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Conscious Brands

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A mothering approach to marketing

Conscious Brands / 5.10.23 / By Dana Denberg

No matter what time of year it is, an upcoming holiday often sets the tone for brand marketing campaigns. Next up: Mother’s Day. And while it makes a lot of sense for many companies to lean into the honor, love and warmth of that special occasion, it’s important to recognize not everyone shares the same feels about it.

For some, Mother’s Day isn’t a positive but rather a painful reminder. Of loss of a parent or child. Of struggles with fertility. Of a challenging family relationship. Of not fitting into “the standard.” And with fresh wounds or deep scars, to see a barrage of ads and promotions around the subject can be a real gut punch.

But change has been slowly coming since the pandemic. A more empathetic (you could say motherly) marketing approach is emerging with what and how brands are communicating to audiences—most notably presenting the chance to opt out of receiving certain unpreferred and triggering marketing messages.

Such a conscientious concept. Let’s hear it for humanity in the world of business and the marketplace.

A mindful message matters

Early in my career, I developed copy for a Macy’s Mother’s Day giveaway—a specially designed greeting card with a prepaid phone card included. The headline read, “You always know the right things to say, Mom.” And the payoff was, “Now you can say them more often.”

It was a natural sentiment because I channeled my own mom, whom I believed to be the most thoughtful person on earth. She cared about people, knew how to read the room and would respond in the best way possible—with a sensitive heart. Not only to make someone feel good but to also feel heard. She was an empathetic communicator.

Now it’s promising to see more marketers catching up to what Mom knew all along: Everyone is going through something, so listen, understand and use those insights to modify your language and actions. This or any holiday may be hard for someone no matter what, but acknowledgment of that is meaningful.

Author and grief advocate Megan Devine said in an interview with NPR that, for brands, “… it's being able to say ‘we see who you are as a person and you’re not just a sales call for us.’”

Give the power of choice

People can’t easily control receiving certain TV commercials, online ads or social media posts. But with email marketing, technology easily enables companies to segment audiences by sending—and giving the option of withholding—specific emails.

“It’s a very simple user experience, which is why it works and is so powerful,” Devine said. “All you have to do is click and then this sharp, poky bit of pain in your inbox goes away.”

A defining characteristic of opt-out emails is that they make it clear customers can stay in the loop, reassuring them they’re still part of the community. This helps create and strengthen personal customer relationships and get your message across in a way that truly resonates with subscribers.

Consider it selective promo without the FOMO.

Who’s already in with the opt-outs

National companies at the forefront of this trend range in industries from food to home goods to apparel and are
predominantly digitally savvy e-commerce brands with sizable Gen Z followings.

Etsy, an online marketplace for handcrafted and vintage goods, is one of those changemakers. They’ve sent emails to customers ahead of this touchy timeframe that said: “We understand that Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for some. If you’d rather not receive emails from us about Mother’s Day this year, let us know by removing yourself below. We’ll still keep you in the loop about one-of-a-kind finds we think you’ll love, just without the Mother’s Day messages.”

British Flower delivery company Bloom & Wild has been employing empathetic email marketing since 2019, stating their Customer Delight team gets inundated with emails of thanks and praise. They create separate versions of their newsletters so even though some subscribers opt out of Mother’s Day comms, they’re still able to send them emails and not exclude them entirely. Subscribers who opt out of Mother’s Day emails remain in the system to resume receiving weekly newsletters later.

Other establishments who’ve been sensitive to their customers’ lives include Pandora jewelry, luggage company Away, dessert chain Milk Bar and the Democratic National Committee. And the list grows on.

So far, so good

The reaction to opt-out options has been overwhelmingly positive, with expressions of gratitude seen all over social media. For example, Away documented that more than 4,000 email subscribers opted out of their holiday emails, and another 250 sent the company messages of thanks for their thoughtfulness.

According to e-commerce software vendor Capterra, 81% of consumers are inspired to buy after seeing holiday opt-out emails. Their other key findings:

  • 91% of consumers feel very or somewhat positive toward holiday email opt-outs and rate brands that offer opt-outs higher in appearing empathetic.
  • When receiving a holiday email opt-out notification, 39% of consumers say they would always or usually unsubscribe.
  • The most common calendar events to opt out of are back to school and Valentine’s Day, with 84% opting out at some point. Right behind that are Mother’s Day and Father's Day, the winter holidays and Thanksgiving, all tied at 83%.
  • When deploying a holiday opt-out notification, it’s best to send the message via email one or two weeks in advance of the holiday or event.

From trend to tradition

So should giving people the option to sidestep Mother's Day (and other holiday) marketing become your norm? Sure, it depends on your product, brand identity and customer base, but many people are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of marketing emails they receive and would appreciate a little more latitude and love around what’s happening in their lives.

Going forward, the companies that use data to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach and be more targeted, personalized and compassionate in their communications will be the “family favorite” in customers’ eyes. I know my mother would approve.

How in touch with customers would you say your brand is? If you’d like to have more empathy in your marketing, let’s talk about it. Send us a message here.


Dana Denberg

Dana Denberg is an associate creative director who conscientiously crafts concepts and messaging that connect clients with customers.