Stop calling your promotion a gift

It was my birthday a few months ago and around that time I started getting the ubiquitous “we’ve got a gift for you” emails from various organisations. And they all shared two things in common.

They required me to purchase something to receive my gift (a.k.a discount) and they had a deadline.

Which got me thinking – can you call it a gift if I’m the one who has to spend the money? And since when do gifts have an expiry date?

Of course they weren’t gifts. They were a marketing idea to try and build some sense of faux connection with customers. I can hear the conversation. “If we tell people happy birthday and give them a discount gift it will really help to drive loyalty…”

Except it won’t. Because I don’t think they care that it’s my birthday. Their only interest is the opportunity it gives them to try and sell me something. Which is both dishonest and kind of heartbreakingly empty at the same time.

Building a connection with customers will never be a series of steps on some marketing checklist. And if I needed reminding of that small truth it became even more crystal clear this past week while reading musician and author Amanda Palmer’s book  The Art of Asking. You don’t become the first musician to fund a Kickstarter campaign for a new record to the tune of more than US$1 million without figuring out a thing or two about connecting with your people.

This is from Palmer’s book:

When I reflect on the last fifteen years of my life in music–all the touring, talking, crowdsurfing, and all other variety of eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul hand-to-hand connection I’ve shared with the members of my crowd–I see it as a net.

It has to start with the art. The songs had to touch people initially, and mean something, for anything to work at all. The art, not the artist, is what fundamentally draws the net into being. The net was tightened and strengthened by a collection of interactions and exchanges I’ve had, personally, whether in live venues or online, with members of my community…


The book is an altogether brilliant read or you can watch her TED Talk on the same topic and read the Brainpickings article. It reminded me of the abject failure of so many organisations to understand that beyond the product, there is an inherent give and take needed for connection and engagement to be real.


Connections are possible

I acknowledge the relationship between artist and fan carries a different premise than between company and customer. But it’s not that different. Even when commerce is front and centre that connection can happen. It could be in 140 characters via a twitter back and forth. Taking time to listen on the phone. A genuine smile and a thank you in a store. A note of thanks. In a picture and acknowledgement on Instagram. A blog post talking about the work being done on a new product … all of the above and more, in good times and when things go south, over and over.

It’s not a one or even two time thing. It’s not timed to some preplanned list. Take the time to see me. Not as data or a name on a list; not as a birth date I gave you on a form. See me as a person and let me do the same.

What that looks like for your organisation I have no idea. One person’s “I love” is another person’s “that’s creepy”. But that is the point. You’ve got to get to know your own customers and there’s no checklist that can tell you who they are and what will work between you.

I do know this is where SMEs have a giant advantage over larger corporates. There is a natural intimacy with customers when you’re a smaller business. The net that Amanda Palmer talks about is already tighter, the intention is already there. So taking that next step becomes more a matter of constant and ongoing attention.

Which brings me back to my birthday. Until you do get to know me, please don’t bother sending me any future birthday “gifts”. Birthdays are for friends and family and we aren’t either, so even though you’ve got my birthdate let it pass. Or if you’d really like to do something just send me a note that says: “Hi we noticed it was your birthday, hope you have a lovely day.” That would be nice – and I might even write back to say, “thanks, I did”.

See you next week for “You can’t always give what they want”.

Michel Hogan is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago