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Why Milestones Matter

April 6, 2021 • Jason Dressel

Some questions: What did you do for your birthday or wedding anniversary five years ago? How about two years ago? What about for your last milestone birthday or wedding anniversary? And what do the Eiffel Tower and Amazon Prime Day have in common? (More on that last one later).

These days, some of us can’t even remember what we did last weekend but can recall without much effort how we celebrated our 21st birthday or 10th wedding anniversary. Such is the power of milestones.

Milestones can create memories for organizations as well. Yet for many, the anniversary milestone can seem less important or essential than other business initiatives. Our experience has been quite the opposite: An anniversary is what some of our clients have called a “gift from the calendar gods,” a once-in-a-generation opportunity not to be squandered. And besides, don’t brand rollouts, product launches, new purpose statements and other more “serious” initiatives also involve celebrations with cake and swag?

Make the Most of the Moment

There’s nothing all that different between being 21 or 22 years old or being married for 10 years versus 11. But milestones offer us natural markers along our journeys that allow us to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going, like a scenic wayside along a highway. “Milestone” comes from the Latin “milliarium” and dates back to the Roman Empire, in which all distances in the empire were measured from a monument in Rome called Milliarium Aurium (translated, Golden Milestone). Emperors marked outlying roads with milestones representing distance from the city—that is, from their origin. Not unlike an anniversary or birthday.

Common to many milestone celebrations is the tendency to do something lavish or else uncommonly personal. As an example, for my 40th birthday, I received an hour-long video of well wishes and sentiments from family and friends representing every stage of my life.

The same goes for organizations. A 25th or 50th anniversary celebration, even if coinciding with the annual sales meeting, should include a few twists or extras to highlight the organization’s longevity. Our experience is that program elements like an anniversary publication or documentary, if part of a well-executed anniversary campaign, can not only create a feel-good emotional reaction but also significantly move the needle on business results, often better than other business initiatives.

Here’s why: In their book The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath reveal how companies and brands can build stronger connections by creating experiences. They break down our most positive moments as consisting of four dominant elements: elevation, insight, pride and connection. If we embrace these elements and design moments with greater intention, they argue, we can create moments to remember. A thoughtful, well-crafted milestone campaign pulls those levers. Its messages resonate and can increase employee pride, brand affinity, sales and other key metrics.

Leaders have a lot on their plates right now. The pandemic has had a psychological effect on us in ways we may or may not recognize. Both here in the U.S. and in many countries around the world, politics feels more personal than ever, straining relationships. Trust in institutions continues to be low. Leaders need every opportunity they can get to bring people together, cut through the clutter, tell the story of their organization honestly and authentically, and do something bold and different.

If you’re coming up on your own milestone birthday, use it as an opportunity to bring together the most important people in your life or to do something you otherwise might not. If you’re coming up on a relationship anniversary with your partner, use it to take that trip to Hawaii or skydive together like you’ve always dreamed about. Hell, after the last year, we all are ready to go somewhere else and try something different.

And if the organization you volunteer with or work for has an anniversary milestone approaching, use it as a gift from the calendar gods. It’s a vital, fleeting moment, one you have a chance to make memorable. The best organizations use these moments to create something lasting and valuable. Which brings me back to the Eiffel Tower and Amazon. The former was conceived to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution. The latter launched the now annual Prime Day sales event to mark Amazon’s 20th anniversary. Both are enduring reminders of the power of milestones.

To learn more about how your organization can harness an upcoming anniversary, consider attending The Anniversary Marketing Summit on April 27. Register today to get access to the event with unlimited replays.

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