Sparkler on a slice of birthday cakeWhen you were a kid, you probably loved birthdays. Cake and presents and being king or queen for the day made you feel special, didn’t they?

These days, when you hand over your birth date to marketers, they have a chance to make you feel special, too. Of course, marketers hope your warm and fuzzy feelings will translate into revenue. And according to Experian Marketing Services, birthday offers are opened more and drive 342% higher revenue than the usual promotional emails.

So they work, mostly.

I recently celebrated my birthday and received a flurry of email messages and offers. Yes, that did make me feel special. But some offers are more special than others. Here are my three suggestions to do birthday wishes right:

1. Give something of value, no strings attached

Sephora is great at this. They give you a choice of three gifts, from known brands such as Tatcha. Plus, you can pick up your gift in-store without having to buy anything else. The Aeroplan eStore surprised me this year with a choice of four birthday options, including free 100 points. One year, a local restaurant emailed me to say happy birthday, and included a QR code to give me $10 off a purchase of $30. The coupon was good for more than a month, so I had a chance to use it. Restaurants who don’t track customer birthdays also have a chance to score points when they ask if you’re celebrating anything. The Keg, for instance, brings you a free dessert (yum, Billy Miner Pie).

No real value: I appreciate cards from my friends, but from my dentist? Not so much. His office mails out birthday cards, but really, they could save the stamps and send email greetings. Or if they’re going to use snail mail, why not send a coupon for free dental floss or a toothbrush?

2. Be generous

Sephora, again, does this well. They are generous with timing, letting you collect your gift any time during your birthday month, or two weeks before or after your birthday. COBS Bread gives you a free cinnamon bun, valid up to 14 days from your big day. The Bay offered me $10 off a $50 purchase, good for two weeks. In that case, the 20% is not necessarily huge, but the minimum purchase is reasonable, and the extended time to use it is helpful. Reitmans had a 25% discount, good for one month.

Not-so-generous: Starbucks, whose gift of a drink or food item is only good on your actual birthday. (There used to be a couple of days’ leeway.) Clinique, which won’t tell you what the gift is and only gives it if you buy something. Kiehl’s won’t tell you what their gift is either. And they only give it out at their scarce stand-alone stores, not the more accessible outposts in stores like The Bay.

3. Keep the love going through the entire chain of events.

One year, I used the 25% Reitmans coupon. I went to the store and found something I liked. It was already on sale and my discount made it an even better buy. But this is also important: the store employee smiled and wished me a belated happy birthday.

Not-so-much love: A gift store sent birthday wishes that offered a discount of the 13% tax (kind of a small discount, honestly) on a purchase. But:

  • The discount didn’t apply to larger-ticket items, so I ended up spending just $15 on a small gift.
  • The store employee looked annoyed that I was using the coupon in the first place, let alone on such a small item.
  • She didn’t mention my birthday or my status as a repeat customer. Not that I’m a princess or anything, but the reaction didn’t match the level of customer appreciation expressed in the email.

The idea of encouraging business by sending birthday offers is a good one. Just make sure there’s as much attention to the birthday as the business.

What special birthday marketing messages or gifts have you received? Please share in the comments.

(This post updates one from 2015.)