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What’s in a number? Do consumers really care about your company’s milestones?

|April 28, 2017
Number Three shaped Candle on cake
Written by
Shannon Davidson

Shannon Davidson

I attended a marketing conference this week and one of the speakers stated that, “People play it too safe with content.” It made me think…and maybe I’m about to wade into risky waters. But, I have to ask: What’s in a number?

As our country prepares for the ever-growing wave of Canada 150 marketing efforts, does the rather cumbersome sounding sesquicentennial, or any other time-related milestone matter to consumers? Marketers are certainly betting on it.

Let’s think about anniversaries and birthdays for a minute. When I turn 50, will my friends be celebrating the fact I made it to 50 or just be happy to give me a day in the sun? I’ve been to a few 50th parties this year and I can tell you – I wasn’t thinking, “Whoa – amazing! You made it to 50.” I was thinking, “Glad to have this moment to hang out and celebrate that you’re awesome.” Now 25th wedding anniversaries… I often get the sense that many of the people in that particular party room are thinking, “Whoa – amazing. What’s your secret?”

But when it comes to attaching brands to a number…Do consumers really care? Does age matter?

At 150 years old, Canada is young. Did you know IBM is more than 110 years old? IBM – a tech company – is only 40 years younger than OUR COUNTRY! Then there’s HBC, Molson and almost all of our major banks – they were here before Canada was a country!

So what does that show? Well obviously they know a few things. They knew how to adapt and survive while competitors dropped away, and they have invested in enough facelifts to stay attractive. But whether it’s a country, product or company, as marketers we have to ask ourselves if their age matters to consumers. It’s hard to remember sometimes that our job is to put the consumer first, for the brand’s sake. We all know that doesn’t always happen in the right order.

I suppose the relevance depends on the situation and the consumer. There’s a certain amount of comfort, trust and security in knowing a bank is strong and stable and has been around for centuries. Others may feel that a younger company is more in tune with today’s needs. Personally, do I care if my underwear has been made by the same company for 80 years? Am I super excited when I see that my spatula has been in production since 1919? No – not particularly. Why? Because I don’t see how it benefits me. Imagine you’re an eight-year old kid at a 50-year old’s birthday party. What are you thinking? “Big deal for you. Where’s the cake and my loot bag?”

I’m not saying consumers are a bunch of greedy eight-year olds. But let’s face it – they’re usually paying or having to give something to celebrate with you – so there better be cake and a loot bag if you want them to give you birthday love. Even then, if they are only coming for the treats, then do they really like you? Do you think they’ll want to hang out next week? Or maybe if what was in the loot bag is so super special, they’ll think you’re pretty darn cool and have a reminder of you for years to come.

As marketers we must ask… What does age mean to our consumers? How does it benefit them if you are 25, 50, 100 or 300 years old? If you can’t answer that in a few words, it likely doesn’t benefit them and they’ll care more about what and how you do things than how old you are. Think about the many adages: It’s not how old you are, it’s what you do that counts. Age is a mindset, not a number. Or Groucho Marx’s perspective: “Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”

Now we must ask: How will consumers feel about a brand leveraging someone else’s birthday? If I throw a party and say, “Hey neighbours – come to the party I’m throwing to celebrate my landlord’s 150th birthday. I’ll give you free cake, but I’d like you to give me your contact info or buy my souvenir plate at the party.” What would you think? Do you like me more? Are we going to become besties?

So what’s in a number? Can birthdays and anniversaries be relevant for a brand’s consumers or a country’s constituents? This year will be a banner one to study… Let’s check back with each other next winter and see who we feel won the Canada 150 marketing battle.

In the meantime, I really do think it behooves (showing my age) us as marketers to think about these things before we start slapping a birthday hat on our brands and firing up the candles. Because when it comes to marketing, your party isn’t about you – it’s about your consumers.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • How is this milestone beneficial to my customers/clients/stakeholders? (Note: What may not be relevant for one audience could be relevant to another.)
  • Would adding this milestone to my consumer brand story strengthen the brand?
  • Do I have room for another layer of messaging in my brand communications?
  • How can I associate this milestone to my brand in a relevant way for consumers/clients/stakeholders?
  • Can I afford to promote this milestone in a relevant way?
  • How would I measure success and ROI against any efforts to promote this milestone?

——— Shannon Davidson is a former Chief Client Officer at NATIONAL Public Relations