Do Birthday Acknowledgements Build Brand Relationships?

Asking a customer for birth date information is a very intimate question, and one that I tell clients to consider carefully before including on any registration form. When I celebrated my birthday in early December, I received all sorts of interesting emails and direct mail wishes and offers from a variety of brands. So which ones left me feeling warm, fuzzy and loved, thereby achieving their objective of deepening my relationship with them, and which ones left me in the cold?

Asking a customer for birth date information is a very intimate question, and one that I tell clients to consider carefully before including on any registration form.

If you have a legitimate reason for collection (identification, age requirement, etc.), then no one thinks twice about providing it—and accurately. But many brands only collect for analysis purposes—which means they’ll often get useless, incorrect data—while others note that they have a special birthday program, and for those consumers who like freebies, they provide that data point willingly.

When I celebrated my birthday in early December, I received all sorts of interesting emails and direct mail wishes and offers from a variety of brands. So which ones left me feeling warm, fuzzy and loved, thereby achieving their objective of deepening my relationship with them, and which ones left me in the cold?

Here’s my assessment:

  • 5 Stars to Chico’s: In the week before my birthday, I received a birthday card in the mail with a coupon for X percent off on my next purchase. However, when I got to the store, I failed to bring the coupon with me. Not an issue for Chico’s! Their database showed I had the birthday discount available and the clerk applied it to my purchase. Love that.
  • 4 Stars to Sharebuilder: I’ve been a loyal Sharebuilder customer since their inception, over 12 or 15 years ago. The weekend before my special day, I got an email acknowledging my birthday and an offer for a free “buy” trade on my account. All I had to do was click on the link provided and enter a promo code. Easy… which mimics their brand essence.
  • 3 Stars to Starbucks: As a Gold Account holder, Starbucks used to send me postcards after every 15 lattes for a free drink (which I loved). About a month before my special day, they sent me an email that my freebies would now to credited to my card automatically (fabulous!). However, about 2 weeks before my birthday, I got a birthday email telling me I’d get a freebie. When I got to Starbucks, however, it turns out I had to TELL the barista that it was my birthday, otherwise it’s not automatically tied to my card. Bizarre.
  • 2 Stars to ING: On my birthday I got a Happy Birthday message and a link to a video… which wasn’t really about birthdays, but more about being happy. I love ING, but judging from all the comments left from previous birthday viewers, they thought it was as strange as I did.
  • 1 Star to Wells Fargo: For a few ATM visits in early December, I got a “Happy Birthday” message on the ATM screen. No “extra” credit to my savings account. No waiver on an overdraft. No nothing. Gee, thanks.

Of course there’s always one party pooper. In this case, it’s the “Hey It’s Free” guy who assembled all his birthday freebies and posted them for everyone to see on his website. Guess who’s feeling not so special after all?

Did any of these efforts endear me to their brand? Or cause me to rethink my relationship? I can honestly say that they all made me feel a little special and loved in their own way. And they certainly help me to think twice about forgiving them for a future screw up. So as a marketer who knows how hard it is to sustain client loyalty, that’s certainly worth all the candles on my cake.

Amid Gloom, eBags Has a Happy Dec. 1

From an e-commerce standpoint, it’s hardly surprising that we can “officially” use the R-word (recession) now. Cyber Monday’s sales pace was considerably slower than it was last year, according to a bevy of reports, which, of course, is unprecedented.

From an e-commerce standpoint, it’s hardly surprising that we can “officially” use the R-word (recession) now. Cyber Monday’s sales pace was considerably slower than it was last year, according to a bevy of reports, which, of course, is unprecedented.

But for at least one e-tailer — eBags.com — there’s some good news to be found. Cyber Monday 2008 sales were up 6 percent over last year for the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based online seller of bags and accessories, according to Co-founder and Senior Vice President of Marketing Peter Cobb. In addition, traffic was up 23 percent, a company record. The early evening, in particular, was highlighted by three straight record sales hours.

Cobb attributes eBags.com’s success to several Cyber Monday marketing initiatives:

  • negotiated steep discounts with many of its product vendors; as a result, had more than 1,000 products with special deals beginning on Black Friday, dubbed “Web Busters”;
  • temporarily converted its homepage into a Web Busters page showing 15 deals and contained links to 1,000 other Web Buster offers;
  • offered 20 percent off all merchandise on the site on Cyber Monday;
    if customers used PayPal, they received an additional $10 cash back;
  • allowed visitors to view 125 product videos on its site and also promoted a humorous video eBags.com produced explaining Web Busters;
  • sent 1.1 million e-mails to its opt-in members prior to Black Friday promoting the Web Busters sales, Web Busters video and other special offers; and
  • secured homepage placement on CyberMonday.com, a Web site that features special Cyber Monday deals each year; in fact, a big eBags.com promotion was the exclusive deal on CyberMonday.com from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. MST. Eighty-five percent of the CyberMonday.com site traffic was new to eBags.com, Cobb says.

“With all the negative press about the economy and the fact that Cyber Monday is five days later this season, it pushed us to think creatively about offers that would appeal to shoppers,” Cobb notes. “We have more planned to keep the positive momentum going through the holidays.”