Just Say NO to Gift Cards

Another example of why gift cards aren’t the best choice for saying thank you to customers, rewarding loyalty and building stronger relationships showed up in my world the other day. I belong to an entrepreneurial women’s group and as a gesture of appreciation, the founder sent out egift cards to all the members. Since they would arrive via email and could be overlooked as spam, she posted a “be on the lookout for this email” message on our private Facebook page.

While several people responded with excitement and gratitude, one person posted this:

FBpost-giftcard

It says: “Perhaps I am splitting hairs, but I don’t want something that was probably paid for with my monthly dues to be a gift. Technically it would be called a rebate. Unless the $5 cards were a measure of goodwill directly from the Starbucks corporation.”

Ouch! Now we can discuss whether or not the poster is justified or exhibiting bad manners, but the truth of the matter is, she’s not the only one who feels that way about receiving a gift card. If you’re using gift cards to say thank you to clients, members or referral sources, they may very well feel the same way. And if they do, it could affect their decision to send you more business.

Even though you may be spending the same $5 or $10 or $50, giving gift cards is very different from giving actual gifts. Gift cards have a monetary value attached and displayed right on them, (why not just hand the recipient a $10 bill?). A box of cookies, a plant or a beach ball do not and are therefore perceived as a much more authentic gift and genuine expression of appreciation.

In our society, we use money as a form of payment for market transactions. We pay money to buy goods and services. We can get away with giving money as a gift for weddings or children’s birthdays because what we’re really giving there is an investment in their futures. Paying out cash, or giving a gift card, which is the equivalent of cash, is not an acceptable form of gift for business associates.

In addition to now being viewed as tactless, giving a gift card is also not very memorable. It’s certainly not noteworthy. Who gets so excited about a gift card that she displays it on her desk or shows it to her colleagues? Why would you want to give something forgettable when you could easily share something more fun and remarkable? Often for the same price or less!

Next time you’re faced with the decision of how to give thanks, think of the most creative way you can do it, not the least.

Need help coming up with remarkable, impressive and still budget-friendly thank yous? I’ve got plenty of ideas. Call me and let’s brainstorm.

PS: Just for the record, I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth and do appreciate the meaning behind the giving of the above mentioned gift card. However, I felt compelled to take this opportunity to discuss the consequences of making that giving choice.

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The World Is Freaky Beautiful

This is the title of my friend Evan Griffith’s blog. He and I connected through a mutual contact years ago and then lost touch. Weeks before I moved from South Florida, we ran into each other in the waiting area of our mechanic’s shop (crazy how the Universe works, huh?).  Seems we’d been following similar paths of personal development and self discovery and we had a lot to discuss over a subsequent couple of lunches.

Evan hadn’t yet launched his blog then, but he has now and he’s been quite prolific. Good stuff here and I encourage you to check it out. Especially the May 14, 2011 post, because he based it on one of our conversations about spiritual and life teachers.

A Year of Thank Yous

I recently saw a review of the book “365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.” Author John Kralik was just about at rock bottom in his life – his law firm was failing, he was in the midst of a divorce, was overweight, lived in a crappy apartment, was out of contact with his kids, and so on. And during a New Year’s Day walk, he decided that maybe he could find a way to be grateful for what he had.

Sure, we’ve all heard about keeping a Gratitude Journal, and that’s all fine and good. But John took it a step further and, inspired by a thank you note he had received, determined to hand write 365 thank-you notes in the coming year. He shared his gratitude for kindness shown by family, friends, colleagues, store clerks, neighbors, etc. Miraculously, he became the beneficiary of all kinds of fortune, which is really not all that surprising if you understand karma.

SO even though I haven’t yet read the book, I decided to take up the challenge of doing the same thing. The timing is of course perfect because we’re just at the start of a new year. I actually think I’m going to have MORE than 365 people to write to, although at the moment the list is only running in my head and I haven’t any idea how many are on it. I’m wondering how I might reach people I’d like to thank but for whom I have no address. Guess I’ll figure that out somehow.

I posted this goal on Facebook and got some logistics questions. Making up my own rules here, these thank yous will be handwritten and mailed or hand delivered, as appropriate. They will not be posted on any social media site, as I don’t intend for them to be public declarations. The thank you notes I write to first time Zen Rabbit clients don’t count as part of the 365.

I’m excited to get started. I’ve been thinking about who I will choose to kick it all off and I think I know, but I’ve got another day of contemplation before I have to actually write. So many possibilities! Which only serves to emphasize how blessed I am to have such a pool of people from which to pick.

A few friends indicated that they too are up for the task. How about you? Get your fine stationery, the writing implement of your favor and start thanking!

Sales & Discounts: A Service or Disservice?

Ever since Black Friday, I’ve been thinking about this question. Is it a service or a disservice to offer deep discounts to customers? As a customer, I love being able to take advantage of a good discount and save money. Who doesn’t?

On the other hand, seeing such crazy price cuts and knowing that even with the markdowns, stores are not selling at a loss, makes me think these retailers must have pricing really jacked up in the first place. And that makes me mad – for a couple of reasons.

