Daniel Lubetzky is a master of sampling. But just getting consumers to try his snack bars--made with whole fruits, nuts and grains--wasn’t enough. The CEO of KIND Healthy Snacks also wanted to ignite a movement of people performing selfless acts for one another. In this edited excerpt from his new book, “Do The KIND Thing: Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately,” Lubetzky describes how his company tackled the challenge of simultaneously promoting its products and igniting a chain reaction of goodness. (Lubetzky talks about the book here.)
Relying on the power of kindness is a sensitive undertaking. The challenge is to inspire people to be kind more often without tainting the selflessness that comes from doing something nice with no ulterior motive. Telling someone, “Be kind and win a KIND bar” or “Be kind and enter for a chance to win a trip to Las Vegas” would destroy the purity and magic of the act.
In 2008, we began setting off chains of kindness. The idea was to introduce new people to KIND bars while elevating into a special moment the cold, commercial transaction of sampling. We deployed part-time team members to pass out samples of our bars and surprise people with kind acts, such as buying them cups of coffee or carrying their groceries. Our ambassadors would then hand the beneficiaries of that kindness black plastic cards with a cryptic invitation, a web address, and a code. People intrigued enough to visit the site would discover they had joined a secret society of goodness. They were urged to register, describe how they were “kinded,” do a kind act for someone else and give that person the card. As the card passed from person to person and the chain of kindnesses grew longer, people could monitor it from the website.
But there were limitations. I underestimated the difficulty of getting people to go online and register. The card was too secretive: recipients had to be pretty curious to see what it was all about. Also, people could track only their own chains of kindness. If someone’s chain had a short life because someone else failed to do a kindess and pass along the card, then the experience was underwhelming.
In the next iteration, we let everybody explore everybody else’s chains. Still, people had to be lucky enough to become part of a chain in the first place. They could only participate once. And one person could still end the chain.
So we opened things up further: allowing people to initiate their own chains of kindness by printing new cards straight from the website. We also created a contest with prizes of $5,000, $10,000, and $25,000 to be donated to the charity that inspired the most kind acts. People could support their preferred charities by creating a new code, linking it to their cause, and then logging kind acts they performed in that charity’s honor. Some team members suggested we encourage people to buy KIND products to win. I rejected that idea, because it would destroy the program’s integrity
Fortunately, in their zeal to raise funds for charity, people performed many kind acts. Unfortunately, all those acts were not of the highest quality. We’d see dozens of entries from a single person: “I opened the door for my brother.” “I gave my brother a glass of water.” “I closed the door for my brother.” People were trying to game the system.
We needed to better authenticate kind acts and to limit votes for the charities to one per person per round. We also had to make sure people experienced the power of their kind acts: that they didn’t just view them as transactions-;albeit transactions for a good cause. Situational problems also troubled me. Send a free drink and a KIND card to a stranger in a fancy restaurant: great. Buy a homeless person a sandwich and ask him to pass along the kindness: uncomfortable and inappropriate.
My team argued that the cards weren’t serving their purpose.
“We can’t make it too confusing or complicated,” Erica Pattni, our then-vice president of marketing, told me. “The consumer is self-interested, busy, and inundated with marketing. We need to create programming that gives a clear, valuable payoff.”
“I would rather stretch consumers to reach outside their comfort zones,” I said. “I believe that people will “Do the KIND thing” for the sake of humanity if we create a meaningful reason to do so.”
“The cards are cool, but they’re just a little clunky for people to embrace. And they’re not scalable,” Erica said.
“You guys in marketing have a warped sense of humanity,” I said teasingly. “You should be more optimistic in your expectations of people.”
The tension, as Erica pointed out, was between idealism (me) and realism (the rest of my team). I wanted the program to be pure, but that compromised engagement. Too much pragmatism, however, would have made the program indistinguishable from other brands.
The answer, when it arrived, was a breakthrough. Instead of asking people to perform acts of kindness, we would instead ask them to recognize the kindness of others. The vehicle: #kindawesome cards. If I’m with my four children and a lady cedes her taxicab to us, I hand her a #kindawesome card. On the subway, I hand someone a card after I notice her giving an elderly person or pregnant woman her seat. “That was kindawesome of you,” I say. “And in appreciation of your kindawesomeness, you can go to this website and enter this code.” If the person does so, we mail her a handful of KIND bars along with another #kindawesome card to give to someone she spots acting selflessly.
What’s magical about these cards is that we’re not interrupting the kind act at the moment it happens. Only after the act is completed do we celebrate the person. We expect millions in our community will ultimately earn KIND points by performing or spotting kind acts or sharing, wearing, and consuming KIND products. They will redeem those points in the form of #kindawesome cards they can hand out to friends and strangers worth celebrating. The costs are not insignificant. But there is no better way to approximate the human warmth created by celebrating kind people.
From the book DO THE KIND THING: THINK BOUNDLESSLY, WORK PURPOSEFULLY, LIVE PASSIONATELY by Daniel Lubetzky. Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Lubetzky. Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.