You never know where inspiration will hit, and on a recent holiday weekend, it hit me in an unlikely place – ALDI!  I was just going to do some speedy grocery shopping when I encountered a pay it forward gesture outside the store that made me realize how powerful human connections can be.

ALDI is a no-frills grocery store that is laid out so you can get in, get your groceries, and get out, with only a wave to acquaintances as you whiz through.  The store “rents” shopping carts for a refundable quarter, and customers bring their own bags.  Remembering a quarter and bags can become a pain, and that’s where I found my inspiration.

An anonymous customer had left a cup of quarters and a box of bags outside for other customers to use.  Others donated quarters, and a chain of giving began. The beauty was the customer’s anonymity – no credit needed for this good deed.

Why do people like to pay it forward? Because we crave human connection.

The irony is that we are technically more in touch than ever thanks to social media, smartphones and other technology.  However, digital connections, like the quick waves we give people inside ALDI, are sterile.  Many people, myself included, love connecting with others and my theory is that actions, not words, best demonstrate our desire to do that and feel appreciated.  When we pay it forward, we make a difference and that makes us feel good.

What better reason to pay it forward…who knows whose life we might change?


Paying It Forward in Direct Marketing

Imagine what might happen if, in planning direct mail or email communication, we connected with people without asking them to do anything at all.  What if we gave our target audience something and asked for nothing in return?  Like those people at ALDI who continued the chain of giving and also donated quarters, we just might find that our target audience gladly shares our gifts and creates awareness for others.

Here are some ways you can be strategic at paying it forward and building genuine and lasting connections in direct marketing.

Connect with Newsletters

Offer relevant information without an ulterior motive to keep subscribers loyal.  People are hungry for information that benefits them, and if we provide mobile-friendly newsletters that are easy to read on the go, we give them what they need to stay connected with us.  This also helps keep our distribution lists up-to-date because our target audience is the subscribers who asked to be on the list.   Subscribers will share information that resonates with their peers, using the share options in the email, creating even more, easy to track, connections to a new audience.

Give Them a Gift

Studies show that 58% of consumers keep promotional products for one to four years.  Promotional products are a tangible reminder of the entity that gave them away and exude positive energy.  ROI is hard to track on giveaways, but keep in mind the human instinct to connect with inanimate objects with meaning.  Our target audience will naturally connect with us in return.

Just Say Thanks  

A simple “thank you” goes a long way.  Another gesture that has fallen by the wayside amidst the noise in our lives and the bottom lines, the “thank you” is a gift to our target audience that just feels good.  Consider utilizing multiple channels to say thanks: direct mail, email, telephone.  They all work!

On that note, while you’re thanking your target audience, say “thank you” to someone who has helped you recently. It will help keep that pay it forward spirit alive.