Special days trigger great merchant perks

A marketing idea I’m not sure I agree with is obtaining customers’ birthday or anniversary dates and then sending them acknowledgement. Maybe it’s just me, but I found it a bit disingenuous if not downright weird when I used to receive a greeting card annually from the Oshtemo Saturn dealership to commemorate the anniversary of my purchase of a Saturn vehicle. I’m guessing the practice would have gone on indefinitely had Saturn not been dissolved.

Although the cards said, “Anniversary Greetings from your friends at Saturn” or something like that (it’s not like I scrapbooked them!), I always read, “Allow Saturn to blatantly use this trumped-up occasion as an excuse to stay in touch in hope we can sell you another car.”

The annual Saturn suck-up card would arrive on the exact date of the purchase anniversary of my dark green SL2, just as I was heading out to buy champagne to celebrate ownership. I always tried to do something special to commemorate my Saturn ownership. I mean, it was that important to me.

I’ll never forget the surprise party family and friends threw for me on the landmark fifth year anniversary of my union with my car. I was hung over for days after that swank, catered celebration. Had the car detailed extra nice for the occasion. But seriously, Saturn violated my cardinal rule of marketing: It’s one thing to try and ingratiate yourself to people, just don’t be so stupidly obvious.

Sometimes, marketing-oriented special occasion greetings backfire. A friend of mine who has led a fairly insulated life told me that on his birthdays he receives but two birthday greetings: One from me and the other from his insurance agent. His insurance agent might as well write “Happy Birthday, lonely person” inside the card. Ouch.

The only thing worse than not truly caring about customers or clients or patients as people is PRETENDING to care about them as people – once a year! “Today is the day I’ve finally decided to acknowledge you because I’m going to want some more business from you soon. Lucky you!”

So now that I’ve defined what’s unacceptable in terms of using birthdays and anniversaries as an excuse to market to me, I will tell you what is not only acceptable, but preferred: Special offers. Generous ones. Here are a few of my favorites:

With the exception of taking a very old person to the old Bill Knapp’s to receive hia/her age as a percentage off a meal, you can’t easily top Finley’s $9.95 off a birthday dinner. As luck has it, my husband and brother-in-law share the same birthday, so our dining party can receive $19.90 off the bill by taking the pair to Finley’s each June 26. I save even more because they usually insist on paying the bill. What a system!

I turned 47 on Dec. 19 and, you guessed it, celebrated by eating at Finley’s. Followed up by stopping at Fazoli’s on the way home to collect the free birthday dessert of my choice (okay, there aren’t that many choices) they offered me through an e-mail coupon. I’d lunched earlier in the day at Schlotsky’s, on the free small sandwich coupon they e-mailed me for my birthday. I was on a roll!

Did I mention I was wearing a sweater I purchased at a consignment store in Jackson using the $5 off birthday coupon they mail me each year as a birthday gift? I’m saving the Moonraker restaurant’s free birthday appetizer e-mail gift certificate for a weekend when my kids won’t be with me to blow the birthday savings out the window.

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor, Alan, and I went to the cheap flicks and for a bite afterward, our tradition for celebrating our adjacent December birthdays. Kicked myself at forgetting my Culver’s buy one, get one free coupon. And had we brought our own popcorn container, we could have saved on popcorn at the movies (Alan nixed my hubcap idea).

Offers of savings are far better than insincere cards. As we grow older, they give us something more palatable to sink our teeth into . . . . while we still have them.

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