The Holiday Challenge
When allied with old-fashioned sense, technology can help us get closer with our customers
By Lois Geller
I don't know about tradition any more. Oh sure, I still love it, particularly at this time of year. I love the music, the classic carols and songs like Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" and Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock." But lately I seem to be more in tune with a line from Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." She sings about the traditional, "sentimental feeling," but makes it clear how cool she really is by crooning "in the new, old-fashioned way."
The old, old-fashioned way sounds nice, but then I think of my mother, the original multitasker. When I was a little girl, she'd whirl around the house during the holidays at warp speed: cooking dinner, hosting guests, sewing, cleaning, shampooing carpets, negotiating with and checking up on a never-ending stream of tradesmen, and doing the laundry down in the basement using something called a mangle.
Lots of things were like that: repetitious, never-ending, boring, hard, amazingly laborious. Oddly, people seemed to whine less often back then.
Today, we find ourselves the grateful beneficiaries of modern science. But here's the puzzle: How come my mom had more spare time than I do?
If it wasn't for the Internet, I could never come close to the old-fashioned way of celebrating the holidays. I can do things online that my mom couldn't even dream about while she risked life and limb on housecleaning. I do them in the middle of the night, because I have no time to do them during the day or early evening.
If not for the Internet, I'd be going barefoot. Last week a strap on my favorite sandals suddenly ripped loose from the sole. Later that night, after I'd made dinner, fed my cats, cleaned the litter box, answered a dozen voicemail messages, paid my bills, and washed the dishes, I finally logged on the Internet, ordered another pair of sandals and FedEx rushed them to me in a couple days. My Mom would have just whirled on down to the shoe store.
Embrace New Traditions
This year, somebody suggested Mason & Geller send e-mail holiday cards. We'll certainly order all our client gifts online, but if you want to see an e-holiday card, you'll have to go to www.masongel
ler.com/holiday. That's the only place you'll ever see it, because I prefer the old-fashioned way.
I think some traditions are just unabandonable. So, we're going to design our own card again this year, and mail them out the old-fashioned USPS way. Each one will have a handwritten note. I want to catch up with people, see how they're doing. The gifts we'll send probably will be interesting, but not necessarily useful.
Old-fashioned charm can work wonderfully with 21st century convenience. Consider the new ballparks in Houston, Cleveland and Baltimore. They look a lot like the early 20th century ballparks, but they're as up-to-date as a new high rise. This sort of approach appeals to people.
I think there's something useful to direct marketers in this new, old-fashioned way challenge. Here's a few ways we can embrace new technology and still keep old-fashioned charm:
1. Be more personal. Use personalization in creative ways. A few years ago, I was invited to a Peppers and Rogers breakfast meeting, and the invitation had my name spelled out in cereal in a bowl. This was a cute attention-getter that made me open the package.
2. Test live stamps. We used live stamps on the reply envelopes in a mailer to high-worth investors, and were delighted when we lifted response by more than 20 percent. It costs $370/M for the stamps, but one additional response per thousand mailings paid for the difference many times over.
3. Use a human touch. Real, human and totally honest communication always attracts people. Banks don't have to sound like banks. They can sound like people who work at a bank. This makes a big difference. In Manhattan, we once wrote to all of our neighbors and invited them to a party on our wood terrace high above Madison Avenue. We wrote that we'd like to meet them and maybe do some business. Dozens accepted. A nearby bank became a client as a result.
4. Say thank you. Thanking people, even thousands of customers at once, is a terrific retention device. Not, "You are very important to us, blah, blah … ," but a straight, "Thanks for your business. We appreciate it." We say thank you all the time—even after Hurricane Wilma roared through and knocked out our power, water and even a window. We managed to e-mail clients to thank them for their patience while we were "down and without electricity." No one complained, and everyone thanked us for letting them know.
5. Invite customers to get involved. Have you ever thought of inviting customers to comment on a company blog? Yes, it takes nerves of steel, but it's open, honest and you'll learn a great deal. Many savvy senior marketers listen in on customer service calls regularly; they learn a lot.
6. Ally new technology with the old-fashioned sense of a 1925 storekeeper. It can help us get closer to our customers, recognize, thank and reward them. For the holidays this year, try to use technology to get to your largest audience. Be creative with the personalization. Use a real signature from a real person, not the company name. Companies mean nothing to me—the people there do. Try to write a personal note to your best customers and include a gift and thank you.
Thank you, my readers. You've entered my contests and sent me great e-mails this year. Hopefully one or two of my direct marketing suggestions have worked for you. Have a great holiday!
Lois Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct, a direct marketing agency in Hollywood, Fla. You can reach her at email@example.com.