Getting Your Goat: Interactive Intelligence Takes Interesting Approach to Grab Attention

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor  |  May 22, 2012

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions magazine.

In January, I did a feature on the Interactive Intelligence Goat Program being done in conjunction with the international charity Oxfam. The program is simple. Schedule a meeting with Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert)  to talk about your business communications and optimization needs and their solutions and they will donate a goat to a needy individual in an impoverished community through Oxfam. Plus, if you can convince your boss to attend the donation, it is upgraded to a cow. 

It goes to the heart of the old parable that if you give a fish to a starving person you temporarily slack their hunger, but if you teach them to fish they have a skill to alleviate hunger for a lifetime.

In the name of full disclosure, this was one of our most viewed stories for several weeks. Thus, my desire to revisit it should be no surprise. It also hits two of my passions:

Interest as a former marketing executive in cutting-edge campaign effectiveness

Fascination with simple solutions for the less-fortunate that speak to the parable about learning to fish, i.e., go beyond the necessities of sustenance to things like supplying families with mosquito nets, shoes, eye glasses, inexpensive computers that run on alternative energy, etc.  

Based on the popularity of the original piece, I checked in with Interactive Intelligence CMO Joe Staples (News - Alert) to see if the response I was getting was an indicator of customer reactions. In a word, the response has been gratifying.

I asked Staples to start from a perspective of the challenges facing every marketing person in an era where standing out from the crowd is an unprecedented necessity. After all, customers now have access to instant comparative information, and differentiation is getting harder to achieve. As he explained, “Every marketer is trying to cut through the clutter. How do I get to an audience? Oxfam intrigued us based on our heritage of looking for ways to make a difference in people’s lives and people like great stories like Oxfam’s. Turns out goats are fascinating and make people smile. We got the side benefit of cutting through the clutter.” 

Staples said that Interactive Intelligence in assessing the campaign understood that tying business initiatives to any charitable activity has its risks. Not only are people very cynical about company motivations, but as he said, “Striking the right balance is critical. You need to be inside enough of people’s comfort zones to be effective. It is a fine line and not easy to do.” 

Getting that balance right is a huge challenge. It speaks to the reality that there is no perfect cause. A seemingly universally acceptable effort may not, and likely will not, appeal to everyone. In fact, I know from my own experiences that the perception of confused messaging priorities can be counter-productive. It also gets to critical and delicate issues of trust and brand stewardship. In this regard, I think my old B-school marketing professors would give Interactive Intelligence high marks for hitting upon the right mix of uniqueness, humor and a message that people relate to explicitly and implicitly. 

Staples read me a quote from an e-mail from a large pharmaceutical company. It said:

“Very creative. And, I like it so much better than the normal things vendors send that are meant to encourage you to listen to their pitch, like a head cover and the promise of a golf club. This has such a positivity make the world a better place message.”

Other testimonials cited included: “We met with you because of the goat,” and several people at trade events telling people in the booth, “Ah yes, the people with the goats.” 

Staples went on to make a very important point. The goat as a conversation starter has changed the nature and context of interactions with potential customers. “Conversations rest on a perception that we are different. It creates an environment that commands attention. Our story about the value we can create for companies and their customers, which can make a real difference in their lives, meets or exceeds that expectation. The Oxfam connection not only creates the environment but resonates because it is consistent about our commitment to making a difference.”   

There are two other things that Staples highlighted. The first was a surprise answer to a question I asked about whether reactions have differed based on vertical markets or geography. “For some reason, companies in the insurance industry love the goat,” he noted. “We have had all kinds of interesting request in addition for everything ranging from toys to t-shirts. It has been rather remarkable.” 

The second revelation came in response to a question I had about the creators of the campaign. I was curious about which of the big agencies had done the work since I really liked the creative approach. It turns out they are two film students. In fact, the video associated with the campaign was just recently updated and is being prepared for a significant upcoming blitz. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi