Posted January 12, 2010 4:49 pm by with 8 comments

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The online space is certainly trying hard to cut the apron strings associated with traditional media techniques and practices. It can be hard though, to completely separate from something that may still have value. Think about how nice it was (or still is) to go back “home” and get that meal that you just can’t make on your own. While you never want to be back there 24 / 7 again there are certain things that are part of our past that will always have great value and we get to take the best of those things with us.

The same concept may apply to the Internet marketing world as well. As much as we try to break away and create our own identity separate from the traditional world of content generation, advertising, PR and every other piece of the overall marketing mosaic, there may be some things that will always have a place. One of them might even be snail mail.

An article in the Wall Street Journal talks about how there may be certain aspects of snail mail that carry importance even in the rush to digitize everything in our business lives. While not right for every business, part of the relationship building that we talk of as the most important aspect of the social web can be cemented with a good old fashioned handwritten note. For instance:

Looking to cut costs amid the recession, Alicia Settle initially thought it would be a good idea to eliminate her company’s annual direct mailing.

Spending about $20,000 on the personally signed letters, which offered customers a discount on early orders, seemed indulgent for Per Annum Inc., which sells city diaries, albums, and planners in the struggling corporate gift market. But after swapping snail mail for email last year, Ms. Settle saw a 25% drop in early orders compared with the same period the previous year.

“We realized we had made a huge mistake,” says Ms. Settle, president of the New York firm.

This is one of the dangers of taking established businesses and preaching that since online is the wave of the future that you need to go there. Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead into the future! Sure businesses do need to evolve but to what extent is completely dependent on what kind of business it is, what their existing customers are used to and how new customers can be attracted to the offerings.

As a result, you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater so there may be room to get rid of some traditional marketing that is certainly unproductive in the new world order while keeping others. These “old school” activities like handwritten thank you notes and other techniques now are part of the whole social marketing fabric that can serve to benefit the new and the old customers. They are actually part of social media.

The idea is to send something that’s more appealing than “junk” mail and potentially more noticeable than an email message, says Eric Anderson, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. That allows business owners “to offer a personal touch the larger firms may not be able to have,” he says.

Prof. Anderson says other business owners are trying to figure out how to integrate Web marketing—such as email campaigns, banner ads and social-networking sites—with direct mail. “The introduction of new media has forced [business owners] to go back and revisit the whole playbook on what’s the best way to communicate with customers,” Mr. Anderson says.

Ms. Settle, for instance, plans to use e-marketing to complement the hand-signed direct-mail piece, not replace it.

So how do you incorporate the best of the old and the new in your business? Have you made a “pendulum swing” adjustment and taken away too much of what was once effective? Did you then find that part of the old way of doing things could still serve you well? Where is the happy medium and what might it look like moving forward?

  • I’ll tell you one thing, as a startup music journalism online-only publication fulling entrenched in social media, online distribution of information and new media, I have just added asking for mailing addresses to our data collection process. I believe that as the surge to bombard potential customers, readers, viewers, consumers, etc., online continues escalating, there will be certain ‘old-school’ methods of ‘standing out’ that will need to return to a companies marketing arsenal, ‘snail mail’ being one of them.

  • Hi Frank.
    I’ve swung so far left that when someone gives me their phone number, I still ask if they have email..I used to love writing letters but can’t remember the last time I did that. I think I embraced the new and let go of the ‘old’ too quickly because its fast, cost-efficient and I can communicate with a lot of people at the same time. In the process, we’ve lost the personal touch.
    .-= David Walker´s last blog ..Make Your Blog Count in 2010 =-.

  • Pingback: Can Snail Mail Be Part of Social Media? | Seo Curacao()

  • I think life is and should be like snail mail. Slower, more thoughtful and something that can be revisited; concrete, not a message in cyberspace, floating in the electronic cosmos. Social interaction-human to human, not electronic characters on an LCD or plasma screen.

  • It’s really tempting to damn the torpedoes, as you put it. But if we Internet marketers are to be taken seriously, especially where there is resistance to this new form of marketing, we need to be aware of what is working in the offline arena.
    .-= Josh Braaten´s last blog ..7 Examples of Good Web Design Page Layout =-.

  • I think it’s good to embrace the new but not to let to of old practices. Those are what your business was build on. I found some tips on remaining personable in a virtual world at

  • Dean

    Interesting post Frank.

    A point of reference; I get ~200 emails a day, some more relevant than others, but 200 nonetheless. I will often go days without a piece of mail. Recently, I received a handwritten (repeat HANDWRITTEN) thank you note from a vendor (this is a large, multinational company BTW) I had spoken to on the phone couple days before. It was stunningly personal, thoughtful, and genuine. I have kept that note on my desk ever since to remind me of the power of a simple handwritten, snail-mail note. I checked my files and the last handwritten note I received from a company was in June 2008 (yes I remember because I kept it too).

    So Marketers, to Frank’s point, don’t discount “old school” marketing just yet. Sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact and sometimes its best to zig when everyone else zags. Thousands of email over the past 2 years vs. 2 handwritten letters. The math is pretty simple.

    • Thanks Dean.

      I think in the rush to be current, cool and on the leading / bleeding edge, we sometimes forget the basics.

      The basics of relationship is not just ANY communication but rather the Right communication. As long as humans are humans we will require attention that goes beyond our modern definition of communication. Tweeting back and forth will never substitute for a handshake or a handwritten letter. What it can do is facilitate the relational aspects of the ‘net but it will be hard pressed to replace a note, handshake or any other gesture that goes to the next level.