Better World Books: the power of engagement through cause and not gimmicks


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Forrester says we live in ‘the Age of the Customer’

Yesterday I came across this post by Josh Bernoff (Forrester) where he states that we are living in “the Age of the Customer” and asserts “that companies must be more than customer focused, they must be customer obsessed”. He then goes on to set out the changes that companies need to make to become customer obsessed. In the video Josh says “The only source of competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers.”

I say that ‘Cause Obsession’ trumps ‘Customer Obsession’

I beg to differ. There is something more compelling than customer obsession. What is that? A obsession with a cause that touches the human heart and inspires customers, employees, volunteers, suppliers and the community to come together and live/further that cause. It is one thing to engage customers it is something else when you can engage all the stakeholders. It is one thing to engage through gimmicks and something else to engage through an uplifting cause.

BetterWorldBooks is an excellent example of company that is engaging a range of stakeholders through cause. BetterWorldBooks landed on my radar back in December and prompted me to write ‘Better World Books: a great example of customer centricity being practiced’. And then again last month prompting me to write ‘Better World Books: a great example of hi-touch relationship marketing’. So I decided to dig a little deeper to figure out what makes this organisation special.

A few facts on BetterWorldBooks

The company was founded by three friends and graduates of The University of Notre Dame in 2002. They started by selling unwanted (and used) university textbooks online. The cause and the social mission was built into the company right from the start – the very first book collection drive and sale at Notre Dame. You can read more about the founding of the company here.

BetterWorldBooks has operations in the USA and the UK, employs some 380 people, has some 1200 volunteers doing book drives (to collect unwanted books) and has some 3.5m books sitting in a huge warehouse at any one time.

Today, BetterWorldBooks is a global bookstore which turns up at number 261 in the Top 500 list of internet retailers. It sells both new and used books.

Here is what the revenue picture looks like: $20m (2008); $31m (2009); $45m (2010); and $55-56m is expected for 2011.

BetterWorldBooks has raised over $9.7m for literacy and libraries and saved almost 56m books from lying around not being used and/or ending up in the trash cans.

They have shipped over 1.4m books (valued at $10.9m) in 58 sea containers to Africa. If you want to read more you can find their blog here.

What does BetterWorldBooks success rest on?

I am clear that the success of BetterWorldBooks is its cause. The cause enables it to build a network of strong relationships with all of the stakeholders. The students and libraries (suppliers) that donate used books. The volunteers who do the book drives – collect the books. The partner organisations (Books for Africa, Invisible Children, Room to Read…) which do the work on the ground of improving literacy. Customers, like me, who buy the used and new books.

Why would anyone donate their time to collect books or donate their books for a profit organisation? Because they believe in the cause – what BetterWorldBooks stands for.

Why would a customer like me make a return visit to BetterWorldBooks? Simply because a core part of their Mission and Values is to flabbergast customers with great service.

Does BetterWorldBooks have an advantage over Amazon?

How does BetterWorldBooks turn customer like me into advocates? Through a combination of outstanding customer service and cause. In my world BetterWorldBooks has an advantage over Amazon. I am an advocate forAmazon yet Amazon does not stand for any cause that touches, engages and inspires me. In a world where all the other things are increasingly becoming equal, cause is the difference that makes a difference.

What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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