Brand birthdays: You’re doing it wrong

From identifying brand archetypes to using real staff names, content marketers spend a fair amount of time getting brands to think and act like real people. So why does it all go so wrong when brands celebrate a birthday?

What real people do for a birthday:

  1. Throw a party.
  2. Invite all their friends.
  3. Receive cards and gifts.

What brands do for a birthday:

  1. Develop a birthday logo.
  2. Create an interactive company timeline.
  3. Print coffee table books about themselves and give them to staff (and magazine editors).

I don’t know about you, but “It’s our birthday, but you get all the presents!” is getting old.

So, what’s going wrong?

1. People don’t care how old brands and companies are.

Coke or Pepsi? Well, Coke’s older … Most of the time, the age of a brand or company doesn’t factor into our purchase decisions. In some cases, a brand’s age can work against it – appealing to a youthful audience or showing that your company moves with the times can be a challenge if your message is all about turning 150.

2. Brands can’t create that intimate party feeling.

If you’re a successful brand it’s difficult to get 100,000 of your favourite customers in a room to celebrate. While turning 10 can be the trigger for 10 per cent discounts or $10 sales, it doesn’t have that real birthday feeling. It feels like what it is: a sales hook.

3. Staff don’t care either.

If your employees weren’t excited to work for you when the company was 49, they aren’t going to be suddenly enthused when the company turns 50. And they won’t be proudly handing around your brand’s coffee table book at their next barbecue.

4. Surprise! Customers want to celebrate … themselves.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of brand birthdays. Why not embrace a celebration that really does mean something to customers and is seldom acknowledged well: the customer’s anniversary with you?

Marketers have more data and more personalisation options than ever before. However, brands typically ‘celebrate’ a year’s custom by sending a loyal customer a form letter and an updated contract where they’re often raising the prices.

It’s widely accepted that retaining a customer is better and cheaper for brands than acquiring new ones. However, I can count on one hand – actually, one finger – the brands that have celebrated the fact that I’ve been with them for a year or two or five, in a memorable way that didn’t cost me money.

My lone example: A health insurance provider (which shall remain anonymous) acknowledged that I’d been a customer for a year with a thankyou note and the offer of a six-month subscription to a magazine of my choice. It was an inspired gift choice, not only because I love magazines, but also because the arrival of every month’s edition brought the brand to mind.

But if you must celebrate your brand’s birthday …

Do it with style. Marmite cleverly linked its 110th birthday to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, promoting special edition Ma’amite. And Oreos celebrated 100 years with a brand-updating twist. Not an interactive time line in sight.