I often point to flawed marketing efforts by well-known companies. It isn’t that I have something against big business; it’s that those big players tend to make some of the biggest, most amateurish mistakes in their marketing efforts.

Usually, the underlying concept is sound. The execution is where it falls flat. Take the email I just received from Staples. Now, I’ve been a loyal Staples customer for better than a decade. In fact, they get somewhere around 97 percent of my office-supply dollar. Generally, they live up to their reputation of being easy to work with. I place my order online and it’s on my doorstep the next day, usually before lunch. Their prices are competitive, too.

Staples has a customer rewards program that’s cleverly dubbed Staples Rewards. Every month, I receive a rebate “check” for a percentage of what I’ve spend, and I can use that check on future purchases. It’s a great idea, but their execution of those Rewards is what drives me to distraction. For one thing, they always mail me a paper check with a note that suggests that I can get my rebates faster by receiving them online. All I have to do is go to a certain web address and sign up for that. I’ve done that. Several times, in fact. And yet, the paper checks keep coming, each with that admonition to sign up online. Small matter, but annoying.

Today’s email demonstrated a new level of incompetence. It pointed out that I have $24 in Rewards that haven’t been used, and that will expire soon. Nice of them to alert me to that, isn’t it? Well, it would be, if I hadn’t already used those Rewards earlier this month. I was briefly confused, and then I saw the note that I hadn’t used the Rewards as of a date that’s nearly a month ago.

Staples earns points for setting up a automated system that provides a handy reminder, but they lose points for populating their reminder with month-old data. It doesn’t make them look helpful; it suggests that they’re clueless. How hard would it have been for the email program that generates these reminders to access yesterday’s data instead of last month’s? If you want to impress your customers with friendly reminders, make sure those reminders are timely and accurate. Otherwise, the impression you’ll send will be the wrong one. I still like Staples; I just don’t think they’re as smart as I once did.