Every morning Daniel Lubetzky, founder of New York-based Kind Snacks, takes the subway to work. He calls it his “laboratory of kind acts,” a tense, hurried, jam-packed zone where people have the opportunity to treat one another well or badly. Upon spotting acts of kindness, like someone giving up a seat to a pregnant woman or stepping aside to let fellow commuters exit the train, he’ll hand the Samaritan a #kindawesome card: an invitation to enter an online code to receive free Kind bars and a second #kindawesome card to give to a selfless stranger.
The gesture, part of a company-wide cause marketing movement to trigger a chain of random acts of kindness around the world, has generated more than one million kind acts to date. A ticker on Kind’s website, activated by code redemptions, keeps track of every kindness in real time.
It’s a brilliant approach to marketing with a social purpose that encourages loyalty in existing customers and stimulates awareness and trial in the uninitiated. All while offering a pitch perfect iteration of Kind’s motto: “Be kind to your body, your taste buds and the world.”
Kind’s way of doing business — and social purpose — captured in Lubetzky’s new book, “Do the Kind Thing,” epitomizes the future of great brands: a business model that marries profit and purpose at a level that would turn a cause marketer green with envy.
Considered a game-changing innovation in the snack bar category when they were introduced in 2004, Kind bars have been lauded as healthy, wholesome, tasty and convenient. They sell themselves even without cause marketing. And it has always been the intention to lead with the quality of the product. “For Kind, social impact hasn’t been a sales driver, but it is a catalyst that drives the business in other vital ways, like providing a meaningful reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Lubetzky says.
While social purpose can be a driver of product (think Patagonia, TOMS, Oliberté) as well as a powerful differentiator that fosters consumer and employee loyalty, Lubetzky is wary of the trend of tacking a social cause on to marketing efforts in the hopes of increasing sales. “Consumers are savvy enough to detect a gimmick. A shallow campaign may achieve short-term tactical objectives, but to build enduring brand value, the social effort must be authentic and permanent,” he says.
This position is notable because in the world of cause marketing today, many consumers do not necessarily see or pay attention to the difference between a marketing promotion that benefits a charity (most companies still play here) versus a brand that bakes social impact into its core versus a company whose product creates a social benefit.
Successful brands in the past thirty years (Coca-Cola, Kraft, Bell, P&G, TD, Tim Hortons) have generally given back to society through corporate philanthropy, employee volunteerism and sizable product donations to community groups. And while their efforts are laudable, they are generally marginal activities relative to the time and attention placed on achieving profitable business results.
Great brands of this century, however, are evolving that model — taking it to the next level by embedding social purpose into their DNA, determining what’s genuinely meaningful to them and translating it into successful business practice. For Kind bars, acts of kindness are a guiding principle. “When you understand what drives you, everything falls into place,” Lubetzky says.
It’s not surprising then that Kind bars are following in the footsteps of “profitable good” pioneers such as Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and the Body Shop, all of whom embedded social purpose into their DNA. Lubetzky epitomizes the next generation of corporate leadership that understands a great product and meaningful impact are a potent and tasty combination. And he has the results to prove it.