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3 Marketing Tropes To Eliminate From Your Tactical Toolbox

By October 7, 2014February 1st, 2018Marketing Insights & Strategy, Podcast, Readings
3 Marketing Tropes To Eliminate From Your Tactical Toolbox

Have You Read The Story About Marriott International’s “The Envelope Please” Program?

Or more accurately, the stories.

Depending on which one you read it’s either a brilliant move or a complete outrage. Here’s one that I found to be relatively unbiased so you can read it and draw your own conclusions.

You can probably imagine that I have an opinion on the matter and I want to share it with you because it was the inspiration for this post, which could sort of be summed up as, “Don’t do stupid things in the name of marketing.”

If you listen to our podcast you may have heard us talking about the recent U2/Apple win/debacle (again, depending on the story you read) because it, too, seemed to engender mixed reactions, from joy to outrage. And while people had mixed reactions to both of these stories, I am comfortable saying that giving people a free album (in the case of U2 and Apple) may not have pleased everyone but it wasn’t a poorly executed marketing idea.

The Marriott, however, was hit with a serious case of the stupids.

If you disagree I would love to hear it (or even if you don’t disagree!) but the gist is this:

Under the pretext of helping the room staff (ie: maids) get “the recognition they deserve” and make more tips, Marriott has instituted a program that places envelopes and “polite reminders” in guest rooms so that guests can easily tip housekeeping.

I find this tasteless.

It also makes me wonder why I need to be responsible for “recognizing” housekeeping. Plenty of people go about their jobs without recognition. When was the last time you tipped the guy who made change at the tollbooth? Or carefully bagged your lettuce at the grocery store? Or noticed or appreciated either one?

I kind of feel like Marriott is pushing their responsibility (ie: pay your staff accordingly and show appreciation) onto consumers. So now on top of turning off the lights to save the planet and using fewer towels for similar reasons, I have to make sure maid service is paid well and knows how much I appreciate that they made my bed. You know, the way they’re supposed to do because it’s their job.

Before you flip out, I tip housekeeping. And my hairdresser. And the car valet and the guy who hangs my coat. And even the annoying lady who hands me a paper towel after I use the bathroom even though I have figured out how to work the dispenser all by myself.

I also think tipping is a stupid cultural convention and should die so that employers are required to pay people a sufficient wage that does not require supplemental income by way of what amounts to random acts of generosity.

I also think it’s idiotic from the standpoint that Marriott is international and tipping is seen as everything from “nice to do” to an outright insult in various countries.

That aside, I resent that Marriott has now made this my responsibility. A thing I used to do out of appreciation and generosity is now something I’m being prodded to do because… marketing. It’s basically a PR ploy. Look how awesome Marriott is for supporting those poor underpaid workers! The ones who do backbreaking labor and go so unnoticed! We feel your pain! We heart you!

As long as someone else pays for it.

Whew. So now that I have that off my chest, how does this affect your small business?

It turns out (surprise!) that stupid self-serving marketing tactics are not the sole domain of the large, ugly corporation.

Even small companies can do self-serving things in the name of marketing. It’s with that in mind that I share three of the most egregious marketing ploys that I see, not just sometimes but over and over and over. So much so that it seems like somehow these stupid ideas have made their way into conventional marketing wisdom as just one of those things you do.

And if you read or listen to anything we say around here, you know how we feel about “conventional marketing wisdom”.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Sending Me A Birthday Present. To You.

If you’re on someone’s email list for long enough you will eventually cross that person’s birthday on the calendar. And then you can expect the Birthday Marketing Email.

The one where the sender tells you it’s her birthday. And then gives you a gift! Because how cool is that? And the gift is 10% off her eCourse. Or a free hour of consulting time when you buy two.

That’s not a gift to you. That’s a gift to her. That’s money in her pocket with a discount to you, otherwise known as a sale.

This is such an incredibly cliché and tasteless trope.

It negates the idea of gift-giving entirely, which is supposed to be about giving, not about expecting something in return.

And if you’re on that person’s email list long enough, her birthday will come around again and you’ll get the same “gift” offer where you are generously offered the opportunity to spend your money. Makes you wonder who’s doing the gift-giving, doesn’t it?

