Direct Mail Strategy: Birthday Greetings!
As direct marketers, we work overtime creating attention-grabbing events to surround special marketing offers such as white sales, frequent buyer programs and preferred customer privileges.
However, do you realize that every customer in your database already has a very special and personal event that's anticipated as much as Christmas? That's right, it's his or her birthday!
So, my question to you is, how are you helping celebrate your customer's birthday? It's a grand opportunity to make him or her feel special. It's also the perfect excuse for a one-to-one communication that builds brand loyalty, increases sales, liquidates products, and helps you meet a host of other marketing objectives.
In my September 2004 column, "Show Them How Much You Care," I talked about greeting cards as a direct mail format. I suggested the value of using greeting cards as another option for gaining attention and strengthening relationships.
Shortly after that column ran, I celebrated my birthday. I'm a September Virgo. And even though I'm a direct marketing professional who understands the motivation behind all those "marketing prompted" birthday greetings I received, I opened every one, saved most of them, and took advantage of the special offers. Here are a few ideas from what I received.
Determine Your Objective
Decide if your birthday mailing is a sales- or relationship-building activity … or both. More than half of the birthday mailings I received included special money-saving offers tied to making a purchase. Southwest Airlines, my insurance agent and chiropractor were the only ones who were well-wishers only.
Observation: Southwest Airlines did not have to include an offer to stand out from the other airlines whose frequent flyer cards I hold and use. None of the others bothered to say, "Hi" or "How are you?" much less "Happy Birthday." Consider and test whether you need to include an offer. Also test the type of offer you make by customer segment.
Postal Mail Versus E-mail
I'm waiting to see what my mail holds this September because all but one of last year's greetings arrived by postal mail. That could be related to where I've opted in to receive e-mail and provided my birth date.
Observation: Even in today's Internet-savvy culture, e-mailed birthday "cards" lack the personal quality of those that arrive in the mail. Also, if you're including an offer element that needs to be printed or retained for later use, an 81⁄2˝ x 11˝ piece of paper is not as convenient as the plastic gift card I received from Victoria's Secret (shown at right) or the wallet-size savings certificate from Chico's. However, if your relationship with your customer is completely Web-based, an e-card is more appropriate.
Personalization and Addressing
Getting this element right is essential. For example, the one e-mail birthday greeting I received last year included a "personal" salutation that truncated my given name to "PATRICI." Even spelled correctly, no one but my mother and the government calls me Patricia. In fairness, most of the traditionally mailed greetings also were addressed to "Patricia," with only one hand-addressed to "Pat" (extra credit goes to my chiropractor). The other big oops was the Limited Too birthday postcard, addressed to "THE FRIESEN FAMILY OR CURRENT RESIDENT." I guess its 15 percent-off discount wasn't exclusively for September birthdays.
Observation: The biggest faux pas was the truncation of my name. If you can't spell it correctly or spell it in its entirety, default to something appropriately and accurately personal such as "Dear Birthday Girl" or "It's Your Birthday!"
Size and Shape
The greetings I received ranged in size from traditional 5˝ x 7˝ cards-in-envelopes to a 41⁄2˝ x 6˝ postcard, 41⁄2˝ x 6˝ self-mailer and 51⁄2˝ square card-in-envelope. The latter looked similar to Hallmark's contemporary Fresh Ink card line, and was from the fashion apparel marketer Chico's, which strives for contemporary, "fresh" branding.
Observation: Each mailing was appropriate for the brand/source from which it came. Use whatever paper stock, shape or size that fits your brand and budget.
Last year's mailings that included offers provided discounts from 15 percent off to $5 to $10 off. Several had no expiration date.
Observation: While it's worth testing, I felt like the "no expiration date" was as big a gift as the discount.
Copy and Creative
The only birthday greeting that truly was disappointing from a creative perspective was the e-mail from Brookstone. The gift box visual was ho-hum and the copy was too "we" oriented—e.g., "At Brookstone, we believe every birthday is special." The other mailings supported the brand and were engaging communications. Southwest Airlines showed a roller bag covered with confetti, party hat and noisemaker on a luggage carousel; Victoria's Secret's sentiment—a repeat from the previous year—was "Get Sexier Every Year"; and Banana Republic used its signature colors, contemporary graphics and copy to say, "This isn't just another birthday card. It's also a gift."
Observation: You don't have to send custom cards to get the envelope opened and your message remembered. If the card is signed by a personal shopper, sales associate or anyone else who has a "personal" relationship with the recipient, it can be just as appropriate, and less expensive, to send cards mass-produced by commercial greeting card companies with your business card or company gift certificate as an enclosure.
The logistics of when to mail are determined, in part, by how many pieces you mail.
Observation: Ideally, you want the card to arrive as close to the birthday as possible. However, it's better to err on the side of caution: better early than late. If it works best to drop all birthday cards on the last day of the month prior to the birthday month, that's OK. After-the-event birthday cards have a less positive impact.
You may be wondering if a birthday program makes strategic sense for you. If you're at all interested, you should test and track. It has the potential to be an effective marketing tool for anyone who wants to strengthen loyalty, build value and differentiate themselves from the competition.
One more thing. The protection of personal privacy is a significant and valid concern for all of us. Unless it's appropriate, don't mention the person's exact age or other personal details that might make the recipient uncomfortable or suspicious. Just because you have the data and the technology to communicate it, doesn't mean you need to flaunt it.
And by the way, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Birthday, whenever that is.