely volunteering in this area for 6 months, so my judgments are solely based on my observations and on what I was reading in the past year. (when these kind of initiatives were brought up to my attention) They might as well be childish and simply wrong assumptions. Neverthless, allow me to outline a few thoughts I have on this matter.

We all know Maslow’s pyramid and especially its last two needs — esteem and self-actualization. Now, self-actualization can mean the pursuit of personal fulfillment, achieving our ultimate potential as human beings, explore creativity etc. and also, in some opinions, giving back to society. The first ones are centered internally, whereas the latter is oriented externally, to the world.

For this reason, I think we have to split this “giving back to society” as a different need — the 6th one. After we reach illumination and gratification, we have the urge to do more — to help other people in need, to give from the cornucopia (trendy word, apparently) of our kindness and contentment. (how many people start their own foundations/charities /businesses with a noble purpose and how many more sponsor or buy with the aim of helping?)

And what do they even ask? A small contribution, that together with other many great contributions can truly achieve impact. From magazines subscriptions to buying bamboo glasses — of course the range price differs, but eventually, it’s the same model — you help us grow our business and we help further. But first we grow our business.

The way they do it, though, it’s what gets attention. Not only they sell products (when talking about companies here), but they create COOL, trendy, tastefully good looking products that make you want to buy them simply for how they are — different.

I don’t feel like naming any of them, because I don’t want to label (more than I am already doing), but I’m pretty sure some of you know a few examples. The main point is to think of their business&marketing model. There are plenty of needs in the world, but only some issue-based businesses can trigger emotional responses in our brain (or wherever) and make us fall for their campaigns.

I mean, damn it, all we want is to make the world a better place, so just give us the means to do it! Maybe I’m an accountant who happens to be a mother as well and I really don’t have time to dedicate on being a superhero, but at least I can support an initiative and buy something for my baby somewhere out there, that will contribute to another baby with less decent living conditions.

Where’s the catch, then? Why not all businesses like these thrive, if we are so willing to help, we, the philanthropic people?

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying this idea is valid 100% at all times and it’s the recipe for successful businesses. It’s not, because we don’t always want to help. Dan Ariely’s “The Upside of Irrationality” explains a great deal of this through behavioural economics.

Turns out we’re more willing to connect emotionally and thus help causes if we get impressed by a single story or generally by fewer powerful stories, than to have money donated for millions of people. It’s irrational,right? but that’s exactly some charities pull out tearful cases upfront to “impress” their public in order to make them help out — because when we see numbers, we don’t care as much. We care about impact and we care about specifics. There are plenty of other organisations too that don’t do this…and keep on struggling with funding each year.

The book obviously explains it far more exhaustively than I do, thus I totally recommend it — alongside any other Dan Ariely work. I’m guilty of liking all of his producings!

So next time you want to build a business or grow your business that is also helping the community, make sure to enhance specific stories that can build an emotional bridge between you and the buyer — we, people who love to help, dig that big time! Once we see little John that survived a harsh summer because he had water supplies thanks to all of our donations and support, and especially if little John grows up and becomes a mentor for his community, our hearts grow bigger and we’re very happy with ourselves!

I realize I sound very sarcastic, like I’m mocking these initiatives or businesses — I’m not, I swear! Especially since I’m a big supporter of them anyway. I always thought “oh, If I had money, I’d buy this just to help these kids in Africa get some shoes” and there’s nothing wrong with this. I think it’s good business and good aid. I am willing to do it, so who cares if at the root of it, I’m not altruistic after all? They still argue that pure altruism doesn’t exist, so until they settle, why not make a good deed and buy a cool bag at the same time?

Now I think I sound even worse — a hypocrite, because it can appear as sort of “stigmatization” — LOOK at me, I’m wearing this to show that I support that cause! I decide to look at the other side of the coin — “I’m glad you like my shoes… let me tell you more about this smart business that encourages…”. +1 customer -> +1 life helped, even in small steps.

Ultimately, it’s not only being happy with ourselves, but to see that what we did actually make a difference and undoubtedly improved lives. Because at the end of the day, we want to do something that matters, anything, especially if we can afford it.

Anyway, I just wanted to share these remarks, curious to see what you think on the topic. ☺ Thanks for reading!

Art, sustainability, biking, travelling enthusiast. I write for and with pleasure. I think life’s just a perspective. You read my name as *you’re the keskoo*.

Art, sustainability, biking, travelling enthusiast. I write for and with pleasure. I think life’s just a perspective. You read my name as *you’re the keskoo*.