It's that time of year again: the start of the baseball season, the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs...and my birthday. Four years ago, I wrote a column about e-mail greetings I received from companies I do business with on the Internet. My take then: while it was nice to be remembered and these companies did earn some goodwill, they were missing a major marketing opportunity.
Fast-forward four years to good news: many e-mail marketers listened and are making the day a win-win for all involved. Here's an update, with real-life examples of many of the recommendations I made then and some additional suggestions for making birthday greetings a bigger contributor to your business goals.
Thirty-three percent of the "happy birthday" e-mail messages I received included a gift; four years ago, none did. My best gift was a free entree from Capital Restaurant Concepts (CRC), which operates restaurants in my neighborhood:
Agraria, another local restaurant, is going to treat me to a free appetizer or dessert the next time I visit. Do you think I'll be dining alone? Of course not. So these free gifts will generate at least one other full meal, which will be paid for in full, for the sender's bottom line.
Sephora also offered me a free gift, which I will pick up the next time I visit its brick-and-mortar location, and heaven knows I can never leave there without finding something I "need":
Under "it's the thought that counts," we can file Astrology.com, which sent me a free reading. This gesture basically cost the site nothing, but I did enjoy reading it and this "free sample" made me more seriously consider its other offerings.
Another popular way to recognize my birthday was with free shipping. Seventeen percent of the birthday e-mail I received offered free shipping, including Macy's and Red Envelope:
While not quite as exciting as the first-tier gifts, these did spur me to check out their sites to see if there was anything I wanted to spend my birthday money on. More potential revenue, as well as goodwill, for them.
Another seventeen percent of the e-mail messages offered me points in their loyalty programs along with a birthday wish. While I haven't been active in the points program from "The Washington Post," I'm now intrigued. I'll look into what I can redeem them for and see how I can earn more. The other gift of points came from Nature Made, the vitamin company. I've no memory of its program, but I'll now check it out. Bonus from Nature Made: it also gave me a coupon for money off my next purchase:
As I did four years ago, I still received some simple "Happy Birthday from us" messages; 25 percent of the total, to be exact. Nice that they remembered me and I'm all for building goodwill, but as a marketer I can't help but think about the missed opportunities.
Two of these "just the wishes" messages came from Coca-Cola, one from the main brand and a second from the Coke Rewards program (disclosure: they came to two different e-mail addresses, so Coke had no way to know they were both coming to me).
How might Coke have made these messages more rewarding for its own business goals? First let's talk about the Coke Rewards e-mail:
Taking a page from "The Washington Post" and Nature Made, Coke could have offered me some free points as a gift. At the very least it could have included a doubling of any points I submitted on my birthday, an offer it's used for past holidays.
Next let's talk about the message from Coke proper. A coupon offer would be a natural here. Another idea: why not invite me to join the Coke Rewards program, if I wasn't already a member, along with some points as an incentive (which I could either add to my current account, if I had one, or to a new account, if I create one)? This would either help the loyalty program grow or reward a current member -- a win-win.
SportsTalk 980, my local sports radio station, also recognized my birthday with just good wishes -- and a somewhat odd image:
I understand the sports tie-in, it is a baseball, after all. But it's also a bit creepy, isn't it?
What could SportsTalk 980 have done to make sure it got more than just goodwill out of sending that e-mail? Make it an advertising opportunity. Is there a local sports bar that would like to offer SportsTalk 980 listeners a free appetizer or dessert on their birthday? I bet there is. Anyone who advertises on the station or its Web site would be a candidate to provide a gift; it might even be able put together a virtual basket of offers from various advertisers. The radio station gets the goodwill and the advertising dollars, the advertisers get new or repeat business, and the recipient gets a gift, not just a card, on her big day.
One e-mail (eight percent of the total birthday take) I received really stood out from the crowd for its creativity. Mars, maker of M&Ms, sent me a newsletter filled with ideas to make my birthday party more fun:
The recipes, decorating tips, party favor ideas, and activities made me smile. Most involved Mars products, which is a revenue opportunity for the candy maker. It wasn't quite a gift, but it did much more to boost awareness and usage of its products than the "message only" e-mail.
That's a lot of good news compared to four years ago. Now the bad news: the sum total of my birthday greetings from companies I have an e-mail relationship with was 12. Even sadder, many of the organizations I buy from most frequently online weren't on the list. Some of them may not have asked me for my birthday, so they get a pass -- for now. But others...I know that they have the information, they just didn't use it.
If you don't have a program to recognize your e-mail subscribers' birthdays, now's a great time to put one in place. Do it right, and in addition to goodwill you can generate return on investment. If you have one, think about what you can do to make it more rewarding, for both your organization and the recipient.
Until next time,
Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.
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Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.