I want to wipe this practice off the face of the earth.

My birthday passed in August. Do you know what I told my email list about it? Nothing at all! Because sometimes you can just not capitalize on every human interaction. Sometimes you can just go about your business of being human.

And how’s this for an idea instead? Give an actual gift!

Last year on my birthday I did tell my email list about it. And I said I would give them a gift because I was so tired of the trope-disguised-as-gift marketing ploy that I decided to turn it on its head.

Do you know what I did?

I gave them an actual gift. No strings. I literally bought a gift for a handful of people. If I had the budget I would have bought a gift for them all but in the end a couple of people went home happy and that ended that.

Some things don’t need to be in the middle of a marketing campaign. And if they’re going to be, then at least be honest about it. Calling your promotional email a gift is just plain stupid.

Sorry if that hits a nerve but if I’m irritated by it, you can bet there are at least a few more of me out there. And I’d venture to say that you can be more creative than to jump on the birthday gift email bandwagon.

This Email.

I get a lot of stupid emails but some stand out above the rest as shining examples of how not to run your marketing. Just recently I received this email:

I’ve been tracking the success of your website while doing some research on your industry—I’m impressed with your company, but there are some real opportunities for growth that you currently are missing.

The sender went on to offer me… wait for it… online marketing services.

Perhaps with all her research and being so impressed and whatnot she missed the part where online marketing is my business.

Like trying to sell ice to Eskimos in winter.

Granted, this type of thing is really just spam but it’s not so far off from some legitimate marketing emails I’ve received.

They usually start out by telling me how wonderful I am, followed by how busy I must be, and how if only I would read on for a second, there’s an awesome opportunity awaiting me.

Part of the problem is that they are so generic as to be applicable to pretty much anyone in the world.

Dear Carol Lynn,

I noticed you’re breathing today and that reminds me that it would be the perfect time to tell you how great that is so how about buying my utterly irrelevant thing?

The other problem has to do with the “utterly irrelevant” part.

These senders have an email list of say, a thousand people. And all thousand of them get the same exact email with no consideration for relevance. Prospects, leads, customers, they all get tossed into a lump. Hot leads get the same message as cold leads. Good, paying customers get the same message as tire-kickers who only signed up for the free eBook.

When you email to a single faceless, generic group of people it necessitates a single, useless, generic email. Nobody wants to be treated like a demographic. And on the flip side, if you irrelevantly message people too many times you are quickly going to become The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

People will stop opening or reading your emails.

They won’t bother paying attention to you because they’ll know you’re not paying attention to them.

Has this hit a nerve with you? Sorry again but I have to say it… generic sales-y email messages are a dumb marketing idea.

Next time you want to send an email, think about WHO it’s going to. Not “my list”. But who on your list?

Then talk to them as a human being, not as a statistic.

Promotional Stuff Disguised As A Gift.

What’s worse than you asking me to send you a birthday gift (and pretending it’s for me)?

You sending me a gift – a mug, a t-shirt, a box of candy – with your logo on it.

It’s called promotional stuff for a reason. Because it’s promotional.

You can effectively use promotional materials in your marketing but calling them gifts is not the way.

Let’s not belabor the point and get one thing straight in case my earlier diatribe didn’t sink in: a gift is only a gift if it’s given with consideration only for the recipient and with no expectation of return. No marketing boost. No sale. Nothing.

If you can’t give a gift without ulterior motive then don’t give a gift. Call it a promotion and move on.

The holidays are approaching and if I’ve done my job here then none of you reading this will send out a Thanksgiving fruit basket or a Christmas box of chocolates with your big, fat logo on it (and business card inside!)

Now, let’s add a dose of reality.

We’re in business, here. And business isn’t about altruism. We’d all be running charities if it were.

So it would be disingenuous to say that gift giving is purely altruistic. Maybe you send a couple of people gifts because you truly have a special relationship with them. But let’s face it, we send our appreciation and we offer gifts as part of building those relationships – the kind you need to build if your marketing (and business) is going to be effective.

So yes, gift giving can be part of your marketing strategy if your intent is to build goodwill, show gratitude and enrich relationships.

