Give the Gift of Anything: Three Keys to Overachieving with Customers

So, it’s the holiday season, and naturally, our thoughts turn to spending time with loved ones, eating (or over-eating in my case,) and the best part: sharing gifts. Whatever holiday you share, exchanging gifts is typically a part of it, and it adds an absolute level of joy, intrigue and excitement as we count down to the big day (or days, or geological phenomena, or whatever you celebrate.)

But what is it about gift-giving and gift-receiving that’s so special? Why do we bother with the fancy wrapping and the bows and the bags and the pomp and the circumstance?  As it turns out, there’s a marketing lesson in this process that’s worth evaluating.  I’ve found three keys that help keep my clients focused on delivering – and in some cases, overdelivering – on value.

The first key:  Surprise
Unless you’re one of those kids who makes a list and then GETS what you asked for, (and ewww if you do,) gifts, as we know them, are something typically UNEXPECTED.  At the very least, there’s a surprise element in the DNA of gifts that make them so enjoyable to receive.  (And as we get older, to give, too.)  In some cases, outside of the holiday construct, giving a gift can be an unexpected circumstance altogether.  Like when flowers arrive, or someone sends you a heartfelt greeting card or surprises you with something like a special dinner.

The second key:  Value
Another important ingredient that makes gifts so juicy is that they’re usually VALUABLE.  It’s not to say that they must be expensive, as much as having real value to the recipient.  That value could be monetary, could be sentimental, could be utilitarian, could be intellectual, could be sexy.

The third key:  Context
Finally, and this is the key, the cornerstone of a great gift experience is correlated to the level of CONTEXT on the part of the recipient.  When you give a gift that someone genuinely wants or really likes, there’s no limit to the value that can be put on it whatsoever.  Sure, unexpected and valuable gifts are nice, but give me something I really want, or have been searching for, or mentioned months ago, or is in a category I have enthusiasm for – that’s a gift I’ll always remember.

Now, let’s think like marketers.  When was the last time you created a structure where you could give a GIFT to your customer?  No, I’m not talking about a little box with a bow, but rather, when was the last time you gave something unexpected to your customer?  When was the last time you added real value to a transaction beyond what was agreed or expected?  When was the last time you took the time to find out what your customers really like, and then over-delivered it, or created a conversation around it that they could participate in or created an event based on that thing for them to attend?

This is what smart marketers do, on every level.  They first agree what the structure of the relationship is going to be:  I’m going to sell you gourmet food and wine in a fine dining atmosphere; I’m going to provide insightful television programming; I’m going to design clothes that you’ll want to wear; whatever.  But once that structure is set up, the smart marketer looks to add these three key ingredients:  surprise, value, context.  So the attentive marketer needs to watch his or her customers carefully, learn what they like, learn what they value, and then surprise them with something perfectly timed and perfectly tuned.

How can you add these three elements into your future marketing?  Whether you’re a small, local business or a multi-national corporation with thousands of employees, give your customers a gift every now and then, and you’ll find they give them right back in the form of deeper relationships, more referrals, maybe even brand loyalty.

Writing Advertising? Shorter is Always Sweeter.

Illustration:  Bruce Crilly

In the history of advertising, some of the most lauded taglines have also been the shortest.  Why is this?  (And while we’re at it, why does the leggy blonde always seem to go out with that short guy?)

Why do we not seem to gravitate to long, multi-syllabic complex thoughtforms?  At first glance, it would seem to be useful if we could pack more bullet points into our advertising signoff, so people would remember lots of stuff about our product or service.  But for American consumers, it just doesn’t work.  Maybe it’s because we’re American.  We like it punchy.  We like it now.  We like Ricky Bobby and light beer, dammit.

Okay, that’s cynical, and not so helpful.  Let’s get serious.  For the most part, shorter taglines work for a number of reasons. Primarily, its because they’re easy to remember.  And if you’re in the business of stimulating demand (that’s what advertising is supposed to do, bee-tee-dubs,) then a short, pithy line is simply more memorable, more recall-able than, say, an advertising haiku. So there’s a form-follows-function overtone there.

Second, there’s an actual meter to consider, a rhythm, a tempo, a little bounce that shorter lines provide over their more verbose counterparts.  With a short line, the consumer can file a meme away into a corner of her mind that only your brand (in the best cases,) can occupy.

Finally, it’s about time.  The modern consumer is busier than ever, and is literally overwhelmed with messages, media, and now devices that carry and deliver information, including advertising messages.  Whether it’s social media applications, or websites, or traditional media, or a sporting event, or the floor at the local grocery store, there simply isn’t time in the consumer’s day to focus on all that content – especially your bloody marketing message.  Now, more than ever, being short and to the point is not just a welcome deviation from the discord in the din, but also a way to stand apart from it.  Brevity is indeed the essence of wit.

Although this might seem confining, remember that you can say an awful lot with a few small words.  Case in point:  ‘Be all you can be.’ for the US Army.  This line lasted more than 20 years and defined perhaps the most successful articulation of any military marketing message. Five words, of two or three letters each.  And yet, the meaning is monumental.  Partly because it’s personalized to the individual reading it via “you,” and “all” is just broad enough to cover virtually every aspect of that individual’s life.  Brilliant.

Some of the most notable short advertising taglines:

Just do it.
Think Small. (This was actually a headline but it rocked so hard, it has to be included.)
We try harder.
Got Milk?
Be all you can be.
A diamond is forever.
Think different.
It’s not TV.  It’s HBO.
Intel Inside.
Because You’re Worth It.
Great taste. Less filling.
I want my MTV!

Putting it into practice:

Let’s not forget, there have been immortal taglines that are not short.  (The Ultimate Driving Machine/When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight/Melts in your mouth, not in your hands, etc.) So when you set out to craft advertising for your business, keep your audience front and center, and let that dictate what you write.  What are they doing?  What do they need?  How can you help them?

Keep it simple.  Better yet, keep it short.  Pack as much into the idea that you can, without leaving too much to the imagination, (although leaving to interpretation is okay.)  Generally, basic language works best – small words, single syllables if you can help it, and a clear, declarative tone.  And NEVER make your slogan – strapline, tagline, whatever you want to call it – a question, okay?   (A really good one only happened, like, once.)

Now,  get your eraser out and start writing.