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When Santa Fails

An unexpected lesson in effective marketing

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Last week at work, we had a Secret Santa gift exchange.

If you’re not familiar with how that works, I’ll explain.

Should you choose to participate (if you don’t, people will think you’re Ebenezer Scrooge reincarnated), you’re given a list of questions to fill out. Here are a few of the topics they cover:

  • Your favorite food
  • The best toy you had as a kid
  • What you do in your spare time
  • Something amazing nobody knows about you
  • Your favorite movies and TV shows
  • And much more!

The more questions you answer, the better chance your secret Santa has to pick a gift that thrills you.

My supervisor had a smartphone app that randomized the names that were drawn. So only you and he knew who had whom.

The Day Arrives

Photo courtesty of Pixabay

After spending hours that morning in zero degree temperatures, I joined our secret Santa group in the conference room.

The room was still decorated a bit from the party the week before. The back table was lined from end to end with bags and boxes wrapped with care.

My name was called first.

The crowd clapped and cheered.

Waiting for me was a large blue Christmas bag. Santa was on the side smiling at me. It was if he was saying, “You’ll love what’s inside.”

I took the gift. As I returned to my seat, I put my ear to the bag as if I was checking for the ticking of a bomb.

Everyone laughed.

“What did you get?” the Emcee asked.

I reached in and pulled out…

A book.

I cupped it in my hand and panned the room as beautifully as any model on The Price is Right ever did.

I sat down and the next person was up.

I Didn’t Ask For This

Remember what I told you about the surveys we all filled out?

My Secret Santa didn’t read his. If he did, he decided he knew me better than I did.

You know, this is probably an interesting book. And I might just read it — someday. But it’s not high on my priority list now, so who knows?

If you send me a self-addressed stamped envelope, I’ll send it to you.

The highlight of the event was that I got to chat with someone outside my team. Oh, and I got paid to watch everyone else get exactly what they wanted.

But I Spent Time on It…

Sensing my obvious disappointment, my no-longer-Secret Santa called me over.

“I was going to get a gift card (which I wanted), but the line was too long. I found this book. I thought, ‘that looks interesting.’ I mean, it looks good, right?”

I nodded and smiled, but remained silent.

“Frank, you gotta read that. I spent a long time (probably a few minutes that morning) looking for that.”

I agreed that he did, and went back to work.

And Now, the Moral of the Story

I’m an intuitive.

That means I can’t help but analyze things to death.

As I mused over what happened that morning, I saw parallels to what I’m trying to accomplish as a writer and marketer.

Here they are.

Do your research.

Secret Santa hands you a silver platter with all the clues for a perfect gift on it.

Photo by Annie Spratt

You want to know:

  • What makes your gift recipient happy.
  • What she’s hungry for.
  • What will make her feel you care.

You do that by asking the right questions — and listening to the answers.

You can’t force people to like your offering.

This is why you do research. Why guess when you can know beyond any doubt what your target wants?

Sure, you can try to justify your offering by saying:

  • I spent lots of time on it.
  • I’ve got lots of experience.
  • I think this is good for you.

The problem is nobody cares what you think.

What everyone cares about is themselves. They crave what they want. They worry about what affects their own lives. The plight of someone halfway around the world isn’t even a blip on their radar.

Unless that is what they care about.

If you want a happy gift recipient, give them what they want.

If you want to make lots of sales, give your customers what they want.

Photo by Lisa Frederickson

Know what people really want.

Dale Carnegie teaches that what people crave more than anything under the sun is a feeling of importance.

In today’s world, you’d say people want to know they matter. Here’s how that manifests:

  • Feeling needed.
  • Feeling they’re right.
  • Feeling like they have power.

Does what you do or offer lift people to a higher place? Does being with you make their day brighter and more memorable?

Does buying your product or service make them sing?

It will if it makes them feel important.

Now Go Have a Prosperous New Year

You’ve just learned how to make a hit as a Secret Santa.

You’ve also discovered how to make more than enough money to buy some great gifts next year.

And you’ll never experience that sinking feeling that comes when someone thinks your gift sucks.

Merry Christmas! I hope the year to come is filled with blessings.

Photo by Andrew Neel

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Frank McKinley

Frank McKinley


I like to figure things out and share what I find. My favorite topics are faith, communication, business, and personal growth.