Don’t Email Me a Happy Birthday!

Discussion
Feb 18, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented
here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the Compete Blog.
Compete Inc. is a web analytics company that focuses on understanding how consumers
use the internet.

Email personalization makes complete sense. If you have specific
information about your clients, users, etc. you should use that information
to provide the most relevant and personal message possible. But one thing I
am increasingly against are happy birthday messages.

Here are some examples
of the good, the bad, and the ugly that were sent to me on my birthday. We’ll
start with the ugly …

1. My Dentist:

First, the email message included a stock photo that isn’t
even my dentist. Also, I was just at my dentist a few weeks prior to have a
cavity filled. The last thing I want is to be reminded of is the four-inch
Novocain needle and the feeling of a drill to my teeth on my birthday. Lastly,
what’s
in it for me? How about a free tube of toothpaste or savings on tooth whitening?

2. A bank that shall remain nameless:

I’ve been a happy customer at my bank for years. A birthday email
came in with an offer for a discount at their store. This sounded great until
I realized that the only thing you can buy in their store is bank branded gear.
As much as I’m dying to feign excitement over a duffle bag with Bank
X’s
logo on it, I think I’ll pass. Seems like a weird way to communicate
your brand message.

3. Men’s Wearhouse

Finally, an acceptable birthday message that doesn’t want to make
me hit "unsubscribe." The
email included a $25 discount for any purchase over $100. Sure, they could
have made the message more casual by not using my last name. But,
they got it right and gave me a gift.

In the end I think it comes down to three
guidelines to follow when wishing your clients, customers, or prospects happy
birthday.

a. Make it as personal as possible. If you can personally send a birthday
message to your contacts, then do. Building a personal relationship with
your contacts will go a long way.

b. Give a gift! If your list is too large or you have too many contacts to
personally send messages (I think most of us are in this boat), then send
a message with purpose. Give your clients a discounted offering on your products
or even send them a digital gift card to another store.

c. If you can’t send something nice, don’t send it at all! Think
before you send and ask yourself what is going to be accomplished by sending
this message.

Discussion Questions: Are you a fan of happy birthday email messages from retailers? What can retailers do to make birthday greetings that consumers value?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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19 Comments on "Don’t Email Me a Happy Birthday!"


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Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I’m with Drew, he has it absolutely right. When it comes to automated birthday greetings, if you’re not going to show me the love, then show me the money. Otherwise it’s a mindless and insulting gesture.

Though jumping categories, I want to quickly add that my biggest Christmas peeve by a mile are these cards with the obligatory family photo printed with the name of the sender. And these are from “friends!” They are opened to see what lame matching sweater the family is wearing this year and then dropped immediately into the waste basket. Pointless, absolutely pointless.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

The article said it all…if a retailer can’t do something meaningful for a customer’s birthday, it shouldn’t do anything. Meaningful is in the eye of the beholder, but it should be relevant to the recipient, not self serving, and have value.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I agree with Drew’s comments. I get e-cards for everything including Thanksgiving. Must be the curmudgeon in me but I see most of them as junk mail to be deleted. The value in sending out the card should not be so the sender can check a box that says we have established a personal relationship with our customers and work to maintain it. The value has to be for the receiver. If you want me to connect to you, you need to connect to me.

Dan Raftery
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Agree with Drew and the other post so far. Two points: 1). Don’t forget the expiration date on the gift. 2). At some time in the not too distant future, it may be important to not miss birthdays of high-value customers, if the practice spreads. You wouldn’t want to be relagated to the same dusty mental corner as the family relative who forgets a birthday.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
10 years 2 months ago

Could not agree more. When it’s my birthday, it’s about me, not you. Don’t try to sell me something on my birthday. Sending me an actual offer or discount because it’s my birthday, now we are getting somewhere.

For that matter, there is a bigger trend here: retailers trying to hijack current events to their (wrongly perceived) benefit. Of course we all know how that worked out for Kenneth Cole but KC is not alone. Groupon just made the same mistake and I have seen this kind of awkward and opportunistic current event hijacking come up in some QSR’s twitter stream recently. Opportunistic self-promotion turns off customers. If a comment is is poor taste in the real-world, chances are it’s still in poor taste digitalized and delivered to your customers’ inboxes and twitter feeds!

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

First of all Ian Percy is off my Christmas card list! It’s hard work picking out those sweaters every year and getting a 90 pound greyhound into a cardigan is no fun!

On a slightly more serious note, I hate all attempts at faux intimacy marketing. The bank, the sunglass store or whoever aren’t my “friends” (who, being friends rarely mention birthdays much anymore). If you want to send me money–I guess I can live with that but why on my birthday (which is in April), why not during a slow sales period?

Or…how about just surprising me by sending me an offer at some seemingly random time. I like surprises as long as there is a direct benefit to me.

Worst of all, of course, are restaurants who want to lure you into their establishments on your birthday with a BOGO only so they can publicly humiliate you by getting a chorus of 16 year old, minimum wage earning, bored-to-death, nasal voiced workers who think of 22 as middle aged to sing Happy Birthday to you.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
10 years 2 months ago

A major pet superstore chain sends out a coupon for a free treat of your choice (worth $3.00) on the pet’s birthday. It’s a nice touch to get something free even though every trip to the store to redeem it seems to result in a $35-50 purchase!

