The “No Strings Attached” Christmas Card

Not to sound too much like Andy Rooney (who, before there were even blogs, used his pulpit to expouse his beliefs, rants and share his views), but I have a few things to say about Christmas cards. In this case, not the personal kind one receives from friends and family, but those sent by colleagues and companies.

My belief as a person and recommendation as a communications professional, is that there should be no strings attached. What do I mean? Here’s an example.

Yesterday I received a holiday greeting from one of my favorite online music sites, letting me know that, “In the spirit of the season, we’re offering holiday discounts on our premium subscription…” While I know Christmas has pretty much become just another way to sell products, I don’t like that what was really an ad, was masked as a holiday greeting. The subject line of the email was, “Happy Holidays!” after all.

This music site is not alone in turning what should be a nice way to connect with customers and thank them for their business into an ad. A week ago I received an email from a firm that does consulting with the subject line, “Happy Holidays from…” When I opened it up, I was surprised to see that this too, was aimed at building business with the words, “we look forward to helping you address your business challenges in 2012.” This was followed by a visual of their services and links to their upcoming conference and social media assets.

Holiday greetings and new year’s wishes should not be about promotion. This is the one time of year when the focus of a company’s communication should be thanking their customers for their business. If they want to give them something – with no strings attached – then that is fine. But rarely is their such a thing as a free lunch.

When in doubt about what kind of message they are sending, a company should ask, “am I getting or asking for something in return?” If so, then your message is wrong. Start again. The best message is a simple one and of course, one without strings attached.

Postscript: I just received a very nice Christmas card from an ad rep at a Boston-based magazine (irony not lost here). It wishes me a Merry Christmas, is hand-signed, and even has a little recipe inside to add a little fun. He knows that Christmas cards are about building and solidifying long-term relationships – not for selling. That can be done in the new year.

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