The saying goes that marketers don’t steal, they borrow. While we all strive to generate original ideas, there’s no shame in borrowing a great idea and making it your own. In fact, one of the exercises that creatives are taught early on is to create “tear folders.” The name comes from days gone by when most people got their marketing from print materials. You’d tear out ads that inspired you.
Today, we don’t tear as much as screenshot ads, but it’s the same idea. Collect great ideas to use as reference for future work. But you don’t have to be a creative to take part in this exercise. You should be taking note of great marketing and sales strategies wherever you encounter them as a way of informing, and transforming, your own campaigns.
Here, I’ve included five recent examples of marketing that made it into my tear folder.
Because I’m a writer, you can go ahead and make certain assumptions about me. Yes, I own corduroy. Yes, I’ve been known to sport a jaunty hat on occasion. Yes, I use words like “jaunty” with annoying regularity. Yes, I love artfully crafted beer. And, yes, I pretty much mainline coffee.
It’s these last two stereotypical writer traits that led me to Tree House Coffee Company. Tree House Brewing Company is the pinnacle of brewing. They’ve never made a bad beer. Zero. So when Tree House announced they were going to start roasting coffee that could be ordered online (unlike their beer), I knew it would be great.
The first time I ordered, my lofty expectations were exceeded. It’s great coffee. But what blew me away was the little extra personal touches that accompanied my order. Inside the package was a handwritten note: “Bob, hope you enjoy the coffee. Thanks so much for your support.” Included alongside the note were stickers – can labels from popular Tree House beers. I was so taken aback by this small gesture that I actually paused and said, “Wow, that’s really nice.”
Tree House is a beloved brand. They have legions of followers. People literally wait in line for hours to buy their beer. They did not need to take these extra steps – I was already a paying customer and the product speaks for itself. But this small gesture filled me, and I’m sure others, with warmth and created the kind of connection typically reserved for face-to-face purchases.
Businesses often overlook the small details that can make a big difference in the customer experience. I can get great coffee down the street. I don’t have to order it online. But these small gestures, which cost nothing and take no extra time, make me want to give my business to Tree House.
Last week I received a birthday card in the mail from Chewy. It struck me as odd, since I have a June birthday. But it made more sense when I opened it and saw that the card was actually for my dog Maggie, whose birthday was October 27, wishing her a great day full of treats and hugs.
You might have noticed that I used the past tense in the above sentence. Maggie passed away a year and a half ago. When I opened the card, I initially felt the empty pangs of loss all over again. I know a lot of people will say that this was a huge marketing mistake, but it was actually a really great idea.
Setting aside that my dog died – how could they have known? – the handwritten card was a really thoughtful gesture that any pet lover can appreciate. It gave the impression that Chewy cared about Maggie and her upcoming birthday as a member of our family would. But it was also a really smart move. The card was addressed to me because Maggie, as brilliant as she was, couldn’t read. As a result, this thoughtful card doubled as a reminder to buy Maggie some special treats for her special day.
It’s a brilliant move that plays to both logic and emotion. I know, because I used the same plan with a girlfriend after a breakup. On Maggie’s birthday, I sent a card to our dog care of said girlfriend. Inside, I wrote something along the lines of, “I miss you and wish I could see you, even just for an hour.” Again, Maggie couldn’t read, so my girlfriend consumed this message that was also intended for her.
The result? That girlfriend is my wife.
Clearly Chewy and I know a good strategy when we see it. I should point out that Chewy also sends sympathy cards when they learn your pet has passed. Also smart, since most pet owners who lose a pet will eventually get another in the future, and they’ll need food and toys and treats.
Is there anything more annoying than ordering furniture or appliances, being told it will be delivered in six weeks, then not hearing a word until hours before the delivery date about whether it is coming and when? Six weeks is a long time to wonder if your couch is coming on time or if that backorder has been extended.
