Advertising is the Price You Pay for Being Unremarkable

The title of this article is a quotation by Jeff Bezos in a presentation to investors in 2009. I couldn’t agree with him more.

On the 14th of February every year, I get a few SMS’s from various businesses and suppliers wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day. They usually go something like this: “Dear Valued Subscriber. Happy Valentines Day from all of us at We-Scorn-Our-Customers.”

Alternatively, around my birthday, I’ll maybe even get a pre-printed card or two, with a rubber stamp of the name of the person who sent it, and Christmas time fills my mailbox with electronic e-mails with animated cartoons of Father Christmas. When I financed my car with the bank recently, I got a computerised thank-you letter – with my name spelled wrong.

Contrast these with the pleasure that you get from chatting to your best friend on the telephone, or opening a card or letter from an old friend with a caring message and a bit of gossip inside.

Staying in touch with your customers, past and present, is vital, and can lead to a lot of benefits. Indeed, this very newsletter that you are reading now is one version of hundreds of possible ways in which you can do so. And while I am going to highly recommend that you stay in touch at least every 90 days as a minimum, I’d like to share a story with you that is very revealing.

When we first got married back in 1986, my wife and I purchased a small flat from an estate agent that we were happy with. At the end of the process, Sabre visited us with a small gift, said thank-you, and we parted ways. We lost touch over the years, but would occasionally see her name on a small billboard or in the newspaper. Exactly ten years later, we arrived home from work one day to find a tiny little plant pot with a violet in it. Attached was a card that said: “Happy 10th anniversary in your new home.”

We were so taken aback and so grateful that she remembered, and her timing was so brilliant. I bet you will not find it difficult to guess who sold us our new home – exactly ten times more expensive than our first little flat.

When you stay in touch with your customers, the benefits to the company are many:

  • You remind customers about you and your business, and reinforce what a good idea it was for them to decide to choose you in the first place.
  • More communication means more trust, and customers know that this is not a “hit and run” relationship.
  • Therefore, they are more likely to remain customers for a longer period of time. This means that they probably spend proportionately more in your business, refer others or recommend you, become less price sensitive, become more forgiving of occasional mistakes, are more likely to cooperate with the systems and processes that you implement, and do things like pay their accounts on time, and, of course, make your business more profitable.
  • Paying personal attention to them makes them feel special, appreciated and recognised, and may even result in an obligation to pay back the favour.
  • The resulting goodwill will make them more willing to buy from you in future, and more willing to listen to your marketing messages.
  • But the fact that you have taken the trouble to communicate regularly means that they will also be more willing to do so – such as to share ideas for innovative new products and services, or to share with you potential problems and complaints.
  • The most important benefit, however, lies in the fact that when you stay in touch with your customers they are far more likely to refer and recommend you to others – if you ask. If you have ever received one of those telephone calls from someone that you haven’t spoken to in years, you usually know that they want something, and that it’s probably going to cost you. On the other hand, if they keep in touch, you cannot be resentful.

I can’t help but feel a bit cynical about the majority of communication I receive. I am, of course, not ungrateful that businesses make some effort to acknowledge that I’m a customer, and put my name onto a database. But it’s the way in which this is handled that troubles me. Special occasions in customers’ lives are personal and intimate. It is so ironic that we use a day like the 14th of February, a day in which love and warmth and caring are expressed, to send a rather impersonal message.

If I am such a “Valued Subscriber,” then why don’t they just telephone me? Usually, these messages are created and distributed by a machine, and it shows. If you can’t bother to even sign your name on my birthday card, rather don’t do it.

So what should you do? Here are some thoughts about when and how to keep in touch:

  • Do it regularly – once every 90 days is minimal, or the longer gap means that the relationship deteriorates. And don’t limit it to customers only – do the same for prospects.
  • Make it personal – handwritten is much better that computer generated, but “live” on the telephone is best. Your database, whatever form it takes, should record personal information that can be used, and must be current.
  • Make it fun, useful, topical and interesting: send stuff that they will be willing to keep, or file away somewhere, and which maybe gives them a bit of a surprise.
  • Have a variety: little gifts, cards, letters of appreciation, telephone messages, scribbled notes on a Post-It attached to something, SMS’s, e-mails, proper snail-mail letters – the list of possibilities is endless.
  • Use the principle of “single-minded repetition,” (as consultant and author Wendy Evans describes it,) and be relentlessly consistent. Keeping it short and simple means it will probably be read.

At the end of the day, sales success and repeat business is a numbers game: the more you talk, the more meetings you’ll get, and the more meetings you have, the more business you’ll get. Thus, if you remember that you probably know somewhere around 250 people well enough to communicate with them personally, they probably also know around 250 people that they may be able to refer you to. That’s 62500 potential prospects – a big stadium full of people!

If you keep in touch with your 250 regularly, and always try to add value for them in some way, it gives you the right, one day in the future, to ask them to let you know if there is anyone else they know who would like what you offer. You may never have to cold call again – ever.

Stay in touch.


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