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How Honeywell Biscuit Co. Builds Customer Connection Through Empathy

When the UK‑based bakery allowed subscribers to opt out of holiday promotions, they learned more about their customers—and the power of vulnerability—than they ever expected.

Sometimes, great marketing comes down to good listening. At Honeywell Biscuit Co., turning to customers for input is built into the business model. The bakery, which began when founder Rebecca Honeywell-Ward started baking during her kids’ naptime, has built a devoted following for its customizable treats. From edible little leather jackets with your choice of encouraging message to birthday snacks embossed with the guest of honor’s name, the bakery’s products thrive on making people feel special. So they set out to understand more about their email subscribers and apply that thoughtfulness to their email marketing, too.

This year, the business offered the option to opt-out of Mother’s Day promotions, a gesture rooted in empathy for customers who may be coping with difficult feelings during this time of year. They were blown away by the response. Here, Honeywell’s marketing coordinator Gemma Goode shares how they used a preferences center in Mailchimp to execute the opt-out campaign, what surprised them about customers’ reactions, and what learnings they hope to apply year-round.

Identify your why—just don’t forget the how

As a gifting company, Honeywell recognizes that what might be a celebratory occasion for some customers can feel much more complicated for others. So when they saw other brands offering shoppers the opportunity to press pause on promotions for certain occasions, it seemed like the push they needed to start segmenting their own growing audience. The marketing team piloted an opt-out campaign around Father’s Day in 2021, sending a mailer that invited subscribers to click a link that opened a pre-typed email asking to be excluded from Father’s Day emails. Gemma assumed they would receive a few dozen requests at most. They got more than 400.

“As soon as we sent it, we got people coming back in droves to say thank you,” she says. “We weren't expecting that.” Her small team spent nearly 3 days culling all of the emails into the group they would exclude from Father’s Day sends—all the while resolving to do it smarter the next year. Eventually, the Honeywell team landed on setting up a preferences center, a stand-alone webpage where contacts can update their Mailchimp profile information themselves. Since a preferences center is not compatible with Mailchimp’s GDPR-enabled sign-ups, Honeywell consulted counsel to ensure they were obtaining all of the correct permissions to stay compliant with local regulations, adding in special notices and legal language manually in order to offer more customization for subscribers—an essential step for anyone considering doing the same thing.

Introduce yourself

Mother’s Day might have led the subject line, but Honeywell’s opt-out email was about more than just one occasion. Gemma had quickly realized that setting up a preferences center wasn’t limited to simple opt-out capabilities. After all, Honeywell’s main email sign-up form—a prompt offering 10% off at checkout—only asked for the most basic information, favoring speed and ease of purchase over collecting more data. With opt-outs through their preferences center, Gemma saw an opportunity to more deeply engage with Honeywell’s existing audience in other ways, too. “If we’re going to do this for opt-outs, let’s also ask their name. Let’s find out their birthday. We’re a gifting company, of all things,” she says with a laugh. “Let’s find out when we can celebrate with them!”

To get the ball rolling, Honeywell Biscuit Co. introduced the opt-out campaign by sharing a bit about the person on the other side of the send button. “Each time I write an email to you, I am reminded that I don’t know your name,” wrote Gemma, sharing her own name and title along with a photo. “Imagine what could happen if we changed all that.”

If you’re asking customers to share new information with you, consider approaching it less like a transaction and more like a conversation, one where everyone contributes and all sides learn a little something new. “It is about saying, 'Hey, we're human too. Let's get to know you,’” explains Gemma. “It's a nice way to start a dialogue.”

It turns out that as human beings, we’re far more complex about why we do or don't want to receive content. We're all different.

Gemma Goode, Marketing Coordinator at Honeywell Biscuit Co.

Let the conversation begin

Gemma knew there was a need for these kinds of sensitivity customizations after the overwhelming response to Honeywell Biscuit’s manual opt-out campaign for Father’s Day. But she never expected the public wave of support the company would receive when they formalized it this year for Mother’s Day. “We had people screenshotting our email and sharing it on social media, which had not ever happened to us before,” Gemma says. “It felt like people were wanting to say, ‘This is important.’” As subscribers took the conversation beyond the inbox, the bakery engaged with customers in an entirely new way, stepping back from reposting every mention and instead favoring one-on-one direct messages and deeper conversations with those who shared their stories.

“We learned quite a valuable lesson,” notes Gemma. Initially, they’d approached the opt-out campaign hoping to be sensitive to subscribers who had lost a parent. But the outpouring of gratitude came from many customers whose situations they hadn’t considered, including those navigating infertility or coping with strained family situations. “For us, it was quite humbling—a bit of an epiphany where we realized that we'd probably approached that very shallowly,” Gemma says. “There's a lot more complexity to people’s relationships.”

This kind of self-awareness—that their team’s understanding of an issue may not always reflect the full scope of their customers’ experiences—is something Gemma plans to adopt in marketing discussions moving forward. “It turns out that as human beings, we’re far more complex about why we do or don't want to receive content,” she says. ”We're all different.”

Whether you’re engaging in one-on-one conversations or employing larger-scale tools like a preferences center, honoring those differences won’t look the same for every company. But when you approach each interaction with empathy and curiosity, you offer your brand the potential to become something much bigger.

Published: May 23, 2022

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