I was on the receiving end of an intriguing direct marketing effort a while back, one which was so successful in getting attention that several other people who worked around me were aware of it and following it too – and yet, one which generated no business whatsoever for the sender.

Here’s what happened. A package came for me, hand-delivered to the office. It was a silver cardboard box with a lid, like a smart over-sized shoe box, containing the makings of a relaxing weekend breakfast: good coffee, fine rolls, fancy jam, special scissors for trimming bacon so it goes curly and crispy. There was a little note explaining this, but nothing to say who’d sent it, or why. A week later, another silver box arrived, seemingly covering a horse-riding trip and the relaxing bath that would be required afterwards. The contents were quirky and fun to discover. I recall that there was a special comb for the horse’s tail, a couple of carrots and horsey snacks, and for me (obviously) relaxing peppermint tea and bath salts. Another week, another silver box, covering the evening: an eclectic and thoughtful range of treats to eat and drink. By this time, half the office were guessing with me as to who it was from, what it all meant, when the next one would come, and what it would contain.

Finally, a fourth silver box arrived. To our collective and great disappointment, this one was empty, except for a brief note and a business card. The note referred me to my “perfect day” as I had recently described it in a media piece. The contents of each box were designed to complement and enhance my perfect day. It all made sense. The business card? The CEO of a well-known creative communications agency in London, who said they’d be in touch very shortly to make an appointment for us to meet.

I wasn’t in the market for a change of agency, but they’d really earned a meeting. I was open to it.

Then… nothing. No one called.

It’s probably just as well that I really can’t now recall who the agency was. Did they fire their new business person mid-campaign? Or was this the work of an external new business outfit, acting on the agency’s behalf? Perhaps the CEO named on the business card didn’t even know it had been sent. What a waste. All that careful thought, creativity, and activity, which worked like a charm in our office, and not only on me. All for nothing, because they didn’t do the simple follow-through, and get in touch.

Sure, if I’d been teeing up a pitch, I’d have called them. But most marketing communications activity can’t rely on timing so perfect that the customer does the work. There’s all this talk of customer journeys, making it seamless, valuing the customer’s time. Sometimes it’s hard. Big organisations usually have to work round legacy systems standing between them and a simple engagement with a customer. Not so in this case. Just old-fashioned humanity at work. How hard is a phone call?

It reminds me that good execution always trumps great strategy. We like to think we don’t have to choose. Then we pay a lot of attention to the strategy.

Thought leadership | June 2015