As marketers, we like to think we have “relationships” with names in our databases. We use the most exalted term to describe them: customers. But do they think of themselves that way? Often, the answer is no, but it doesn’t seem to affect company behavior.
The problem is a subset of the larger issue of PR and marketing: people going native. I like to remind myself daily that the non-profit for which I work is but a walnut in the batter of our donors’ lives. Our staff will say something that starts with, “People think we…” when most people don’t think about us at all. Even most loyal donors who love the organization’s mission, and contribute an amount of money that would shiver your timbers, are only obliquely aware of anything we’re doing.
And if you sell flavored, carbonated sugar water; or aggravating software; or diapers; your customers care even less about you. You might use condoms twice a day but that doesn’t mean you don’t hate them and the company that makes your soaring personal life possible.
Case in point: I have a credit card through The Nature Conservancy. If you asked my wife or me, we would say it’s our Nature Conservancy card. We don’t know or care what bank issues the card and we certainly don’t consider ourselves their customers. (Not to put too fine a point on it: We hardly use the card.)
This bank, whose marketing department “values our relationship,” in the same way that I value my relationship with the center fielder for my favorite baseball team, sends us regular emails and old fashioned mail. At least I assume they send us emails; I unsubscribed so fast the electrons didn’t have time to dry.
I couldn’t tell you what’s in the envelopes they mail to us. I open them only so that I can remove the recyclable contents and mitigate the damage they’ve done to the planet.
Except I’ve started to notice that they are mailing me blank checks in the vain hope that I’m stupid enough to accept their “free” money offers, the offers that come with interest rates that would make Rico “The Shirt Collar” Spenzino* envious.
*Any resemblance between the fictional character Rico “The Shirt Collar” Spenzino and a couple of guys from my New York City neighborhood is purely purposeful. The views here do not represent the views of the Charleston AMA, the national AMA or even the AMA that’s filled with doctors. Also, my family no longer lives in the old neighborhood, Vinny, so don’t bother.
If the bank is intent on profiting from the prying apart of fools from their money, that’s their business. What rankles me is that they are printing blank checks with my name on them, putting them in an open box at the Post Office – a nearly bankrupt subsidiary of the always-efficient Federal Government – and hoping they will be delivered to me and no one else after they pass through the hands of a dozen highly-motivated federal employees.
Blank checks. With my name on them. What could go wrong with that?
What did that marketing department discussion sound like? Wasn’t there anyone in the room who noticed that they were setting themselves up for big piles of thievery?
So now a question for the bank from one of their customers. What happens when a postal employee handling the envelope, or a neighbor who reaches into the wrong mailbox, or a random person on the street who also values my relationship with the bank, gets his paws on the blank checks and cashes a couple of them? There’s no court in America that would expect me to be responsible for mail I never received.
Which is why I’m looking forward to the day that some vagabond (or blog reader) intercepts a packet of checks (did I mention that they’re blank?) and enjoys a lovely weekend in a tropical paradise like Atlantic City. I look forward to learning how much the marketing department values its relationship with me then.