As a consumer, if I pay full price and in a next week it’s on sale for 50%, I feel like I paid too much. Even if I go back and the store gives me the price difference, how much time and effort will that take? Time is valuable too, so probably not worth it.

As a business owner, I can see how these practices condition customers to expect and wait for sales. Sometimes, seeing all the 20%, 45% and 70% off promotions around me encourages me to think about putting my products on sale too. But unless there’s a very good reason, such as it’s at the end of its shelf life or you need to clear out a particular package, discounting cheapens the value of what you’re offering.

Have you noticed that Louis Vuitton, Rolex, MAC and Under Armour never go on sale? Sure you can argue that LV and Rolex are luxury items and their target market can afford them regardless. The other two brands are not considered luxury though, so that logic doesn’t work too well. Furthermore, I saw an article earlier this month in which Louis Vuitton Chief Executive Philip Corne was quoted as saying, “If we never go on sale, then we never undervalue the product. This consistency is well-recognised by the consumer.”

Right on; there’s the key. It’s not about the cost – it’s about the VALUE (which gets into a whole other blog post, to be written soon. In the meantime, watch this Bob Burg video clip).

If what you’re providing is of real value, then offering it at a discount seems to be more of a disservice to your clients. Your thoughts?

It’s so incredibly complicated

Yesterday my friend Maria Gamb posted on Facebook “I’m wondering why people make things so incredibly complicated?” Good question! I’d also like to know the answer to that one. A bunch of people offered up their ideas: “So they can say it’s too hard or too difficult … so they don’t have to even try” or “For a sense of solid measurement – the harder it is, the better I am for getting it done.”

A while later, Maria offered an answer to her own query with “My insight into this is when others make something *that* difficult it’s their need to be perceived as important. Entertain it and one becomes an enabler. Stop it and one can maintain their peace. Keep it simple. Straight line to the end.”

Based on my experience, I have to agree with Maria’s analysis. A majority of project proposals and requests for information, even job descriptions I’ve read leave me thinking, “WHAT are they saying?” I consider myself pretty bright and I do not understand what they’re looking for. Can we get this in plain English, please?

Trying to sound as if you’re way more grandiose than the average bear usually makes you sound like a pompous, egotistical blowhard. And if you’re trying to get people to listen to you, that’s not good. Don’t buy into the belief that things needs to be convoluted or difficult. Have you seen some of the summaries and descriptions of experience people have posted on LinkedIn lately? Perfect examples of what we’re talking about. There is truth in Maria’s comment,  “complicated is a smoke screen for insecurity.”

Get over yourself. The lesson here for you is, always keep it simple. Have a little fun! People have short attention spans (and they’re getting shorter all the time). Help your clients or other audiences understand the great information you have to convey by speaking (even if you’re writing) as if you are talking to a friend. Make it easy! That’s how you get the best results!

What do you stand for?

Here it is the end of September, aka National Literacy Month. As many know, Zen Rabbit committed to donating 10% of all product sales made this month to literacy organizations. I am thrilled to be able to contribute to this cause I strongly believe is so important. Have a two minute conversation with me about this topic and you will feel my enthusiasm. And so I have to ask, what is it you stand for?

If you have your own business, what have you created it to stand for or be about? If you work for an organization, why are you there? What is it about this particular organization that attracted you and keeps you there? (I’m looking for an answer beyond “paycheck” okay?!) Where is your passion?

It doesn’t have to be for a specific cause like literacy. It could be a passion for the thrill of the chase or pursuit of justice. I heard a presentation this morning from a workers’ compensation attorney. She clearly conveyed how she absolutely loves working on fraud cases so what could have been another boring, this is what my law firm does discussion became way more engaging.

When you can find and convey that passion, people (as in new customers, the media, partners, etc.) start really listening to you. People want to know you and do business with you. It not only sets you apart, it sets you on fire (no, not literally!) and excites and inspires everyone around you.

American theologian Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Can Anything Make You Happy?

Ever since reading “Delivering Happiness” a few weeks ago, I’ve been pondering the whole concept of happiness. With all due respect to Sheryl Crow, many people will say something or someone “makes” them happy. But if you believe your thoughts create your reality and you are responsible for your own life creations, then nothing can “make” you happy or unhappy. It’s all in your perception.

I was in the Washington, DC area last week, where I was incredibly happy. In the past, I might have thought or said that being there makes me happy. However, the change in perspective now leads me to say being there CONTRIBUTES to my happiness. Sure, it’s semantics, but choosing the right phrasing is important in conveying what you mean. As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Changing this phrasing can change the whole way you see people, places and events in your life. It’s like a new benchmark of evaluation. Try it out. Think of a person and say to yourself, he or she contributes to my happiness. Does it ring true or not? If not, you may want to see how you can reduce time spent with or around that person. Do it with the place you live, the people you work with, the activities you participate in every week. Finding anything interesting? For me, it’s about to change everything.

See my review of the book “Delivering Happiness” by clicking HERE.