In today's ClickZ branding report, Martin Lindstrom echoes my desire to bring communication back from the machine realm to the human realm (at least in part):
When did you last receive a letter? You know, paper folded into an "envelope" with a "stamp" signifying payment for transportation to the destination. A handwritten letter, sent to you, personally. Apart from Christmas greetings, I can't recall the last time I received a real letter. Whenever it was, I'm certain it was the event of the day.
Ironically, technology we've nurtured to enable faster, more effective, cheaper communication is experiencing a backslash. Not long ago, e-mail was hailed as the discovery of the century. Any organization with a modicum of interest in innovation began offering cheap, instant communications. We've been swept along, busily transferring the conventions of traditional letter-writing to e-mail composition.
Stop! Consider: E-mail may no longer be it. While everyone competes for consumer attention with direct e-mail, we don't see the technique may no longer work. I'm willing to bet a campaign aimed at getting people to buy is more effectively conducted offline.
In the long run, you're better off posting a letter. Spend the money making your communication tactile. Perhaps include a real signature or, better yet, write the letter by hand. Your message would be delivered with 1,000 times more potency. The cost would be only marginally higher than an e-mailed version.
This is only part of the story. Aside from selling products, such a tactile approach would build your brand, too. Recipients would remember the letter; they're unlikely to remember one e-mail out of who-knows-how-many per day. Can you name the last five commercial e-mail messages you received? Can you remember even one of them?
I'm not telling you to dispense with e-mail altogether. But think about combining channels more. Be less focused on the short-term attraction of cost savings made possible by the ability to send millions of e-mail messages free of charge. Think about the fact that, although we can send millions of free e-mail messages, hardly any will be opened. There are just too many of them. Many arrive with the perceived risk of a virus. Direct e-mail messages are more likely to be deleted in fear than greeted with cheer.
There's a company here in Dallas that helps companies retain customers by sending hand-written letters and calling just to see how things are going. They don't try to sell the customers anything; the intent is to make human contact. And it's working. Their business is growing and retention rates are increasing dramatically (and if I can find this company's name and URL, I'll repost with that info!). Bottom line, electronic personalization is ok, but the human touch is even better.