It's The Little Things-Why Birthday Emails Matter

Image: Chaim Soutine

While I was in art school, one of my professors said something that stuck with me: when viewing a piece of poorly executed art, the average person cannot articulate why or how the perspective is"off" but they always pick up that something is not quite right. Their eyes, and thus their brain, knows that the world they are seeing reflected in the painting or illustration shouldn't really look like that.

Our professor cautioned us that we should either be able to draw perspective well enough to "get it right", or intentionally skew things in an unexpected way so that the audience would get our intention, and the piece would invite further evaluation. If we didn’t do either of those things, and were lucky, our audience might forgive our mistake and appreciate what we were trying to do. Most likely though, he said, it would turn them off to the work.

The same holds true in some ways for marketing communications. The average customer or member doesn’t question how they are being communicated with when things are humming along and it's business as usual, but they immediately notice when something is off; which can create negative perceptions towards the brand they're interacting with. Depending on the audience demographic, communicators have few chances to make mistakes. Older customers tend to be loyal to brands or organizations once they’ve committed to them, but younger customers are notoriously fickle and have little patience for brands that don't hit the right note in their communications.

Conversely, customers notice when something happens that goes above and beyond their expectations. It's my birthday in a few days and I've plugged my date of birth into online forms countless times so it's always interesting to see which companies and organizations that I’ve done business with reach out to connect with me on my special day. I could be jaded and unmoved by an email wishing me well as I get another year older, especially since I know the mechanics and intention behind it, but a personalized email–even if it is automated–still means something and I appreciate the effort that went into it. Someone, somewhere, understood that sending out a birthday email makes a difference and had the thought that it was worth taking the time to program the system to shoot out that email. And when they had the thought, they told someone, who told someone, who actually took the time to make it happen.

Granted, these types of emails are a little self-serving and they're not always completely personalized (I got the birthday email above from the Marine Corps Marathon a full three days before the actual day of my birthday, for example), but they still add a personal touch that I often don't experience from many organizations. If some of the non-profits that I support thought to send me a birthday card expressing gratitude that I am still alive and kicking (and therefore able to continue sending them money) then maybe, just maybe, I'd be more inclined to write a larger check when it came time to solicit my annual donation. Or perhaps I'd be more willing to volunteer my time to help move understaffed projects along. There's no guarantees of course, but for those non-profits who want my continued patronage it's a small investment of time and should be worth a shot.

Furthermore, if executed really well, personalized birthday emails can communicate generosity to a customer; how nice that The Marine Corps Marathon reached out, connected and acknowledged me without needing anything. Now that's intentionally skewing my perspective of their brand, in a very positive way. (Note to non-profits: please don't ever insult your constituents when celebrating them with an ask for money in a birthday card. Same applies to thank you cards and holiday greetings too.)

Getting that birthday email made me feel good about the organization and in turn I spent some time on their website checking out their charity partners. They piqued my curiosity which took my relationship with the organization to a whole new level.

So, is your email marketing interesting your customers or turning them off?

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at

How To Impress Me In An Interview

Image: Alex France

I've been reviewing resumes and conducting interviews for graphic designers and marketers lately. Unlike most of my colleagues, I enjoy doing it; I honestly love to learn about people and talk about the things I am passionate about. (One of my top five career choices as a kid was to be a talk-show host. To this day, my friends will sic me on people when they want to find out something about them – they claim I ask the most penetrating questions.)

It can be a dreary process though. It never ceases to amaze me why some people do not follow simple instructions regarding submitting their materials or cover letter. Haven't they realized that this is the first part of the evaluation process?

As communications professionals, we're in the daily business of delighting people so it goes without saying that our public personas should attempt to do just that. Candidates don't cut it as marketing communications professionals in today's business world without active accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter. Having a blog or website has become increasingly important too, and will immediately elevate applicants to the top of the  candidate pile. It shows me who is serious about their craft and is constantly working to become a better writer and or designer. Striving for self-improvement and a higher quality work-product is a critical component of successful marketing communications. Creating and maintaining that robust online presence is key– if candidates can't do it well for themselves, why would I think that they could do it well for me?

There are many people who are good at what they do and have a passion for communications outside of the daily grind; a passion they bring to their work. To get an interview with me candidates have to differentiate themselves and delight me so that I get a sense that working with them would be enjoyable; we would be sharing a common interest, ideas and enthusiasm, etc.

There's always a few that get through to the interview. For them, if they are looking me up on Google, and have found this page, I offer up a few pointers on the things that will make me feel all fuzzy inside when I am doing an interview:

Doing your homework
You should know about me and the organization I am representing, especially if we've already talked on the phone. Use search engines to find out something about me that could make for interesting conversation. It shows me that you care and that you've got the basic internet skills to do some simple background research. A good rule of thumb is to try and know more about me than I do about you.

Bringing samples, printed and digital, even when I didn't ask for them

I want to see what kind of work you've been doing lately, both in the online and offline space. I'm looking for fresh work that reflects the changing world of marketing communications. If it's print, it should be crisp and clean and well-executed. If you can't produce anything newer than five years ago and it was a college project to boot, know that I'll be rethinking whether you are a fit for this project.

Asking me questions throughout the interview
Don't wait until the end of our conversation to ask me questions. You should be interviewing me as much as I am you to find out if we are a mutual fit. Some of the best people I've hired have hit me with questions during an interview that I had to stop and think about before answering. I always want this kind of person on my team as it indicates to me that they are a thinker and will keep me on my toes.

Not being afraid to say that you can't answer my questions with the information you've been given (but telling me what information you would need.)
I don’t expect you to know exactly how to solve the problems I'm throwing out to you after a few short minutes together (and I’ll be sure to throw in at least one real zinger to see how you handle it.) Indeed it's often a good idea to show me that you know how to take stock of a situation and figure out the best way to get what you'll need to make an informed decision later. Knowing how to push back is sometimes more important than having the right answer immediately.

Having pursuits to talk about that on the face of it, have nothing to do with the job

This is always a great indication of someone's initiative. To make the effort to get involved in something without being told to is awesome. In particular, if you're doing something communications related this is a great sign. Examples include: writing your own blog, being involved in volunteer opportunities, or writing and getting published on a subject that interest you. If you can bring in something to your interview–perhaps it's an example of something you've written or a website you've built–that's excellent.

Demonstrating confidence and/or poise without arrogance

This is sometimes a fine line but one that is crucial to being a great communicator. You've got to believe in yourself enough to be respected by others but also know your weaknesses and when to ask for help. You don't have to do a full on salesman's routine to sell yourself but if you don't believe in your own abilities then neither will I. 

Being articulate
Thankfully the stereotype of the geek with no social or communication skills is less common than it used to be. As more people enter the profession so do the variety of individuals you come across. However, those who can clearly articulate ideas and thoughts are going to be far more successful in communications than those who prefer the company of computers to people

Need I say more? Work can often be stressful and demanding. It's important during those times to have a sense of humor and a positive attitude. If I can see you smiling and appearing somewhat relaxed during an interview–a situation I know is stressful for you– then it gives me an idea of how you will perform under the gun once I've hired you.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at