3 Tips for Giving the Gift of Relevant Marketing

If you celebrate Christmas and you’re anything like me, you’ll spend this evening (and probably the next), scrambling to find that perfect gift for that particular person—the one who doesn’t “want anything,” and who already has just about everything you can think of. As the Christmas Eve shopping hours wind down to mere minutes left, defeated, you end up buying another gift card. This piece of plastic, not unlike the one you doled out last year—devoid entirely of sentiment and meaning, and likely doomed to sit unused in a drawer or wallet until forgotten about—is what you give, when you just can’t figure out what someone really wants or needs.

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And in many ways, a lot of modern marketing is exactly like that impersonal gift card. Brands want to engage with customers, and provide their audience with some sort of value in their communications, but without knowing what really motivates these individuals, the messages come across as generic at best, and completely out-of-touch and irrelevant at worst. And considering how difficult it can be to choose a gift that surprises and delights for someone you know very well, it’s clear that companies face enormous challenges in deriving the kind of insights about their customers that enable personalized and resonant messages and offers. Delivering on 1:1 marketing is a huge, complex task, but it can be done. Here are three recommendations to help you give your customers the gift they want most from you this year:

1. Ask. And listen.

As a holiday gift-giver, I sometimes hesitate to ask my friends and family outright what they’d like to receive—but let’s face it—it’s the shortest path to making sure you give a gift they’ll love. Even Santa needs a wish list from every child to know what to leave under the tree (that his omniscience is only applicable to child behavior is questionable, but that’s a topic for another time).

As a marketer, it’s a crucial step in relationship-building. When you first meet someone, you ask questions to get to get to know them—while showing that you care about their interests, wants and needs. From product preferences to email subscriptions, allowing customers to direct their terms of engagement with your brand creates trust, and arms your marketing team with invaluable data to ensure that the next message is the right one. In order to maintain that trust, however, you have to follow through. Use the data customers give you to create great experiences for them in return.

2. Do the heavy lifting for them.

Really savvy parents put the fancy (read: ridiculously complex) toys together before their child unwraps them. As a kid, I can remember few things more disappointing than opening a gift that I was out-of-my-mind excited to play with, only to realize it was totally disassembled and in a thousand confusing pieces that would need to be painstakingly pieced together (why, oh why must I wait, Barbie!) before I could enjoy it.

Your customers should never have fumble their way toward transacting with your company. If they can’t figure out how to engage with you quickly, easily, and without clicking themselves into oblivion, then you’ve already lost them. Anticipate their needs, react quickly when you can’t, and remove every barrier you can, everywhere you can. Be the aunt who always included the four D batteries with the lights and motion fire truck.

3. Be contextually relevant. Seriously.

You know how embarrassing it is to unwrap a Spanx control-top bodysuit in front of a room full of your relatives? Maybe you don’t, but I do, and let’s just say that some gifts are better left for…well, not opening in front of your grandparents.

“Contextual marketing” once solely meant delivering the right message at the right time, and while that still holds true, advances in mobile technology now enable ultra-relevant experiences that take into consideration where an individual is physically standing at the optimal moment for engaging with them. For instance, a retailer specializing in the sale of women’s undergarments could send your mother a coupon or special offer to her smartphone when she walks into the store, and then send her a follow-up email after she redeems that offer, reminding her to not wrap that gift for her daughter to open in front of the entire family. Or something like that…that’s timely, smart, and useful in the moment.

But regardless of whether you celebrate the holidays, give gifts, or prefer to duck out on a quick trip to the Bahamas every last two weeks of December, no one really likes being on the receiving end of tone-deaf and off-base marketing messages. So before you send that batch-and-blast email or run the same ad across the Facebook feed of every woman in the United States between the ages of 18 and 35, remember that the best gift a marketer can give their customers is a relevant offer they can act on. Don’t be the gift card in a pile of monogrammed accessories.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.