Last week was my birthday. Like every year I had the pleasure to see a lot of people wishing me that, which by vanity or simply because I am a human being is naturally pleasing.
Besides, when I say “like every year” it is not necessarily exact. Because even if I didn’t keep an exact accounting I think that this number keeps increasing from year to year.
After all, it’s logical: the more time passes, the more people you meet, the more likely it is that some of them will think of you on this day that is more symbolic than really important.
But the fact remains that compared to “before” I feel that it doesn’t have the same flavor. Yes I know, with time you put things in perspective, you are less happy to see the years piling up and people reminding you of it, and you don’t need a PhD in psychology to understand that what was a key date when you were 10 years old is now just an excuse for something else 30 years later.
Before, a mark of attention that changed everything
If you try to go back 15 or 20 years, you remember what it felt like to get up, go to school or to work and realize as the day went on that people had written down the date and were thinking of you. A tiny gesture that touched. It required attention and effort, however small, from others, but attention and effort that was truly pleasing.
What has changed since then? Social networks. Every morning we receive from multiple sources the list of people who are in our networks and whose birthday it is…and one day it is the others who receive your name. All you have to do is send a quasi mechanical message to everyone.
In the more than 200 messages received there are those who would have thought of it anyway, those who don’t have the date but are sincerely happy to be reminded on the right day, those who do it in a mechanical way…
There were messages that I expected, others that touched me more, and others that were totally inappropriate.
Inappropriate? On Facebook, I have more or less close friends and there is a certain logic. On LinkedIn, receiving a “happy birthday” from people I hardly know or with whom I have only had distant professional relationships never ceases to amaze me. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but there are celebrations and attentions that depend on the relationship you have with a person, on how close you are to them… A bit like inviting yourself to a party at the home of people you’ve only met in the hall of the building or the elevator.
What I meant to say is that sharing something as anecdotal as the day of one’s birth gives rise to almost mechanical reactions. “It’s his birthday so I’m wishing him, regardless of the relationship I have with him”. What used to be a proof of attention has become an automatic and sometimes dehumanized act. So much so that some of the people I was expecting were missing. They have decided to stop playing a game where spontaneity has lost its place, to see their message drowned in the middle of others more “opportunistic” than theirs. Or they went through another channel or, as some of them wished me the day before, because “that way you can see that we really think about you and that we don’t wait for the Facebook reminder to process the birthdays of the day in bulk”.
When everyone sends their wishes, we value less those who really thought about it. It’s sad for them.
The worst part is that the time spent sorting out the “I got an alert and I’m talking nonsense to someone I barely know” and the (many) real sincere messages made me miss messages and waste time so I couldn’t reply to everyone (yes because I try to reply to everyone) and disappointed people. The worst of the worst being, not surprisingly, LinkedIn. Sometimes it was almost like “happy birthday….did you download our last white paper” or “I haven’t had an answer to my request that you didn’t ask for and for which I already reminded you 10 times” too common on this platform that is starting to go down the drain.
The worst part is that the time spent sorting out the “I got an alert and I’m talking nonsense to someone I barely know” and the (many) real sincere messages made me miss messages and waste time so I couldn’t reply to everyone (yes because I try to reply to everyone) and disappointed people. The worst of the worst being, not surprisingly, LinkedIn. Sometimes it was almost like “happy birthday….did you download our last white paper” or “I haven’t had an answer to my request that you didn’t ask for and for which I already reminded you 10 times” what is now so common on this platform that is starting to go down the drain.
In short, in a world where information is widely shared and communication is easy, showing signs of attention can be so easy and effortless that it loses its value. Because in the end, what is important in a message? The message? No! the attention that led to the message and the possible proofs of attention it contains.
Brands: from the relational economy to low-cost relationships
There are others that for 15 years or more have never failed to remember me: brands. Of course, sending an email is much easier (and cheaper) than sending a letter or putting a flyer in my mailbox.
They don’t wait for my birthday or any other occasion. They write to me every day, every week or every month. So much for attention: there are hundreds of thousands of us who receive the same promotions. Contrary to what the header of the email says, it’s not a promotion “especially for me” but “especially for the 152,879 people who have the same demographic as me and have bought such and such a product in the last 2 months”. And that’s just for the ones who do their job the best. I won’t even tell them that it’s nice of them to think of me, because by doing so they want me to think of them.
So of course they thought of this special day too, certainly renaming the promotion made to many others. In short, one more email, one more promotion.
There are still some that bothered to write to me. A real letter on real paper. Don’t dream, everything is automated and printed, but at least I paid more attention to it since paper mail has almost disappeared from my life. But hey… the 5€ discount to make me come back to the store is a bit stingy.
To have such means, to have so many tools…all for that and to end up in the “ads I’ll never read because I get so many” box. It’s a shame.
By choosing the easy way out, they go from the promise of a relational economy to a low-cost relationship economy.
Digital has made things so simple that in order to exist you have to differentiate yourself.It has taken us from a world where “it’s only the intention that counts” to a world where “we measure attention by the effort it required”.
I think the customer who is bombarded with messages understands this. The brand that sends them doesn’t necessarily. When sending a message took time, required an effort, it was valued. When you send 10,000 messages in one click, you’ve simplified your life but you’ve lost impact.
Back to the basics of commerce.
There is a small restaurant that I really like in the 2nd district of Paris. Every day I receive their newsletter with the daily specials, which makes me want to go there to eat or, in the current context, to take my takeaway dinner there.
The owner doesn’t call it marketing automation or relationship marketing, and he’s not even familiar with those topics, that’ s not his world. He just informs customers who want to be informed and has no other pretensions.
He is also quite active on social networks but not because he wants to do content marketing. Only because he is passionate and has a lot of things to tell about his job.
On the other hand, on my birthday, he prepared a daily special composed of dishes that I like very much, and others from my region of origin, all revisited in “bistro/gastronomic” mode. All the customers were able to enjoy it but the allusion in the form of a wink to my birthday was obvious in the way he presented the menu.
And that was worth all the attention in the world.
While everyone invests in digital like a silver bullet that does everything “automagically” without you having to worry about it, it just puts into practice the basic practices of commerce: knowing your customers and having the little touch that makes the difference. You don’t have to do a lot all the time, just something that makes a difference at the right time.
You know? What the shopkeeper did when we were children and accompanied our parents to the market or to their store. What we lost the habit of doing as we went to more and more big stores or as the little ones thought that using the tools of the big ones exempted them from the basics of the profession.
Digital brings two things: speed and scale. But it takes away the way we perceive attention, which logically disappeared with automation. This is a pity.
B2B or B2C? Human to human, that’s all.
In short, every year at the same date I say to myself “Sh*t…it’s my birthday tomorrow, I’m going to get spammed again and miss the opportunity to have a quality time with many people”.
PS: I know what many will say to this mood note: I just have to delete my birthday from all my profiles. And that’s what I did.