Kindness has always been a valued virtue, but only recently has kindness in modern branding truly made waves in the marketing world. Today’s conscious consumers prefer to support brands that they perceive as compassionate, to the point that they’ll gladly vote with their dollars and spend more if they believe in a particular company’s message — and the authenticity of that brand.
In marketing, as in all aspects of daily life, kindness can take many forms. It could be as simple as providing a shoutout to the hardworking individuals that often fail to receive the recognition they deserve. In other cases, a brand’s dedication to kindness may involve major donations to charitable causes. These and other approaches can produce varying returns, based on the company’s core messaging and the expectations of its consumers.
At the surface level, infusing marketing campaigns with kindness seems simple. Given the realities of today’s hyper-aware consumers and the current cancel culture, however, it can be surprisingly easy to inadvertently cause damage with a marketing effort meant to do good. Hence, the need for a thorough understanding of target customers and the type of messaging they find relatable. Only then is it possible to develop and implement a strategic campaign that draws on the power of kindness.
If you’re struggling to get started, keep reading for kindness marketing suggestions and examples. You might be surprised to discover that your campaign already draws on this concept — and that you can easily take advantage of new opportunities to show your brand’s commitment to doing good.
Determine Your Brand’s Definition of Kindness
While Merriam-Webster defines kindness as “the quality or state of being gentle and considerate,” this concept holds a surprising degree of versatility. The very act or tone that seems kind to one type of customer may be less impressive for somebody in a different demographic. For this reason, sweeping campaigns centered around kindness should not be entered into blindly.
If not properly planned, such efforts could actually cause significant damage. Such was the case for an infamous Pepsi ad in which reality star and model Kendall Jenner walked through a crowd of protesters to give a police officer a can of soda. Believe it or not, the intentions of this ad were all good — but it was not perceived as such, given how incredibly tone-deaf it ultimately proved.
Another great example would be all the bad press we’ve seen around The Ellen DeGeneres show. While not a “marketing campaign” specifically, the Ellen brand has been irreparably damaged due to the allegations of a toxic work environment and has since lost a large percentage of viewership and followers. There was even a branded hashtag created #ReplaceEllen which trended for weeks amidst our 2020 cancel culture. Rather than working to repair the brand, and re-establish some sense of authenticity, her expressions of regret around her accusations of racism, intimidation, and sexual harassment quickly turned into finger-pointing at staff while numerous guests corroborated stories of mistreatment or inappropriate conduct. Yet, at the end of every episode, Ellen’s famous catchphrase is, “Be kind to one another.”
To get a sense for what kindness means for your target audience, consider what, exactly your core consumers value. Eco-conscious customers, for example, may regard green initiatives as the most considerate on a global scale. Hence, the loyalty of many outdoorsy types to Patagonia, which made waves in 2016 by donating 100 percent of Black Friday proceeds to ecologically-oriented grassroots campaigns.
As you determine the best way to approach the concept of kindness, consider which marketing campaigns have proven most successful in the past. Do these center on messages of goodwill? Clues can be found in responses on social media, metrics for email marketing campaigns, or general SEO results.
Draw on the Law of Reciprocity
Social psychologists often reference the law of reciprocity, which underscores many of our most meaningful interactions. This concept involves the deep-rooted need to behave nicely in return to those who demonstrate kindness first. Sometimes, the reciprocating gesture is far more generous than the initial act.
In business, the law of reciprocity regularly plays out in the form of customer loyalty. Often, it doesn’t take much. A kind word from a customer service representative, for example, will make consumers feel compelled to continue doing business with that employee’s company.
The role of customer service is evident in the success of footwear retailer Zappos, which is known for its friendly approach and generous return policy. People who return products feel compelled to continue making purchases from Zappos, simply because they appreciate the 365-day policy and related free shipping provisions.
The law of reciprocity can also be seen in business-oriented charitable campaigns, which encourage customers to join companies in doing good while also producing greater profits.
Warby Parker provides a wonderful example of the role that the law of reciprocity can play in eCommerce, especially when charity is involved. The retailer’s ‘buy a pair, give a pair’ campaign supports impoverished individuals with a need for eyewear. Upon witnessing this commitment, many customers prefer to purchase glasses from Warby Parker rather than do business with retailers that are less vocal about the causes they support.
Evoke Kindness in Modern Branding in All Interactions — Even the Difficult Ones
Social media can sometimes bring out the worst in us. Comment sections on business pages, in particular, see several negative remarks alongside all the accolades. The urge to respond defensively or sarcastically can be strong, but this will accomplish little and may even drive away otherwise supportive customers.
Instead of lashing out, maintain an empathetic tone that conveys your desire for every customer to have a positive experience. It’s impossible to please everyone, but a spirit of compassion can go a long way when shared with even the most incendiary social media users.
Strive for Authenticity in Modern Branding
Kindness in modern branding only works if it is genuine. For example, Dove began a Real Beauty campaign in 2004, transforming itself from a soap manufacturing company to a purpose-driven organization with a vision. They transformed their brand with a new mission statement, “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” They consistently aligned their marketing efforts with their mission and completely changed the public’s perception to a brand that now authentically champions women’s empowerment and pushes to change the conversation around beauty.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, modern consumers can easily spot hollow acts. Virtue signaling, in particular, rubs many the wrong way.
This was a major problem in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the civil unrest it sparked. Several companies capitalized on this situation by issuing statements in support of social justice and diversity, despite often lacking minorities in management positions or on their boards of directors. As such, their messaging felt, at best, meaningless or patronizing, and, at worst, downright insulting.
Take CrossFit’s former CEO Greg Glassman. In June of 2020, the outspoken founder and CEO resigned from the fitness empire he built, due to inflammatory remarks about the nationwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter. Because of his insensitive and racist remarks, the CrossFit brand which was generating over $4 billion in annual revenue lost partnerships with brands such as Reebok and “CrossFit Branded Gyms” across the country. Many gyms rebranded and changed their names altogether to avoid any affiliation with the CrossFit name.
There’s no secret to coming across as truly empathetic. Either kindhearted marketing efforts come from a place of goodwill or with the expectation of receiving something in return. There’s no middle ground.
It’s perfectly fine to infuse generosity with the knowledge that it might produce more loyal customers — but ultimately, an act of kindness is not genuine unless it occurs free of expectations.
The Office‘s Michael Scott puts it best in his manifesto Somehow I Manage: “Everybody likes the guy who offers them a stick of gum.” This line may have caused viewers to chuckle, but it holds a profound truth: that guy offers gum not because he wants to receive something in return, but simply because he wants to make others happy. The marketing equivalent to this concept can pay huge dividends, even — or especially — if that isn’t your initial intention.
Additional Examples of Kindness in Modern Branding
Kind Campaign is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-against-girl bullying through their global movement, documentary film, in-school assemblies, and educational curriculums.
How do you take the time to be kind?
Every September, the Born This Way Foundation hosts #BeKind21 which calls on participants to practice one act of kindness every day from September 1st to September 21st. Individuals are invited to take the pledge and share their experience on social media using the hashtag #BeKind21. This year, the foundation is reminding participants that kindness comes in all forms. Kindness is voting, kindness is wearing a mask, kindness is prioritizing time to care for your own wellness, kindness is advocating for a world where Black Lives Matter, and more.
In 2019, KIND Healthy Snacks unveiled a new call to its community: Be Kind to Yourself™ which aims to remind people that kindness starts with you. The platform speaks to the importance of self-care and demonstrates choices people can make when life inevitably gets in the way of healthy.
As you seek new ways to convey your brand’s core philosophy, look to Vinci Marketing for guidance. Contact us to discuss your goals for your next campaign.