How NOT to score points with customers.

As marketers, we’re told time and again that the way to score points with customers is to personalize our communications to them.

We’ve really taken that to heart. We’re doing everything we can to get personal with our customers.

Problem is, the way many of us our doing this is guaranteed to backfire.

Here are just three examples of misfires that backfire all the time.

Example 1:

“🎂 Happy Birthday, [insert name here]!”

It certainly is nice to get reminded that I have a birthday coming up.

So a lot of marketers have gotten clever, having their companies send “Happy Birthday!” emails to prospects and customers in the days leading up to the big day.

But c’mon. Do they expect me to believe that the executive team of their company had my birthdate on their executive calendar, and have just been waiting for the day to come so they can wish me a heartfelt happy birthday?

Of course not.

All this really says to me is that their marketing department has my birthday in their CRM, and have set up an automation to fire a canned email to me X days before my birthday.

This is disingenuous, and is essentially SPAM.

NOW, if they still want to send me a triggered, automated happy birthday email from their corporate account, this will be acceptable IF AND ONLY IF it comes with a coupon for a significant discount on something I’d truly find valuable — like a free ice cream sundae dessert or free meal from a restaurant chain, 25% off any item over $25 at a retail store, or some other truly valuable gift.

But simply wishing me a happy birthday? That’s just annoying.

I can’t tell you how many such emails I get every year.

No points scored there.

Example 2:

“💪🏽 Sign my petition to [fill in the cause].”

I got an email like this just the other day, from one of the numerous 2020 presidential hopefuls.

It named a cause I fervently care about.

(Obviously, their CRM has good data on me.)

The email asked me to join them in signing a petition for this cause.

(They want me to think this candidate is MY candidate because they support my very important cause.)

But I am not easily fooled.

I know what this email really is.

It’s a ploy to get me to donate to their campaign.

Clicking on the email takes me to the webpage where I can sign the petition.

But, once I’ve clicked the “Sign the petition” button, sure enough, I’m taken straight to another page with the title, “Can you do just one more thing: donate to my campaign, so we can keep fighting together for [insert cause here]?”

Which makes me wonder: is the petition real? Or just a ploy?

No points scored there.

Example 3:

“We’re a company that cares deeply about taking care of our community and giving back.”

Ah, playing the corporate social responsibility card.

A lot of companies do this. A lot of marketers think this is just good PR.

These companies boast of their financial contributions to good causes and their support of the volunteerism of their employees.

But time and again, we read news stories of these very same companies treating their employees poorly, polluting the environment, and lobbying hard in Washington for policies that provide special advantages and protections for them, such as freedom to keep polluting, or huge tax breaks.

No amount of “social responsibility” PR is going to mitigate that.

Yup. No points scored here either.

If you want to know how to score points with customers, look no further than yourself.

Every one of us marketers is also a customer.

We all shop and buy things. We all are exposed to countless marketing messages every day.

And we all gauge disingenuous marketing tactics with the same BS meter as the customers we’re marketing to.

Yet, for some reason, the very BS we won’t tolerate as customers ourselves is somehow OK for us to inflict on other customers.

Such as wishing people we neither know nor care about a happy birthday.

Using bait-and-switch tactics to solicit donations to a political campaign.

And playing the “we practice social responsibility” card when clearly, the company we work for doesn’t.

(I bet you can think of more examples. I invite your comments.)

Now, I’m not saying ALL marketers do this. But a lot do — enough that this article needed to be written.

As marketers, we’re paid to be creative.

So, let’s create genuine, honest communications that put customers first.

Then, let’s keep those communications honest with congruent actions.

That’s how to score points with customers, earn their trust, and grow mutually beneficial relationships with them.

And that is the true goal of marketing.


Ron Marcus is the principal of Grow, a brand and marketing consultancy for small businesses and nonprofits. He’s been helping businesses and nonprofits create and live authentic, successful brands in service of people for thirty years.

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