I have a new freckle. I saw it today. It is on my right wrist. 

I have approximately 1000 freckles year-round and another 500 that appear in the summer. I wear a lot of sunscreen but, alas, I freckle. There are so many that it seems I shouldn’t be able to notice new ones but I can. Seriously. If it is in my line of sight, I see it, especially the ones that look like they are going to stay around and join the year-round freckle club.  I notice them but I rarely announce it to my friends or colleagues. I don’t post it on Facebook or Twitter. And I surely don’t blog about it. Usually. But since I am blogging about it, here it is – today’s new freckle on my wrist.


I don’t announce my new freckles because, unless it is a dangerous freckle, it is irrelevant to my friends and colleagues. I don’t have to tell you it is  irrelevant to you because you are thinking that right now, “why the heck are we talking about a freckle?!”

Whether I get a new freckle today or tomorrow I’m still me. Our interactions are functionally and meaningfully the same. My value to you (if we talked like that about people) remains unchanged. My new freckle doesn’t matter to you.

The only reasons I would have for announcing my new freckle to you are:

  • To get your attention
  • To get you to think about me
  • To make sure we have something to talk about

The reason we are talking about freckles is that announcing my new freckle is equivalent to a company announcing something to you that does not functionally or meaningful change your relationship with them or doesn’t offer upside for you. If a company is going to ask its customer to do work, even just reading an email or opening an envelope, it needs to make sure it isn’t just for the company’s benefit.

We, not surprisingly, call these “New Freckle Announcements.”

Here are two web related (just by chance because this is not only about web announcements) examples of  New Freckle Announcements that are in my Inbox or on my desk right now:

We’re making things simpler for you. We have now moved the Login
button to the upper 
right to make it easier to find.
(web business service; email)

We have a new look for our home page! (credit card company; postal mail)

The first example is a New Freckle Announcement because there was clearly no need to tell the customer about this and ask them to read a one page email about it if what they did was make the login button easier to find. If it really is easier to find and the customer needs to login he will find it 9 out 10 times and in more time than reading that email.

The second example (this one by post but I often get them by email too) is a New Freckle Announcement because it is using a marketing look-and-feel change of a non-essential piece of the product offering as a reason to contact customers. If this was an announcement about a significant change in the way the bill payment or account management part of the site functioned, key parts of the credit card relationship for a lot of customers, it would have been functional and meaningful to the customers. This is just an excuse to reach out.

New Freckle Announcements serve a purpose for the company sending them. It lets them get in front of the customer again and often outside the traditional way or time you interact with them. This might remind you about them and stimulate you to have more interactions with them. Data shows they do work some of the time but there are also negative effects of these types of communications and requests for action by the customer:

They distract customers from the important stuff in their day and from their meaningful tasks with the company. They dilute the company’s ability to reach you when they need to or when they have a really good offer for you. And it reduces the customers trust that the company understands what is important to them.vThis is even more true when the subject line or the envelope is vague or alarmist and the company is already in a relationship with the customer.

For example, a customer sees an important message from her credit card company in her Inbox. She trusts the credit card company to label marketing with marketing subjects and account related things with important language. She opens the email thinking it might be urgent and finds out that what was so important was an announcement that the credit card company has selected a different shade of red for its loyalty program font. Important? Yes, to the design team that made it but not to this customer. And now she is a little bit annoyed and distrustful.

Remember, that customer is not only getting announcements, offers, and New Freckle Announcements from that one company. She is getting it from 25-100 companies that she already has a relationship with (not to mention the ones she doesn’t) that want to be in more contact with her so she thinks of them more often. She is inundated most of the time and she can’t hear the things that are really important to her and benefit her through the noise.

Ceatro Group asks its clients to use the New Freckle Announcement Test before they decide to communicate with their customers. First, ask yourself if the benefit of this communication is mostly for the company? If yes, are you asking your customer to make effort to give you that benefit  (open mail, read an email, meet you for coffee, answer the phone, and so on)? If yes to both it is a New Freckle Announcement. Don’t send it.

If you still need convincing ask yourself if this communication is important enough to dilute your ability to get them to engage with your next communication? Finally, think about how ridiculous it would be to receive an announcement from a friend or a colleague about her new freckle. How does this communication compare to that? If it is at all close, don’t send it.