Every year at Christmas, my parents send out a text to the family to define gift limits. Depending on economic conditions, career moves, and overall chaos that ensues in the family (having kids, entrepreneurial investments/commitments, etc.) we put restrictions on how much we gift so that we maintain a balance. Basically it is supply and demand for gifting.
But no one in my family wants to put a limit on gifting, because at the end of the day, it isn’t about optimizing the par value of the gift we give for the gift we might get, but instead about the excitement we get in gifting and the emotional ROI. (That’s right, I went there... I am bridging business and emotional sentiment into the picture).
GiftConnect, the company that acquired my business Klick Push, is all about digital gifting. My role is to a) help drive the roadmap for the company b) articulate the value proposition of digital gifting to brands and marketers and c) convince publishers (companies that create content for your viewing pleasure on the web) to distribute these branded digital gifts to consumers on their site. The reason I say “convince” is that most individuals in advertising explore new solutions, like GiftConnect, with a TON of trepidation and with an overall jubilating and effervescent excitement to debunk ANY articulated value proposition. Simply put: they want to TRY and debunk gifting.
Marketer: “So, Ben.. you are telling me this gifting thing really works.”
Ben: “Yes, with a 7:1 ROI.” [Note: I actually have to tell someone the quantifiable return on their investment when they gift]
Marketer: “Let me think about it.”
2 weeks later….
Marketer: “Ben, articulate again how this gifting thing works - we think it is a good idea, but we want to make sure we approach it correctly."
This is where I sit back and begin to see myself lose faith in the human species: Have we forgotten how to gift? Do we not understand the value exchange in gifting? Or is gifting now seen as a coercion to get something else. Or is the novelty of gifting so simple that people are looking for the hook?
Seth Godin recently shared a blog post titled “Hacking Reciprocity,” in which he says “we are wired to return the favor.” The entry is a quick read and the point of the blog is to enforce that if we are going to help people out, then help someone out with no expectations. Afterall we are wired to return the favor. Godin’s excerpt makes me question: why are marketers so caught up in the ROI.… or in this case - the return of the favor (ROF).
The irony of the title “Hacking Reciprocity” is that it might allude to the fact that their is a secret or a shortcut to reciprocity but the very nature of the “hack” is very simple: don’t overthink it - if you want to help, help. Don’t have expectations. And certainly don’t come back months or years later looking for reciprocity.
Why are we trying to debunk something like helping people out when it is in our instinct to return a favor when offered a favor? Simplicity and a bit of faith can go a long way. We don’t need to overthink random acts of kindness. We can trust that more often than not, someone will return the favor to you (or to someone else).
I recently wrote about how Silicon Valley is finally outgrowing its ‘BubbleGum Era’, and entering a period of time where profitability and revenue regain their rightful place as the focus of founders and investors alike. This return to simplicity and focus on the fundamental drivers of business is a scary phase for many entrepreneurs. No longer can you win scores of investment with a few multi-syllabic concepts and creating the next “Uber of” anything; you have to prove that your economics are sound (people, product, processes) and consumers want whatever you’re offering.
Gifting definitely won’t have an ROI if your product, brand, or marketing campaign sucks. But, if you’ve built a product worthy of consumers’ time, admiration, and attention, gifting can hugely augment your marketing campaign success.
At the end of the day, I personally want to rely on the fact that we are genetically wired to make a “return on favor” (ROF). If I don’t need to second guess the value of something as simple as gifting, then I can spend more time coming up with better gifts. Gifts ignite that burning desire to reciprocate. Better gifts will create better ROF, and thus better bottom-line ROI.
As Warren Buffett is famously quoted, “The only way to get love is to be lovable. It's very irritating if you have a lot of money. You'd like to think you could write a check: 'I'll buy a million dollars' worth of love.' But it doesn't work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.”
Gifting and reciprocity is wired into our nature. We can “hack” that, or we can just give people something they want and appreciate and have a little faith that a simple gesture will go a long way in the end.