But you need to be extremely mindful of that intent and never cross the line into gifts that amount to no more than a sales pitch.

Because that’s just a stupid marketing idea.

So tell me… do you vehemently disagree with anything I’ve said here? Are you feeling a little rant-y because I’ve insulted a tactic dear to your heart, or maybe just one you’ve been guilty of?

We all do dumb marketing things from time to time… but that doesn’t mean we have to do them again! Share your opinion on good and bad marketing ideas – maybe some you’ve tried  and wished you could un-try or others you’ve have tried on you. I look forward to your thoughts!

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Finally! Someone’s called BS on the birthday gift email. Gah, how I hate those. Stupid marketing, indeed. Now if we just get those people who rely heavily on affiliate marketing to do their heavy lifting to dial it back a bit, I might be able to enjoy the rest of my week. If I see one more sponsored FB post by someone I thought didn’t play that, I’m gonna pop. (Et tu SARK?) Thanks for shining the spotlight on this crap for us, CL. Always a pleasure.

    • ooo I need to add “affiliate marketing” to my list of annoyances. I find that so incredibly irritating. Some people do go heavy handed on it. In fact, I was on a website the other day that had those double-underlined words that turn into ads and at the top of the page this self-proclaimed marketing person said that we should click on them to help support her business. And all I thought was… if you’re running a business how about THAT supporting you?? Ugh.

  • Krithika Rangarajan says:

    hahahhaha – Carol, you have me doubling in laughter all the time!

    I do enjoy receiving mugs with logos (and paper pads and pens! 😛 ), but, yes, please don’t call them gifts – heheheh

    ( “The Envelope Program” sounds interesting. Thank you for letting us know about it #HUGS )

    Much love

  • Krithika Rangarajan says:

    Hmm…I just read the “Marriott Tipping Plan Draws Attention to Housekeeper’s Needs”. Very interesting article – thank you for sharing it with us.

    I don’t find anything distasteful about reminding the guests about tipping to tip the housekeeping staff, if it is just treated like a ‘bonus’, I guess (like the author mentions). I think showing a little appreciation will go a long way in making the staff feel special. Since these tips are not mandatory, a gentle nudge doesn’t seem too bad! But I can see why some might find it distasteful (the cultural aspect cannot be ignored)

    Thanks again, Carol!


    • Well, I do find it problematic from a cultural perspective because that can be insulting to people. I also don’t think that appreciation should be put on customers. It’s the Marriott’s job to make their staff feel appreciated – not mine. And like I said, I always tip but that’s part of what I’ve learned in my cultural upbringing. And it’s an act of generosity – not something I’ve been prompted to do by a big red envelope. Housekeeping – or anyone for that matter – should not need to rely on tips to either (A) make enough money to live or (B) feel appreciated. Nobody tips me. I would never ask my client’s customers to tip me. Most people work for a living without tips so why are we required to tip others? And although it’s voluntary, it is to some extent “required” from a social standpoint because people who don’t tip or tip poorly are often stigmatized and even receive lesser service. Who is that fair to? I don’t think tipping should exist at all. People should do their job and get paid appropriately and their employer should see to it that there is morale and appreciation. That’s my thirty-two cents!

  • Gloria Miele, Ph.D. says:

    Makes me wonder if you received the same “Birthday Gift” email I did today. But this one had the audacity or lack of awareness (most likely the latter?) to say: Gift Cost: $20, When you actually SAY the gift costs something, then it’s REALLY not a gift. I hadn’t heard of the Marriott promotion, but I may send your link to some managers I know at their properties. Nice post!

  • JP Sharko, M.S., nutritionist says:

    Thanks for not waffling. Good definition of a gift. Period. And gift-giving is purely altruistic. A gift given in appreciation, as a thank-you, is purely altruistic. A gift given in the hope of a professional relationship is not, by definition, a gift.

    • Well, we might have to disagree a bit on that point. I don’t think anything is truly altruistic in reality. In a business sense it’s reasonable to give gifts as part of enriching your relationships, but that’s not the same as expecting something in return (which would make it not gift anymore).