Small gestures, massive impact: What if you slowed down your marketing to create moments that matter?

Ann Handley


I don't even know where to begin to describe what it was like to dine at Maaemo, a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Oslo. It's one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.

The kitchen—located in a glass box overlooking the dining room—sources ingredients from throughout Norway, which doesn't sound like a big deal until the wait staff describes the process, the farms, and the food behind each of the 20 courses as they're served over 5 hours.

Did you catch that? 20 courses! 5 hours!

No menus. No ordering. You just have to roll with it. What shows up is either incredible or whacky, depending on how adventurous your stomach is.

Like porridge with shaved and smoked reindeer heart.

Fermented trout with baby lettuce.

Some globby mollusk thing that appeared to still be throbbing. I'm pretty sure it died right there under my fork. Incredible or disturbing—again, depending.

So what's all that have to do with the business of marketing?

None of us has a nursery full of newborn vegetables.

Or a rough-hewn barn full of cured and smoked animal bits and parts.

We don't even have a fjord from which to scoop up a mackerel for light pickling, or access to a freelance nettle forager. (Is "freelance nettle forager" a real job? I suddenly, desperately hope so.)

We sell software or services or unsexy "solutions."

Maaemo wasn't memorable and remarkable just because of the food: It was just as memorable for its slow, deliberate, intentional approach to its business.

Which makes me wonder:

What if we thought about our marketing the way Maaemo thinks about its food?

What if we created similar anticipation in the hearts and minds of our customers?

What if we slowed down the steps in how we communicate with customers to deliver a better experience and nurture a relationship? (And not just sell more stuff.)

Email plays a role.

I'm a massive fan of email. (I send an email newsletter every two weeks with exclusive ideas on content and marketing; it's become the cornerstone of my own marketing strategy. Get in on it here.)

One important way Maaemo created anticipation for its "product"—The Most Outstanding Meal Ever—was email.

Our party of three made a reservation via email. Maaemo sent a typical confirmation email to confirm the basics—like a lot of service businesses do.

But it also did something special: The day prior to our reservation, Maaemo sent a second email.

It told us that the staff had already begun prepping for our visit. We were to dine at 7:30 p.m., the email reminded us. But did we know they would begin prepping the actual meal at 8:30 a.m. that day …?

That triggered an immediate reaction in my brain: I couldn't help but wonder about that throughout the whole day, 24 hours before I stepped foot in the place. At noon. What are they cooking now? At 2 PM. At 3 PM. How about now?

Small gesture, massive impact.

The email was a small gesture with massive impact because it powerfully conjured up anticipation.

Way earlier than it otherwise might have, the restaurant inserted itself into my day-to-day just by shedding a little light on its process—telling me about it, inviting me to contemplate just how special this evening was going to be.

To fuel anticipation, Warby Parker does something similar. My friend Steve Garfield ordered a new pair of glasses, and here's the subject line of the confirmation email Warby sent:

"Customer empathy" gets tossed around a lot in marketing. But it's really about aligning yourself with your customer's point of view.

Here's how to apply it to your business:

1. Think through the mindset of your own customer, at every stop along their journey of doing business with you.

Ask yourself these two questions:

A. What's our customer's likely mindset now at various stages of their relationship with us? At...

  • Consideration
  • Decision
  • Purchase
  • Retention
  • Advocacy

B. What message aligns with that mindset to signal that we understand the customer better than anyone?

Not: "What do we want to say to our customers?"

But: "What does our customer need to hear from us?"

2. What goes on behind the scenes that might help customers connect to us emotionally?

Maaemo reminded us how it sources locally and starts the prep way before the doors open. Can your business do something similar?

A few weeks ago, I was shopping for a golf cart. (For beach-house transportation, not actual golfing. I am not a golfer, but I love the ocean.)

I researched the carts on a corporate site that doesn't sell direct: It sells only through dealerships. There, on that corporate site, I used a tool to configure a cart I wanted pricing on. I hit submit. Ten minutes later, I got a plain-text, boring, very basic email with zero personality focused on selling me a cart ASAP. It was from a dealer near me.

BUT hold on one hot minute: What if the corporate site had taken the opportunity to send me a quick follow-up before passing me along to the local dealer? What if they slowed down the speed-of-light automation to shed a little light on the process of connecting me with a dealer?

What if the corporate marketing team let me know that it was looking for the best dealer near me with the nicest salespeople who might have a car in the exact shade of forest green I coveted? And what if it was signed by an actual person at the brand?

The corporate marketers had all my details. They had the automation. Why not slow things down and use that opportunity to make me feel special?

Why not start creating a brand experience that felt different, friendly? Wouldn't that have been refreshing?

Then, when I got that plain-text email… it would have had a totally different vibe.

What else could Maaemo have done?

For all you restaurants reading along here, Maaemo could have enhanced my experience even more:

  • Post-meal, it might've sent a follow-up email with a few recipes inspired by the Maaemo menu or the food of Norway.
  • It could have asked me to share the photos we took in the kitchen on social media, and maybe flip the ask around: ask us to tag them on social media so they could remember the moment they met us. Celebrate your customers always—don't ask them to celebrate you.
  • It could send a simple thank-you for visiting us email with a special message from Maaemo's celebrated chef Esben Holmboe Bang.
  • It could offer me a chance to get more behind-the-scenes glimpses of throbbing mollusks through a monthly email newsletter.

And, by the way, all of those messages could be automated and templated. Still the approach, and each message, would nonetheless be more personal.

So over to you: What if you slowed down your marketing at very meaningful times to create moments that matter? What would happen then?

About the Author

Ann Handley

Ann Handley is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of two books including Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content. She’s the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs. Her bi-weekly newsletter, Total Annarchy, can help you become a better marketer and writer.

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