Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters
A Little Giving Can Go a Long Way, At the Holidays… And Beyond.
By Lois K. Geller
At a wedding a few months ago, I met a nice man in the insurance business. He was bragging about his granddaughter, and I lamented that I wasn't a grandmother yet. A few days later he sent me a little book about being a grandmother with a sweet note. I know he didn't do it expecting any business from me, but the next time I think about buying insurance I'll give him a call.
Usually when I speak at industry conferences or to my class at NYU, I give things away: candles, furry animals, smurf trolls, that kind of thing. The little freebies are a great way to break the ice, and everyone likes to be acknowledged with something special.
At Mason & Geller, we try to make our company's Christmas gifts a little special. In our first year, when
we were struggling mightily, we designed our own Christmas card with the theme that we were a "little tree" getting ready to grow and we sent the cards out with a baby Christmas tree in a tube, ready to plant. Nowadays, we still make our own cards—the creative department comes up with some wild ones—and we make a point of finding interesting presents. One year we sent a battery-powered wood blimp (it worked!). Some years we send baskets of exotic food and drink. The point is that we try to be different and we truly want our "Season's Greetings" to be personal.
Not many companies do that sort of thing anymore. In fact, most companies do the absolute minimum. For instance, there's one holiday card that's so common (a bit of gold edging with the company and person's name printed on the inside) I got five of them last year. It screams boring.
I'm sure the good wishes are there … but there's nothing expressive, personal or special about it.
I bet companies send stuff like that because they think it's "safe," that it won't offend anybody. It also doesn't take a lot of time or effort, and it shows.
The point of sending cards is to reach out, affirm the connection you have with another human being and remind that person of your personal and professional relationship. (Maybe for some people it's just a professional relationship, but for me it's always both.)
So this year, when you're thinking about your company's gifts and cards, I hope you'll move outside your comfort zone and try to come up with something memorable.
Here are some fresh ideas for premiums, gifts, cards and whatnots … not necessarily for the holiday season:
• Covenant House sends a mailing that includes a Guardian Angel pin. I love the presentation and it's in keeping with the theme of the organization. I have no idea how well this mailing does, but I think the freemium is terrific. It's appropriate, personal and appeals to the kind of people who donate to Covenant House.
• My friend, Andrea Nierenberg, does corporate seminars on sales and presentation skills. At the end of her talk she hands out little mirrors that stand up. You're supposed to put the mirror on your desk so you remember to smile when you're talking on the phone. (Apparently, the person on the other end can tell the difference.)
• I write extensively about a company called New Pig in my recently published book, "Customers for Keeps." (They sell industrial cleaning products, and Pig stands for Partners In Grime.) The people there are just great. They deliver outstanding products with excellent service and you get a chuckle out of them all the time. They sent me a New Pig bobblehead doll, which is in a place of honor on my desk. (Right beside Andrea's mirror. Now I'm in danger of laughing out loud when I'm on the phone.)
• Some of the best cards on the planet come from Mason & Geller's art director, Pepper Huff. One of my favorite cards by Pepper features the faces of Mason & Geller employees superimposed on the bodies of Santa's elves. Not only is it fun, but it delivers in person our good wishes to clients and colleagues.
No matter what kind of card you send, try to sign the card yourself. It's even better to write a personal note. You never know how meaningful it can be to the people who get them. I know it's a pain to sit there and write and sign a lot of cards, but each recipient doesn't get a lot of cards from you. They get just one. It's worth it, trust me.
Simple example: I hadn't hit it off with a doorman in my new building until last Christmas when I enclosed a short handwritten note with the usual cash gift. He smiled the next time he saw me and thanked me for the gift and especially for the note, which he thought was "very sweet."
Better example: I was talking about this at a speech last year and a lady came up to me later and said, "I know what you mean. The only card I got on my birthday was from my oil man. He'll be my oil man forever."
Years ago when the agency was just getting on its feet, I was working hard to try to get business from an automobile company. Our letters and phone calls weren't getting much of a response. Then I came across a replica of one of the cars the company manufactured. I decided to send it to our prospect with a note. We eventually got a hearing and landed the account. Years later, the replica car I sent is still sitting on his desk.
When you think about your holiday cards and gifts, or the "surprise and delight" trinkets and notes you could be sending any time of the year, try to come up with something that reflects who you are. Most of us are afraid of looking foolish or making a mistake, but if you don't try to be different, you'll never break through all the clutter.
One more thing—make sure you thank everyone who helps you. I owe many Target Marketing readers a big thank you for their letters and e-mails sharing ideas and making suggestions. Here are a couple of them …
From Suzy: "I liked the idea of 'going bold'—that's what I've been trying to do, but the management doesn't support it."
I hear that a lot, Suzy, The best thing you can do is to keep trying, because sooner or later you'll get through!
From Richard: "I'm glad you gave numbers from Ford as an example in your Customer Retention article…"
Richard, the numbers are important. They don't justify a retention program … common sense does that… but they're a great way to keep score.
Have you come across any great gift, card or premium ideas? I'd love to hear about them and share them with fellow Target Marketing readers. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LOIS K. GELLER is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in NYC. She is the author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing" and "Customers for Keeps," published this year. Have direct marketing questions? Visit www.masongeller.com.