Waiting for Justin

While watching The Grammy’s on January 26, I became totally engaged with a new series of TV spots from MasterCard. In them, they suggest that a viewer may get a surprise visit from Justin Timberlake—a priceless surprise to be sure. Feeling optimistic, I quickly ran out to my front porch and made sure the light was on, the doorbell was working, and then I freshened up my lipstick ’cause hey, you never know.

While watching The Grammy’s on January 26, I became totally engaged with a new series of TV spots from MasterCard. In them, they suggest that a viewer may get a surprise visit from Justin Timberlake—a priceless surprise to be sure.

Feeling optimistic, I quickly ran out to my front porch and made sure the light was on, the doorbell was working, and then I freshened up my lipstick ’cause hey, you never know.

I frantically added a post to Facebook, just to alert my friends and neighbors (in case Justin went to the wrong house) that they should redirect him to Chez Goodman.

It seems I wasn’t alone in my efforts, because most of my Facebook gal pals had the same reaction: “Getting out of my sweatpants now,” one friend added, “I’ll be ready!” “He can surprise me anytime,” another one commented.

But the classic post came from my adult son who is, I would surmise, right in MasterCard’s target wheelhouse. Even though I knew he was glued to the Grammy’s, his pithy addition to my post was one word: “Huh?”

Aside from MasterCard missing the mark with the youth audience (ok, I admit that if he was a girl, the reaction might have been different, but that’s 50 percent of your target, MasterCard!), my son didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. He may have been distracted by the antics of fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, but that’s a story for another day.

The spots, it seems, and the accompanying promotional message didn’t even register with him or his roommates.

As I continued to dream about the potential visit from Justin, I started wondering how this promotion might work, because I knew it would be complicated to manage, and a visit to the site with the rules and regulations reaffirmed it: 10,596 words later, I was totally confused.

Of course there was the standard “no purchase necessary” rule (right up front), yet in order to be eligible, you have to be a MasterCard cardholder—wait… isn’t that a “purchase”?

The rules go on to talk about how to enter via Instagram or Twitter using a hashtag #pricelesssurprise. Then folks from teamDigital (who?!) will select 150 potential winners in a random drawing. They’ll then notify those potential winners who will then enter Phase 2 of the contest, which involves creating a 90-second video. A panel of judges (which may include Justin!), will select the Grand Prize Winner based on “Relevance, Creativity and Overall Appeal/Entertainment Value” (translation: it will bode well for MasterCard when aired publicly and will not embarrass Justin) AND (and this is the fun part), the finalists may have to submit to a background or criminal check, answer additional questions and sign releases. I guess they want to make sure that Justin isn’t surprised by some lunatic answering on the first ring!

Net-net, this seems like way too much work for this Justin fan—and that’s probably a good thing because I don’t plan to switch from American Express anytime soon.

So the light may be on, but I may not be home. #SorryJustin.

Random Acts of Appreciation

So, will performing random acts of appreciation for your customers make a difference? Absolutely.

Rather than focusing on “the next big thing,” I decided to keep in the spirit of the season and celebrate the little things.

A few weeks ago, I found an unexpected package on my doorstep. It was from an online retailer I shop frequently with. Inside was a lovely, living holiday centerpiece and a note of thanks. While uncommon, gestures like this aren’t unheard of. For example, Starbucks is well known for surprising its Gold Card members with coupons for free beverages. One Starbucks fan blogged, “I have never figured out a rhyme or reason to how Starbucks distributes coupons.”

The difference between knowing that every 15 purchases gets you a free latte versus getting a freebie you didn’t expect is the difference between a transactional and an emotional relationship. A points program is purely a business exchange. The fact that you “earn” rewards clearly indicates this process is a task.

That’s not to say that traditional frequency reward programs aren’t effective. But these programs have turned into a cost of entry for marketers in countless industries. In fact, the average U.S. household belongs to 14 loyalty programs. While they may be popular, points programs are hardly differentiators.

So, will performing random acts of appreciation for your customers make a difference? Absolutely.

Robert W. Palmatier, associate professor of marketing at the University of Washington, studies this effect in his article, The Role of Customer Gratitude in Relationship Marketing. He found that these incremental and unexpected efforts result in feelings of gratitude which, in turn, positively impact purchase intentions. The word gratitude sums it up beautifully.

Ready to give it a go? Here are three rules to keep in mind:

1. It comes out of the blue. The element of surprise creates impact. That’s why they call it “surprise and delight.”

2. It’s about them, not you. A discount or free item is always appreciated, but it should be something your customers really want, not something you need to promote or unload. If you want to send a “gift,” avoid anything emblazoned with your company’s logo.

3. Focus on your best customers. Sounds like common sense, right? Maybe not. For example, if the surprise is a product discount and there’s little to no cost for you to distribute it, you may be inclined to make it available to every customer. In this case, resist the urge. If everyone is special, then no one is.

I never did make use of my centerpiece. Unfortunately, it arrived just as we were going out of town for the week. But the gesture will be remembered and, as they say, it’s the thought that counts. May your new year be brightened by random acts of appreciation.

Timing Really Is Everything

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.” In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer.

The recent flaps over mailings sent out by Republican fundraisers reminded me of a rule put forth years ago by the late Dick Benson: “Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.”

In case you don’t know, here’s the skinny. First, the use of the word “Census” on mailings by the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee led to Congressional passage of a bill last month that required new, clarifying language on the outer. Apparently, there had been some concern that people would mistake these efforts for the big Census Bureau mailing that was due to drop. Then, someone who actually had that complaint called the number on the RNC’s donation form, only to discover that it was for a phone sex line. Coming on the heels of news about lavish RNC spending, it’s been a tough few weeks for the party.

It’s easy to dismiss the second problem as merely a vendor mistake, one that appeared on only some of the mailings. It’s also easy to brush aside criticism of using “Census” on the outer. After all, it’s legal — it had passed muster with the USPS. And, it doesn’t really look like the Census mailer. It’s pretty obvious when opened that it’s just another issues poll, with leading questions, and a request for money. There’s nothing wrong with that, both parties have been mailing surveys for many years.

But it illustrates a bigger problem. A great national political party shouldn’t rely on a gimmick, like putting “Census”, or the IRS form — like “(2009) Return Enclosed” on the outer envelope to get someone to open it. Seriously, no one at the RNC thought this through, and saw this bad publicity coming? And, given how some of the Republican base feels about the Census, and especially, the IRS, it’s an especially puzzling choice of a teaser.

Twenty-five years ago, in the newsletter Who’s Mailing What!, Roger Craver wrote that to have a successful direct mail appeal, the “donors of principle,” the heart of any political organization, must be motivated by writing that conveys mission, selectivity, urgent need and effectiveness. The GOP was way ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard for decades, but as shown in the 2008 presidential race, not anymore. It’s going to be very interesting to see how both parties will energize the faithful in this election year.