Every once in a while, a company launches a marketing campaign so amazing and effective, I’m jealous I hadn’t come up with it myself. It doesn’t happen often, but this year, my nominee  for the “Most Amazing Marketing Campaign in 2018” goes to chewy.com. Before I get into it, I’d like to speak directly to the thousands of pet boutiques around the country. It is understandably frustrating when a big, national (global?) dot-com takes market share away from your local economy, let alone your own pocket. Believe me, I get it. Unfortunately, no one in business has the luxury of choosing the competitive landscape. Your competitors choose that for you. Big or small, you have no choice but to stay ahead using whatever resources you have. I work with all sizes of companies every day. I’ve been a part of so many small business “Cinderella Stories,” I refuse to accept the “we’re too small” excuse for rolling over and waiting for the phone to ring. What I am about to describe is a really great relationship-builder for Chewy. As you read about it, think of what you can do better. Tell me about it and I’ll feature your story too.

Chewy’s Amazing Marketing Campaign

Amazing Marketing Campaign

About a week ago, my wife asked me to check the mail. All we got that evening was a shiny blue, padded envelope. My wife assumed it was medication for our almost 15 year-old yellow lab, Murphy. It was obviously “holiday” packaging, but nothing aside from that was remarkable. In fact, we let it sit for a couple hours before opening it.

When I got around to it, the package contained a card and a tissue wrapped square “object.” The card was addressed to my wife, who had taken an interest by now, since this obviously wasn’t medication for an aging lab.

Amazing Marketing is Personal

I can only imagine how many of these envelopes the folks at Chewy hand-addressed, but it felt to my wife like hers was the only one. By now, we’re both gripped with curiosity. We hadn’t yet grasped the significance of the illustration on the card. We just opened it. Inside, there was a note–also handwritten. What’s more, it was written using four different pens, each with its own ink color. It was the kind of note loved ones send during the holidays. It took thoughtfulness and creativity, and four pens. We both could paint (see what I did there?) a mental picture of someone we imagined to be a young female crafting a note to someone she knows and cares about.

In marketing, this kind of connection is exceedingly rare. Even the happiest and most loyal customers know they are customers. So, even a personal message like this one will often be met with some degree of skepticism. Even so, who does this? The closest I’ve seen is holiday cards that are signed by everyone in the office, or a department. Those are nice, but passing a card around the office to be signed just isn’t the same.

Amazing Marketing Needs an Amazing Message

best holiday marketing

It just gets better. I was personally transfixed by the different-colored ink and didn’t notice the printed message right away. Surprise! We’ve commissioned a work of art to celebrate your one-of-a-kind pet!” It didn’t register what that could’ve meant. We just dig deeper into the envelope to discover what the item was in the tissue paper. Everything about the presentation made the contents feel like a gift. More than a gift, this had all the elements. The blue foil packaging… and, we could imagine the giver skillfully writing the message on the card. There was the heart drawn next to my wife’s first name. And, what about this “work of art?”

Amazing Marketing Lives Up to the Promise

Think about what it’s like to receive a gift. If you’re like me, you start out delighted that someone cares. First, you’ll read the card. There’s anticipation mixed with curiosity and excitement. I always pause a moment before charging in to tear off the wrapping. It’s a great feeling and I was captivated. This wasn’t even my gift, but my wife let me open it anyway. I was also mesmerized by the absolute genius of this experience as a marketing campaign. I pride myself on some pretty imaginative ways of building relationships in business, but what Chewy did was so much more than marketing. And, we still didn’t know what the gift was…

Chewy’s Gift

Chewy's Canvas Portrait of Murphy

When we finally did tear into the paper, what we found was a hand-painted portrait of Murphy. I suppose it is possible our Murphy portrait was pulled from a stack of “yellow lab” portraits, but neither of us believes that to be the case. Our painting of Murphy looks exactly like the photograph of Murphy that we uploaded when my wife created her Chewy customer profile. So, here we are looking at our Murphy immortalized in canvas just before what might be his last Christmas. At that point it’s no longer marketing. I know all about the tools–CRM, consumer segments, purchase history, printing… My wife and I stood in our kitchen holding a canvas portrait of a beloved family member we know may not be with us the same time next year.

Amazing Marketing is Not Marketing At All

We, as business owners, are always looking for an edge. We need to. It’s a dog-eat-dog (Ha!) world out there, and standing out is hard. But, in finding that competitive advantage, there is a tendency to focus on ourselves. You see it in marketing messages all the time. “We’re the number one this” or the “largest that.” “We’ve been in business for X years.” “We make the best…” We think this way because these are the things that make us great at what we do. But, that’s not what or why people buy. People prefer to do business with people. More than that, they choose businesses with people they know care about them. Your customers feel special when you know their name. They feel even more special when you or someone on your staff goes the extra mile to make them feel important is individuals. It’s not the gift. It’s the context and the experience that matter most. Chewy won me, along with probably thousands of other pet owners like me. Chewy proved that being big and on the Internet doesn’t have to be impersonal. Chewy gave my family a thoughtful gift at the perfect time. That’s hard to do when you live with the person. It’s incredible for a company that sells dog food over the Internet.