I may be single-handedly keeping the post office in business.

Few days pass when I don’t mail a card to someone. I buy 5 books of stamps at a time and cards by the dozens.

Cronin Cards, a small business selling cards specifically for business communications, is a favorite source of greeting cards.

Judy Cronin, the owner, and I have never met. But I feel a connection to her.

After seeing me order hundreds of New Year’s and birthday cards for a few years, Judy included an extra box of envelopes with one of my large orders.

Her gesture acknowledged the frequent card writer I am and conveyed her understanding that when writing many cards, you sometimes mess up an envelope.

You discover an address has changed or your brain transposes the zip code from another address, or some other snafu occurs. It’s stressful when that happens as you end up with more cards than envelopes.

The extra box of envelopes not only reduced my stress while writing cards, it made me feel seen and understood.

Small Gestures Have a Big Impact

When marketing, we often focus on the big things. The website. The social media posts. The advertising. The packaging.

All outward facing and important to our brand image.

But our customers glean their image of our brand most from the human interactions they have.

I saw this when I worked as a server in a New Jersey diner.

When families came in with restless, hungry children, I’d ask the parents if they wanted some crackers for the kids. The crackers gave the children something to do and took the edge off their hunger.

I could see the relief and gratitude in the parents’ eyes. I believe my gesture made them more likely to enjoy their meal and return to the diner. It may also have resulted in better tips!

Twenty-five years ago, my husband Dan and I ordered wall units for our family room from Workbench Furniture in Framingham, Massachusetts.

We were shopping with our two-month-old son in tow. Once we decided what we wanted, Dan placed the order while I fed and tended our son.

The units arrived with the shelves assembled, but we needed to put the doors on. The salesperson showed up at our house the same day and installed the doors for us.

We were so grateful to have that job taken care of by someone who knew how the doors should go on. One less thing we needed to do.

Fifteen years ago, when I inquired about a favorite brand of breadstick at Tilly and Salvy’s Bacon Street Farm, a family-owned grocery store in Natick, the owner said they didn’t have it but would order it if I wanted. He offered to sell the breadsticks to me at cost if I would buy the case and he didn’t have to shelve them.

I still shop there today.

A small gesture can have a big impact and make a lasting impression. It builds a connection with your customer and goes a long way to fostering brand loyalty.

Big Brands Are Capable of Small Gestures

This summer a McDonald’s store in the United Arab Emirates made the news when they delivered an order with the following note:


We’ve seen that you’ve placed your order from the hospital. Hope you’re keeping well.

The order is on us.

The McDonald’s UAE team

While nefarious uses of customer data often make the news, this McDonald’s team used the information they had to benefit the customer.

The customer felt seen and understood.

Big brands often analyze large data sets to plan marketing. Bestowing small gestures requires a different approach, a willingness to focus on individual customers and keep eyes open for opportunities.

For Small Gesture Opportunities, You Have to Pay Attention

What makes these small gestures such powerful marketing is also what makes them elusive.

Each gesture was prompted by an individual customer situation. The family coming to the diner. Our furniture purchase. Our request for a specific breadstick brand. A customer ordering from a hospital.

Someone on the brand team had to notice the customer’s situation. Had I not been paying attention, I might not have seen the parents’ challenge with their children (true, but hard to believe when kids are antsy!).

The McDonald’s team had to observe the location the customer was ordering from.

Someone on the brand team had the power to respond and used it. The small gestures happened because the brand empowered employees to act and an employee decided to acknowledge the customer’s situation with relevant actions.

I offered crackers to the parents and delivered them to the kids. The Workbench salesperson showed up at our house and attached the doors to our wall unit. Tilly and Salvy’s grocery owner placed a breadstick order on my behalf. McDonald’s printed a note and comped the meal.

None of these wonderful acts were planned. They were marketing on the fly and succeeded because a brand team member was paying attention.

What Makes a Meaningful Gesture

It’s a fine line between making a meaningful gesture and overstepping into creep-out-the-customer territory.

Actions that breach that territory make the customer feel under surveillance or that their privacy has been invaded.

Like ads that appear on your computer or phone 5 minutes after you’ve researched a product once, and reappear for days.

Small gestures that succeed share these traits:

  1. They are personalized. Each gesture above responded to the customer’s individual situation. Tilly and Salvy’s owner procured the precise brand of breadstick I asked for.
  1. The customer’s data is used for their benefit and in a transparent fashion. Notice McDonald’s note said “we’ve seen you’ve placed your order from the hospital.” Rather than hiding the fact that they are looking at the customer’s info, they acknowledged it and bestowed a free meal.
  1. The gesture has a human touch. My sympathy for the parents of the squirmy children showed in my cracker offer. The Workbench salesperson understood the challenge of our life with an infant. McDonald’s showed compassion for someone at a hospital.
  1. The customer feels seen, heard, and understood. Brands make a connection when customers feel understood. Like my connection with Judy Cronin, and by extension, Cronin Cards.

Envelope Overflow

While I do botch an envelope on occasion, my correct address rate is high. After receiving extras twice from Judy, my envelope collection had become substantial.

When I ordered New Year’s cards for 2022, my special request with the order was “no extra envelopes, please.”

When my order arrived, Judy had handwritten a note on my sales receipt.

Hi Evelyn – No extra envelopes, but there’s a little something from the archives that I hope will come in handy. All the best, Judy

Judy sent 3 small letterpress card sets that were no longer for sale on her website. They had sailboats and musical instruments imprinted on the front.

I was overjoyed.

In the few minutes she took to write that note, I felt seen and heard. And I loved the cards!

P.S. Have you experienced a small gesture that made a brand become one of your favorites?

Or have you bestowed one that earned your brand a loyal customer?

I’d love to hear your story!


Just for Fun

If you are shopping in a hurry, make sure Rowan Atkinson isn’t gift-wrapping your purchase.


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