My birthday is in June, and for me that means it’s birthday marketing month. Today began the barrage of postcards and emails from merchants with birthday offers. Here’s the thing: if you want to give me a free ice cream cone or t-shirt for my birthday, that’s awesome! Thank you! But if you want to give me 15% off a purchase for my birthday…that’s not a gift. That’s an ad.
The Birthday Gift “Offer”
In contrast, the birthday marketing “offer” is a percentage or dollars off a minimum purchase. “Here’s your 15% discount on a purchase during your birthday month!” for example, or worse, “Here’s $5 off your purchase of $50 or more! Happy Birthday!”
Why It’s Not An Effective Birthday Marketing Strategy: It’s Not a Gift.
A percentage off of a purchase isn’t a gift – it’s a discount. And while some of your customers will use their “birthday discount,” most will see it as the ploy it is, designed to encourage them to spend money, rather than honoring their special day. Generally, you want your customers to focus on the “birthday” part of “birthday marketing,” and not the “marketing” part.
The Worst Offender of All: Using My Birthday As a Disguised Opportunity To Advertise on My Facebook Timeline
There’s a special place in Hell for people who use birthdays as an opportunity to advertise their businesses on Facebook timelines, under the guise of saying “Happy Birthday.”
This year, a full week before my birthday, I started receiving Facebook “touchpoints” from a guy I’ll call…Zach (not his real name). In previous years, Zach has posted on my Facebook timeline, saying, “Happy Birthday from Zach.com! Hire me to help you become a million dollar speaker!” (not his real URL, not the exact message, because I deleted it, and anyway, this is pretty close to what it was) and linking to his own web site. He’s also messaged me privately with a similar (and lengthy and braggy) email, telling me I should definitely hire him to help me become more successful.
This is officially The Worst Way To Tell Someone Happy Birthday Ever and it now earns the offender a one-way ticket to Blocktown. Way to go. You just lost any chance of winning your prospective client or customer’s business.
I really don’t have to tell you why this isn’t a gift, right? I don’t have to explain why this is horrible…do I?
Okay, just in case, here it is: wishing someone Happy Birthday should be a pleasant, relationship-building moment. It is not a moment for you to hawk your wares or services.
Business is built on relationships. Never destroy the little social capital you’ve built up with a social media friend by trying to leverage their page as your billboard, but more importantly, don’t do it on their birthday. Remember: birthday marketing is about continuing to build a relationship!
Birthday Marketing That Works: An Actual Gift
Back in the day, I remember my birthday month was filled with freebies. A free cup of coffee, a free ice cream cone, a free hamburger. Birthdays used to be special, most especially when I was loyal to a business all year long.
And real “birthday marketing” is still around – a great example is Tucano’s, a Brazilian steakhouse that gives you a free meal during your birthday month. Another example I like is Sephora – there’s always a nice birthday gift waiting for me when I visit during my birthday month.
Why It Works
The reason that authentic birthday marketing works is twofold: first, you recognize the loyalty your customers show throughout the year. Recognizing loyalty is never a bad thing to do.
Second, giving without expectation of getting something in return is a good way to show up in the world. It also happens to yield positive results.
Tucano’s isn’t stupid: they know I’m probably not coming in alone for my meal. I’m likely to bring my husband and some friends, and they’re paying, which means in the aggregate, Tucano’s will make back what they gave me for free.
Plus, companies that give me something special on my birthday generate a ton of good will with me by treating my birthday like it’s a special day – by treating me like I’m special on that day.
Third, if you really want to break it down, I think we can all safely agree that childhood birthdays are a big setup for disappointment later in life, when, as an adult, you often have to go to work on your birthday and you’re lucky if people even remember your birthday happened (though thanks, Facebook, for all the reminders).
So when you’re a grown-up and someone says, “Hey, happy birthday. Here’s something special just because it’s your day,” it feels important. And it means something.
So What’s a Business Owner to Do?
If you’re a small business owner with a brick and mortar business where you see customers and clients, birthday marketing is very similar: come up with a birthday gift that’s good enough that it encourages customers to come in to pick up the gift. You and your staff will get to see your customer/client and say “Happy Birthday” to him or her, and generate good will – this furthers your relationship with your customers and clients, and makes them feel valued.
For example, if you’re a bar, give your customers a birthday drink. As a retail establishment, have a special item that you give only to people on their birthdays – something you can’t buy. It doesn’t have to be expensive to you, and it can generate a lot of goodwill from your customers.
Chances are, your customers and clients will go ahead and make a purchase while they’re picking up or enjoying their birthday gift, and they’ll think you’re awesome while they’re in your establishment.
If you’re a service-based business, consider ways that you can make your clients feel special on their birthdays. A financial advisor I once advised sent a birthday card to clients and prospective clients with a lottery ticket taped inside and a note that said, basically, that most of the time, he recommended against luck as a financial strategy, but birthdays were for having fun. It was a cute reminder that a financial advisor will keep you from gambling with your money, and sometimes people actually won a few dollars with that lottery ticket.
Whatever you do to celebrate your customers’ and clients’ birthdays, just don’t sacrifice their good will and a positive relationship with a bad offer.