Think about your last birthday. With Facebook making it so easy to send a happy birthday wish, no doubt you were inundated with friend-love. Friends that you haven’t spoken to for 12 months come out of the woodwork for the simple (and sometimes token) act of sending you a birthday message. Your Facebook Wall becomes a sea of sameness, punctured only occasionally with personalised messages like a ‘throwback’ snap – a touch of personalisation that cuts through the clutter.
Now think of the interaction you have with brands on your birthday. Is the experience any different? Similar to your Facebook friends, you will hear from brands that you have long forgotten about, but just as birthday wishes between friends have lost their impact, brand-to-consumer birthday campaigns are no longer effective. Consumers have become so accustomed to sharing their date of birth with retailers that the concept of receiving a birthday email, loaded with some form of discount or reward to entice a sale is no longer novel.
The problem with birthday messages
Automation has made previously time-consuming tasks such as birthday emails something that requires no thought from brands and this is where the problem lies. ICLP consumer research suggests only 28 percent of UAE Millennial shoppers were impressed by receiving a message, gift or offer from a brand on their birthday. More than anything, this demonstrates the impact that bypassing personalisation has on consumer loyalty.
77 percent of all UAE consumers would spend more if their favourite retailers understood their individual needs better and personalised communication and relevant offers are particularly important for younger Millennial shoppers. Furthermore, Millennials and Baby Boomers alike want meaningful and relevant communication from brands – but sending a birthday discount offer is no longer viewed as tailored, and won’t drive differentiation, or customer devotion. It also doesn’t use the full array of data that most retailers have on the shopping habits and preferences of their customers. Your birthday is usually not the day when you do most of your shopping, and as a retailer you really need to know when that day is likely to be and focus energies there instead.
The road to devotion – more than a moment in time
This doesn’t mean to say that brands should be ignoring birthdays altogether – they remain an important opportunity to deliver personalised engagement and drive customer devotion, but it is time for brands to understand how to use data more effectively, beyond a discount. Just as good friends don’t wait around for your next birthday for a chance to show they care, nor should brands. A positive, ongoing brand-customer relationship is not born from a moment in time – instead it involves thinking about the customer experience in its entirety and making communication at every stage of the customer journey as useful, relevant and convenient to customers as possible.
Thinking about the customer journey in this way can help make birthdays become more valuable opportunities to drive a deeper, more meaningful relationship.
The art of gift giving
Whilst we may like to treat ourselves on our birthdays, this is one time of year when it should be the other way around, with friends and family buying gifts for you. One option open to retail brands is to use customer data to help individuals get gifts that they want, rather than gifts they want to return or exchange. Brands should use the run up to the customer’s birthday to acknowledge the occasion and invite them to prepare a bespoke online wish list of items they are interested in. Incentivising customers with a free gift if they complete the list and send it onto their friends and family will encourage further engagement. Making recommendations on particular items they have previously purchased or suggesting other products to compliment these purchases will help provide a more personalised communication.
Offer something special
One problem with retail brands sending out standard birthday discount messages is that it is unlikely to offer the customer anything exceptional or different to discounts given at various points throughout the rest of the year. If retail brands are going to use birthdays to drive greater devotion with their customers, they should be looking for ways to surprise and delight. Make the customer feel special. Whether it’s inviting them in for a VIP styling session, or perhaps investing in a brand partnership with Uber taxis to offer their most loyal customers a free journey within a 20-mile radius of their home address on their birthday. Unexpected rewards such as these will help create differentiation for the retailer amidst the sea of brands simply offering a birthday discount.
Birthdays still offer a valuable opportunity for brands to make their customers feel special and valued. But, whilst a birthday email was once considered enough, customer expectations have evolved and brands must go further to secure their devotion. If a retail brand wants to create true differentiation and ultimately drive loyalty, it must be offering tailored communications that recognise the individual and make them feel special – not just on their birthday but all year round.
Written by Sanjit Gill , ICLP’s Dubai General Manager. His loyalty expertise spans Airlines, Retail, Financial, Telecommunications and Education, working with and leading client development of Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, DHL, Jumeirah Group, InterContinental Hotels Group, VISA, Barclays and OSN.