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
10 years 2 months ago

I couldn’t agree more, and I’ll take it a step further. “I DON’T WANT EMAIL FROM ANYONE EXCEPT THOSE I HAVE ASKED TO SEND ME EMAIL.” We have endured this for too long. It started with junk mail, the gravitated to unsolicited telephone calls and now to SPAM. What is next? The first politician to figure out the next progression and stop it in its tracks will get my vote for any office he/she seeks.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 2 months ago

Good promo: local restaurant sends me $20 coupon good for entire month in which my birthday occurs. Bad promo: dentist reminds me I’m getting older and my teeth might be cracking and falling out, too.

It should be all about what’s in it for the recipient, not the sender.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Seems only the curmudgeons have commented this morning (and oh my–well wishing isn’t to be appreciated unless the moolah is included?? Miss Manners must be appalled.)

That having been said, I agree this kind of faux intimacy becomes stale fast: it’s always nice to be remembered by at least someONE, 107 someones doesn’t add anything.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I generally agree with the article guidelines for getting it right. Sending a birthday message just because you can is not only ineffective but damaging to the relationship.

The message should be as personalized as possible (maybe taking into account that most recent dentist visit) and should carry an incentive or “treat” to mark the occasion.

Make the message purposeful and seek to add to the relationship, not just take advantage of it.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I see these as spam, and nothing more, to be deleted. Also, to confuse identity thieves, I’ve given out random birthdays for myself at places requiring it on their forms. I was puzzled, of course, when I’d forgotten that I told Plaxo that my birthday was in July (it isn’t) and I got birthday greetings from business contacts.

Anne Bieler
Guest
Anne Bieler
10 years 2 months ago

These are missed opportunities! Hard to believe that some businesses think it’s a good idea as a promotional opportunity. That’s way too personal–so make it thoughtful or rewarding. Group cards from insurance brokers, the dentists office…really not feeling it!

Tracey Croughwell
Guest
Tracey Croughwell
10 years 2 months ago

I don’t like discounts…free money, I like. Every year DSW sends me a postcard mailer with a free $10, no strings. I can go get a free pair of $5 socks if I wanted. Of course, I typically get a pair of shoes and spend more than $10…but the fact that they’re giving me free money gets me to the store–whereas $25 off $100 purchase won’t.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 2 months ago
Birthdays are kind of special aren’t they? Since 2002, when they nearly ended for me, I’ve appreciated them. They are just another day, aren’t they? Yet, when another day becomes questionable in your imagination, it sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Are they not better than the alternative? Yet, what kind of a day should they be? For me, they are a quiet day–usually. They are a day of extreme gratitude. So what’s that all have to do with anything? I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. I get daily emails from Zappos, amazon.com, Costco, eBay, Barnes and Noble, L.L.Bean, MLB, and the list goes on. How do I know the difference? Do I want to know? Do I delete all of them? Do you? Is a birthday offer any different than daily barrage in multiples from any e-tailer you’ve ever done business with? Just as most of, if not all of, the mailbox flyers hit the trash can in the garage before they made it to the door, I’m thinking that these hit the delete… Read more »
Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
10 years 2 months ago

When it comes to retailers sending birthday wishes, I’m not looking for anything that’s highly personalized, nor do I think most consumers are looking for a high degree of “happy birthday” personalization.

At birthdays, I’m happy with retailers sending something more generic, like 10% off next purchase, free shipping on next purchase, or a coupon for, perhaps, an in-store BOGO. Well wishes are exchanged between individuals who have an emotional bond. But birthday emails do exactly what they’re supposed to do, simply let the customer know that the company appreciates their business, so here’s a little discount.

And to be honest, after reaching a certain age, the less fuss made about aging, the better.

Phil Rubin
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

The issue of birthday messages, particularly those delivered via email from companies, is about relevance and the nature of the relationship the customer has with those brands. Whether it’s a pet retailer, a restaurant or a specialty retailer, as long as it’s an appropriate message and the customer has provided a date of birth, not only is it acceptable but our research has consistently shown that customers appreciate these messages.

The examples of the bank and especially the dentists are likewise appropriate to illustrate unnatural parties to customer relationships unless they are truly done on a personal level (e.g., an actual email from your dentist or banker that you have a genuine personal relationship with).

It’s well documented that people don’t like their banks and the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 hasn’t helped that industry’s cause. As far as dentists go, that industry has suffered from excessive training in marketing and cosmetology at the expense of patient care!

Larry Negrich
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

It really comes down to a core tenant of any successful marketing program: know your audience. Good marketers can find a way to understand their target market and craft promotions and offers the customer values. Using a birthday (supplied by the customer) as a trigger to send a special birthday promotion can be highly effective. Each year a regional bowling center uses my birthday as a trigger to send me a promotion for some free games. The promotion is well timed, not overly personal, and has some value to me. So, to have a ball with your promotions spare the overly intimate message to keep from marketing like a turkey.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 2 months ago

Consumers may like it when they are remembered by retailers they value. Consumers may appreciate a special discount for their birthday especially when the discount can be offered for a month, not just on a particular day. The Gap, as one example, does a good job of offering discounts for a reasonable period of time in recognition of a birthday.

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