By Kath Walters

Readers rule. That’s the guiding principle I teach in my writing programs. Understand your reader and you will engage them, inform them and win them as customers.

In short, your content marketing or media relations program needs to be generous. It’s an approach that is sometimes called “pay it forward”. Not an elegant term, but accurate. Generosity is not the same as altruism. Altruism is giving without expecting a reward. Generosity describes an exchange.

Content marketing is at a crossroads: too often it has lashings of marketing and just a dab of content.

Generosity marketing is a more valuable way of thinking about writing to build sales and revenue.

Not-so-generous companies

Generosity is the currency of our everyday life. We smile first if we want others to smile at us. We offer a handshake to be friendly to a stranger.

Generosity has not been the currency of business for a long time. Until the boom in the early naughties, the most generosity we could expect from business was a plastic toy in our cornflakes.

It’s been getting worse. Corporate leaders are rewarded for cutting staff, and rarely held to account for exploiting market power, global workforces or even their customers.

Businesses became so stingy in the past 20 years they almost lost their “social licence to operate”. In other words, their customers did not want to buy from them; they wanted to put them out of business.

Bits and bytes are free

The rise of digital business is changing that.

The internet is remarkably resistant to the exploits of businesses; until they became more generous.

The first round of companies did not change the old business models. They just moved them online. All but a few went broke.

Then companies learned to be generous. If a shoe company wants our custom, they ship our shoes for free. They share the risk that I won’t like them. They share the higher profit that comes of a shop made of bytes, not bricks.

Later companies took away the risk of my purchase, by paying for returns.

Marketing returns into service

Marketing also lost its way in the downward spiral of business selfishness. It stopped being the art of keeping customers happy, and became the habit of companies talking about themselves.

Digital is changing that, too. Slowly.

Content marketing demands that companies focus on their customers, and potential customers, and give to them generously. Give them tips, ideas and guidance. Show them support. Build them into a community. Understand the world from their point of view. Write for them. Show them, don’t tell them, that they are valuable to you and your business.

There is a rule of reciprocity, according to Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The research shows that if we receive a gift, we feel obligated to reciprocate.

That is part of the generosity marketing approach, but not one we should make too much of. Be willing to receive, but do not expect a direct relationship between your gift and its rewards.

Give a little

There is too little generosity in our world.

Countries are closing their borders. We are closing our hearts. Writing with generosity is a way for us to make a conscious contribution to a different way of life. Think of your marketing effort as a service and it makes more sense.

Invite your clients and prospects to do business with you, but don’t try to weave it into the content you are writing. Just state it clearly, and make it easy for readers to respond with their own generosity.

Generosity is meant to be an exchange.