If you’re in the knowledge business, your expertise is your stock in trade. So why would you ever give it away for free? Find out in this episode.
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Eric: What are you reading Mark?
Mark: Oh hi, Eric. It’s The Gift: Creativity in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde.
Eric: You’re on company time right now. Shouldn’t you at least be reading a book on marketing?
Mark: Well, I am.
Eric: Really? It doesn’t sound like it by the title.
Mark: Oh, it’s totally applicable. For example, let me tell you a story from the book about a tribal culture on a South Pacific archipelago.
Eric: You’re not doing a very good job of convincing me you’re doing marketing research.
Mark: Stay with me. Okay, now in “The Gift”, Hyde tells us about the people of the Massim archipelago off the coast of New Guinea. They have a practice deeply ingrained in their culture that involves a never-ending circular gift exchange called the Kula.
Now the islands occupied by the Massim people form a rough circle. The Kula gifts, usually just simple shells or necklaces, are sent around the circle. Now one set of gifts travels clockwise, the other travels counter-clockwise. Anyone receiving one gift is expected to reciprocate with the equivalent value of the other kind within no more than a year.
In this way, the gifts are continually in motion, traveling from island to island in a cycle that stretches from 2 to 10 years for any one gift before it returns to its originator.
Now, here’s the key point, author Lewis Hyde said, “At the level of each man, there will be the sense of imbalance, the shifting weight that always marks a gift exchange.” Take note of that, giving a gift creates a temporary imbalance. The giver is without something and the recipient has acquired a social obligation to reciprocate and to move the gift along.
Eric: What does he mean by “temporary imbalance”?
Mark: Yes, that’s the crux of the matter and the lesson it teaches is key to building marketing relationships.
Eric: How so?
Mark: Because I think it explains the value that you and I have found in giving away our own expertise. Now, I know a lot of my friends who sell knowledge as their product or as part of it feel strongly that anytime they share that knowledge they should be paid for it.
Eric: And certainly that’s not wrong. I mean, we expect to get paid when we help businesses get better at their marketing.
Mark: Of course, I mean, no one would say that you should give away everything for free. We’re not running charities here, right? But at the same time, I think being willing to continually give out small gifts of your expertise, giving them out as gifts, you create that temporary imbalance Hyde spoke about.
Now, think of what happens when we walk or run. We actually initiate walking by leaning forward. This creates an imbalance and we stick one foot out to stop the inevitable fall. If we want to run, we lean even further, increasing the imbalance and broadening our step to compensate. Of course, we never want to lean too far. We’ll fall over. This illustrates that temporary imbalance.
Taking that back to the Kula Gift, in that culture, a giver never feels he’s being cheated because he knows an equivalent gift will eventually come to him around the circle.
Eric: Okay. I think I’m beginning to understand. When we share a gift of our expertise with others, as we’re actually doing right now through this video, we create a temporary imbalance in the relationship with the people we’re helping. We have given to them something of value but, at least, some of them will be moved to give back in some way.
Mark: You’ve got it. So some may just give back by sharing the content with others, (and please, feel free to do that with this video!) or telling others about the gift giver. Still others may be moved to investigate further to see what other wisdom the generous expert might have, and some of those will return the ultimate gift of their business.
Eric: So the point is don’t be afraid to be generous with at least some of your expertise. If you are, it will eventually come back to you.
Mark: Yes, and there’s at least one more benefit as well. Now in the Massim islands, giving the gifts means traveling from one island to the next, and receiving visitors from the neighboring islands. So this tradition actually helps build and maintain tribal relationships for people scattered across hundreds of miles of open sea.
Eric: Again, I see where you’re going with this for us marketers. Giving away some of our expertise whether through expert content, in interviews, via personal communications, or social media all of that helps build and solidify our network of relationships.
Mark: Yes, and the bigger our network of friends and admirers, the more chances we create to connect with those who will want to do business with us.
Eric: So if you enjoyed this video, and if you benefited from this or other “Here’s Why” videos, would you do us a good turn by sharing them with others? Thanks so much for doing that.
Mark: And join us next time when we bring you another gift of digital marketing knowledge in another episode of “Here’s Why” with Mark and Eric.
Eric: In the meantime, to learn more about Mark’s concept of giving away your expertise to build your business, see his article on Medium. And while we’re at, what are you gonna do about the fact that you’re reading that on company time instead of working?
Mark: This whole video is company time! Oy!
Mark Traphagen was our Content Strategy Director for Perficient Digital until February of 2019. He has been named one of the most influential content and social media authors in numerous industry listings.