I had this issue with Lowe’s – they said my appliances were coming and I didn’t hear boo from them until the morning they were supposed to deliver, at which time my wife was pestering me to call and confirm that the appliances were coming and weren’t another casualty of the current supply chain fiasco. I got a text that morning confirming the delivery, but not before the tension in our house had reached critical mass.
As it happens, we also ordered a dining room set from Bob’s Discount Furniture. It was also on backorder and wouldn’t be delivered for several weeks. However, they’ve sent regular texts with updates on the order and its expected delivery. The communication has been so clear and consistent that I have known well in advance that the table and chairs would come this Saturday and that the bench would come next Saturday.
It’s an amazing experience. Not once has it crossed my mind to call Bob’s. Because I’ve been in the loop regarding my order for every step of the way, I have not had any opportunity or reason to become stressed or dissatisfied. So many businesses drop the ball post-sale. They take your money and then fall flat on service, especially with communication. They use reactive customer service that relies on you to call when you’re not happy or have critical questions.
Bob’s uses a proactive approach that answers questions before they’re asked in an attempt to prevent customers from becoming frustrated in the first place.
The above examples reference B2C scenarios. Any time we reference B2C, we invariably hear a chorus of, “But that doesn’t apply to B2B. It’s different!” It does and it’s not.
One of our clients, Crosby Hops, provides hops to breweries across the country. Every time a new customer buys from them, they send a welcome package that includes swag such as stickers and hats, as well as samples and a note welcoming them to the family. It’s a beautifully put-together package. Hell, even the box it comes in is so cool you want to keep it.
Crosby’s customers love the welcome package, tagging them on social media to thank them and share the experience with followers. The welcome package is modest enough to be cost-effective for Crosby but generous enough that their customers are wowed and feel justified in choosing Crosby to buy their hops from.
Amazon has become Amazon based on the digital experience it offers. Almost anything you could want, or a suitable substitute, can be ordered online and delivered to your door in two days. It is the epitome of modern e-commerce. And yet last week I received from Amazon nothing less than the epitome of old-school shopping: a holiday catalog.
It was glorious. At first I thought that perhaps my fondness for this relic from the past was owed to nostalgia, the hours spent during my youth spent staring at toys I just had to have, that I would beg my parents for, that would make their way to an endless Christmas list.
But as I sat down with my daughter and she had me flip through the pages, I clearly saw what someone at Amazon came around to. Amazon is a great shopping experience for adults that know what they want. But it’s not necessarily great for browsing, and it’s definitely not something a 4-year-old can thumb through.
A catalog, on the other hand, offers a constrained experience that directs attention to a curated and finite collection of items that Amazon and its partners want their customers to focus on. It’s an old idea that many might have assumed an entity like Amazon would have no use or love for. Certainly other stores still use holiday catalogs, including Walmart and Target, but those are brick-and-mortar stores with a legacy of using those tactics, which feel very anti-Amazon.
Doubling down on this retro marketing, Amazon included several activities in the holiday catalog. Every few pages my daughter encountered a maze or a sheet of stickers or a picture to color. These activities kept her going back to the catalog for several days, and each time you thumbed through the pages, stopping to tell me how she needed the Barbie camper or ask if I’d ever seen an American Girl doll.
It’s a reminder that old tactics used successfully for generations still have a place in today’s marketing. New dogs shouldn’t shy away from old tricks just because they’re old. Great ideas stand the test of time.
So much marketing is mediocre (or worse) that it’s easy to notice when it’s done really well. The hard part isn’t taking note of that great experience – it almost always hits you right in the gut – it’s identifying what makes it so effective and how to apply it to your own efforts.
As the above examples show, you don’t need to invest in expensive technology or top talent to execute ideas that make a huge difference to prospects and customers. Anyone can include a handwritten note in an order. Clear communication is made easier with automation, but you don’t need a platform to proactively relay helpful information to customers. Often, what separates the best businesses (and experiences) from the rest is the willingness to go the extra step.