By Al Puddick, Senior Copywriter at Ogilvy's Business to Business team


If you’re not selling cakes or party hats, birthdays are off limits for email marketing

With more data at our disposal than ever before, sending personalised communications is a great way to engage with potential customers. So, why do some companies get it so wrong? 

It was my birthday recently. The ‘Big 40’, if you must know. Despite being a great day, one thing that stuck with me most was a marketing email. And definitely not for the right reasons.

A company from which I’d bought travel insurance three years ago (and have had absolutely no dealings with since) emailed me to wish me a happy birthday. All very nice, you’re probably thinking. But the message continued:

We hope you have an enjoyable birthday and a happy, healthy year.

If you would like to talk to us about travel insurance cover for your next holiday or you have any questions about our cover please call us on… blah, blah, marketing, blah.

It was a real colonoscopy of an email – intrusive, unwelcome and uncomfortable. They were using my birthday as a spurious premise to contact me. Then quickly crowbarring in a bid to flog me unrelated stuff. 

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, where we’re more concerned than ever about who’s using our data and why, these tactics just don’t fly anymore. You can’t use any old excuse to contact potential customers. They won’t thank you for it, you’ll damage your brand identity and probably lose their business.

So, how can you ensure your marketing emails delight people, instead of just annoying them? Here’s a short checklist:

1. Give people what they actually want

Not everyone will want your special offer – even if it is really, really special. So, do your homework and understand your potential customers’ needs. Otherwise, your brand will appear out-of-touch, lazy and irrelevant.

2. Get your tone of voice right

Some people will like your chatty, jokey, matey bantz. Other people will hate it. And they’ll associate those negative connotations with your brand. So, make sure you’re talking to people in the right way.

3. Make damn sure your offer is related

“Moved to a new home? Have you thought about teeth whitening?”

“We see you recently bought butter. Get 50% off lawnmowers now!!!”

“We’re sorry to hear about your father’s death – would you like 2-for-1 pizzas?”

Using personal insights to approach people can be effective. But if you then link to unrelated offers, it will stand out like an invitation to the colonoscopy clinic. It will fail. And your brand image will suffer.

4. Target the right people

If you only ever try selling sausages to vegetarians, you’ll quickly go out of business. So, use data insights to make sure you’re approaching people who actually want what you’re selling. Otherwise you’re wasting everybody’s time.

5. Lose the scatter gun

Nowadays, people expect personalised messages and bespoke brand interactions. Sending out vague mass marketing emails just won’t catch their attention. Again, find out what people want, and only send them offers related to that. 

In a world of personalisation, where customer data is easier than ever to gather and analyse, approaching people on a personal level can be effective. But get it wrong and your open rates will drop, while your unsubscribe numbers soar. In short, if you’re not selling cakes or party hats, birthdays are off limits.


For more from our B2B team check out our guide to GDPR for B2B.