Altruism Marketing: When Giving Away Your Wellness Services Makes Sense

al-tru-ism [noun]: unselfish concern for the well-being of others.

When altruism meets marketing, the result is free publicity, revenue now and later, phenomenal customer loyalty, and turbocharged word-of-mouth for your wellness business.

It’s the perfect marketing opportunity for health clubs, wellness centers, yoga and other mind/body practices, and complementary and alternative healthcare practices.

A few examples from other industries during the worst of the recent recession:

  • Jos. A. Bank, a men’s clothing store: if you bought  a $199 suit and lost your job in the next three months, they refunded your purchase price – and let you keep the suit
  • AutoNation, Kia and others: had programs to pay several months of car payments for buyers who lost their jobs
  • Walgreens: treated minor health problems at in-store clinics for those laid off
  • FedEx offered free resume printing for folks looking for work

helping handWhat’s the business payoff?

Your business scores karma points for providing real help to people in desperate need.

You create a wonderful public relations opportunity at very little cost.

You get some sales now…

(Do you think someone visiting Walgreen’s in-store clinic bought a few necessities on the way out?)

…and you get even more sales later, because the folks you help today will be among your most loyal customers in the future.

And you can bet that they’ll be singing your praises to everyone they meet.

Use these five principles to design an altruistic marketing offer that makes business sense:

1) Give a gift that keeps giving

Offer something that provides lasting value. A one-time freebie that doesn’t have lasting value is nothing more than a marketing giveaway. Nothing wrong with that, if it makes business sense – but don’t confuse it with altruistic marketing.

So the recent free sandwich from Subway and the free breakfast from Denny’s aren’t great examples of altruistic marketing.

Sure, free food is great. But these freebies were available to anyone – not just people facing life challenges. And once you scarf down the sandwich, you’re right back where you started.

Notice that all the altruistic offers we mentioned above go to the heart of the matter. People without jobs need suits to interview – so Jos. A. Bank lets them keep the suit. People without jobs need resumes – so FedEx makes resume copies for them.

A single free massage is a bright moment in the day for someone who’s just lost a job. But the relaxation won’t last.

On the other hand, a free workshop for the newly laid-off that teaches stress management and coping skills is a service that can make a real difference.

2) Don’t be greedy

Unless your special offer is an integral part of the product purchase, resist the temptation to require a minimum purchase to get the benefit.

Here’s an example of an altruistic offer that’s an integral part of the product purchase:

People who are afraid of losing jobs won’t buy cars. Car makers are having trouble selling cars. Promising to cover payments if you lose your job is a win/win for both the buyer and the seller.

On the other hand, a health club who offers to pay six months of a gym membership for members who lose jobs – but only if they bought the most expensive prepaid membership available – is greedy.

Sure, you can do it…but don’t expect to get all the karma points like free publicity.

Montana Athletic Club’s offer was far more altruistic: a free family membership for anyone laid off.

The River City Dance Studio in Bettendorf, IA simply offered free yoga classes for anyone currently unemployed. And the Mind/Body Connection in Cooper City, FL offered “Yoga For The Unemployed”: a blend of yoga and life coaching.

3) Limit your risk

Put a timeline on your offer – typically no more than 30 – 90 days. You can always extend it later. For example, Montana Athletic Club limited its free membership offer to a maximum of four months.

If your offer includes a sizable cash rebate (like Jos. A. Bank’s $199 suit rebate) and is available only to those laid off or unemployed, require proof. For example, Jos. A. Bank required a copy of the sales receipt, a copy of the layoff notice from the employer, and an application for state unemployment benefits.

Montana Athletic Club required unemployment and income documentation.

And FedEx limited its resume offer to 25 black-and-white copies on resume-quality paper, picked up in-store.

4) Spread the word

Good things only happen if people know about them. Send an email blast to all of your customers. Encourage them to tell friends and co-workers.

If you know that certain companies locally are laying people off, give a heads-up on your special offer to their HR director.

Call or email local networking groups, churches, civic groups and other organizations.

Email your local paper’s reporters who usually write for the Health, Business, Living and Lifestyles sections. If you have a local business journal, notify them. Let local radio and TV stations know.

These offers are also great subjects for social media venues like Twitter, MeetUp, and Facebook.

Inexpensive shotgun-style marketing approaches like flyers and posters are also especially appropriate and effective.

5) Help them help you

Treat the people who respond to your special offer like customers, not charity cases.

Help them pay it forward and extend the reach of your special offer by giving them a card or flyer promoting this offer that they can pass along to someone else.

Capture their contact info (at least an email address) and include them in your future email marketing activities.

Related Information

There are special situations health and wellness businesses commonly face when it comes to offering free services. I tackle those issues here.

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Leslie Nolen, Radial's president, is the nationally-known expert on the art and science of selling health and wellness.

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