Back in March, right around my birthday, I received a postcard from my dentist. The front said "Happy Birthday" and the other side said the following..."Best wishes on your birthday and for many happy days throughout the year ahead!"
...and that was it.
No “you’re due for your next cleaning,” no “get 15% off the fillings you’ll need after you binge on cake.” No deals, no reminders, no next steps. Just a nice, heartfelt birthday message.
I think about this card all the time. So, for this edition of Zen and the Art of Copywriting, we're talking about the "just because" touchpoint.
Forgetting About “Then What?…”
Working in marketing, and specifically in sales enablement, I’m used to worrying about then what. I’ve been taught that effective messaging is part of a larger workflow. Each touchpoint, whether it’s an email, a letter, a phone call, or a social media message, leads to the next. We offer value, then we ask for something in return.
“Here’s a blog post you might find interesting, you should think about subscribing.”
“Thanks for downloading our ebook, please schedule a consultation.”
“It’s been a while since we spoke! How about a discount?”
We’re taught that calls to action are necessary ingredients of effective marketing messages. They’re what keep leads moving down the funnel, what turns prospects into customers. Without a call to action, what’s the point of sending the email, mailing the letter, making the call?
Then what do we make of the birthday card from my dentist?
In some schools of Zen, the practice of sitting meditation is called shikantaza, or “sitting just to sit.” While practicing shikantaza, one doesn’t meditate on anything — one just sits. The idea is to learn this practice and then take it off the cushion. Zen practitioners speak about walking just to walk, driving just to drive, and washing dishes just to wash dishes. How about emailing just to email?
Let’s say you have two friends. One friend, Sarah, calls you after not speaking for a while. She just wants to say hi, catch up, shoot the breeze. She values your friendship and decided to foster it by starting a conversation. You speak for ten minutes then say goodbye.
You have another friend named Jared. It’s been a few months since you talked. He calls you up and makes small talk for a few minutes. He says he saw your picture on Instagram and likes your new haircut. Then he mentions that he’s moving on Saturday and could really use your help.
Who would you rather hang out with?
Of course, businesses are not your friends. Among friends, it’s normal that someone would wish you a happy birthday just because. Among businesses, it’s so odd that I’m writing a blog post about it. We’re conditioned to wait for the catch. We understand that when Wal-Mart donates millions to send kids to college, they’re buying back goodwill so they can sell more product. We know that when we use Facebook for free, it’s because our data is being harvested to improve advertising. In business, there’s always an ulterior motive.
Except when there isn’t.
In a world where inboxes are overflowing with content offers, social media feeds are overrun by self-promotion, and consumer brand trust is plummeting, sometimes being nice just for the sake of it is a way to stand out. So, be Sarah instead of Jared.
In other words, when every birthday card has a then what, the birthday card that’s just a birthday card is an outlier — and outliers are the ones that earn our attention.
Tips for Practicing “Just Because” Marketing
- Follow prospects and customers on LinkedIn. Congratulate them on promotions, anniversaries, or changes in their career path.
- Send out a company holiday card. (Like this one below!)
- Give customers a call every few months to see how things are going.
- Send contacts links to articles about their industry that you found interesting.
- Send customers handwritten thank you cards (even if it’s been a while since they converted).
- Send birthday emails to contacts.
- Use business social media accounts to leave genuine comments on your contacts’ posts, or share a client/customer’s relevant content — with their permission, of course!
- Offer help outside of your professional wheelhouse. Does one of your team members know a lot of great restaurants in a city your customer is visiting next week? Ask for their recommendations and share away.
- Sponsor local community events like little league tournaments and 5Ks.
- Post content that your audience may use for their own enjoyment or personal growth. Share a monthly “reading list” on your blog with book recommendations from your team. Or, share a company Spotify playlist.
Zen teaches us there’s value in fully engaging with an activity, without considering the past or worrying about the future. When Baizhang was asked about the proper way to practice Zen, he said: "Don't cling; don't seek."
If we stop seeking, even for a moment, we just might achieve something.
[Editor's note: We're not putting a CTA in this module for obvious reasons. Don't contact us because of this blog post, or Ben will suffer an existential crisis.]