Giving gifts = Marketing

How good are you at giving gifts?

Has a recipient of one of your gifts ever cried tears of joy after seeing what you’ve given them?  Or are the responses to your gifts always lukewarm (fake smiles, restrained confusion, etc.)?

Yesterday, I overheard a girl saying that she wants to give her boyfriend a Build-A-Bear for Valentine’s day…  Are you kidding me?!  That is a terrible gift idea (assuming her boyfriend isn’t an effeminate wuss).  She only wants to give it to him because the gift makes her feel good about herself.  She assumes he’ll love it too because they’re emotionally close and he’ll probably like anything that she likes… right?  Wrong!

This type of situation arises over and over again in marketing.  A company will fall in love with their own idea, then scratch their heads when they see that their customers don’t care as much as they do.  “Our customers will love this flashy TV ad!  It makes us seem so fun and edgy!  Who wouldn’t want to do business with us?”  Me, for starters.  None of your customers care because you were too focused on making your company look good.  What’s in it for us?  Nothing?  So why should we care? Congratulations — your shallow need for self-affirmation has made you all feel better about yourselves while ignoring what your customers want.  And what a shock, the money you spent on the ad actually had a negative impact on your bottom line!

If you’re bad at giving gifts, you’re probably going to be bad at marketing.  Because giving a gift is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and figuring out what will make them truly happy.  It is NOT about buying something that you think is cool and then expecting the recipient to think it’s cool, too.

I cannot stress this enough: all people are selfish, including you.  Once you realize that your opinions are subjective and biased, then you can step outside of your fantasy world where you think everyone must like everything you like.

Give people what they actually want, not just what you like and think they want.

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Charlie Hoehn is the author of Play It Away, Play for a Living and Recession Proof Graduate. His work has been featured on NPR's TED Radio Hour, Forbes, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review. Previously, he was the Director of Special Projects for Tim Ferriss. Currently, he is the Head of Video at Book In A Box. He lives with his wife and daughter in Austin, Texas.

This Post Has 10 Comments

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    Thanks for all the comments everybody! Glad to see I’m not alone on people who give bad gifts.

    @Matt – Can’t reveal the WIIFM for IHTSBIH yet. You’ll just have to keep your eyes open : )

    @Slammer – I’m not sure what you’re asking…

  5. Matt

    This is more a case against general brand advertising (and the weakest in my opinion). No direct consumer benefits. Telling the consumer who you are, what you stand for. The consumer doesn’t give a damn (i.e., this crap.

    With that said, what’s the WIIFM for IHTSBH marketing?

  6. Richard

    As a programmer I’ve seen a lot of people wondering why something they think is cool isn’t a successful product. It was a while before I learned to see this from a sales and marketing perspective but it was easy to recognize the principle.

  7. Anne Good

    You nailed it Charlie. I don’t agree with the girl and the Build-A-Bear idea. WTF! How about some buffalo wings and his favorite six pack instead, duh?! My husband is a lucky man, I know.

    Anyway, nice job on bringing attention to a very key and often overlooked marketing lesson. I see too many companies sending out “look at me” messages that end up being piss poor attempts to convince people to hire them.

    Give people, give.

  8. Marina Martin

    Excellent post, Charlie! I’m still not over the Build-a-Bear story … really? That happened? *shakes head*

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