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Marketers are infamous for picking up new phrases and buzzwords, but they are normally meant to beef up their story. If you have been around a while, you may remember: robust, vertically integrated, solution driven, synergistic, best-of-breed. But it’s one buzzword describing their marketing “ideas” that I think crosses the line.

As marketers we are supposed to understand your audience, how they make decisions and how they transact. We always create the best results when we respect our audience segment, understand their desires and speak to them in their preferred manner. After all, they do pay the bills, right?

Well there is one term that when I hear it, I think, “yuk!” Have you heard some agency rep refer to their “free gift” offers as “chum?”  What do you think customers or donors would think if they knew anyone referred to the “free gift” you were offering them as “chum?” I think they’d decline to do business with you!

There are two definitions of “chum” when used as a noun. The first is “a close friend” or a “pal.” (Let’s assume this isn’t what they mean.) The second is “chopped up fish” (usually discarded, unwanted, inedible, bloody chunks of fish) thrown overboard to attract fish or shark. It’s cheap bait.  It’s used to trick animals. How on earth did we go from thinking of our “free gifts” as “chum?”

First, it’s terribly disrespectful. Second, it demonstrates a lack of understanding about what we do.

Our job is to help cultivate beliefs and grow valuable relationships. Premiums or free gift offers are usually selected because we think our audiences would enjoy receiving them. Branded key chains, coffee mugs, t-shirts, calendars, bumper stickers; they are all meant to convey mission and message and build a fan base. Not to trick anyone into taking action.

Your customers and donors are not frenzied fish swarming your boat slathered in bait. They are people, with feelings (and power, by the way), and unless marketers remember that, and respect them, they will turn their backs on you and scream, “yuk!”

If you are developing offers that include annual premiums and rewards related to your business, you are expressing gratitude for action taken. That’s what builds loyalty and dedication. It’s not necessary, but it’s appreciated by your responders and they will buy again.

When you hear someone refer to their brilliant new idea as “chum,” you should pause. It’s a sign they think they are smarter than your customers or donors, and that never ends well.


By: Suzanne Cole Nowers