When I walked downstairs to grab my mail today Shelly told me that I had “won the mail sweepstakes.” Sure enough, my mail slot held the biggest pile on any of the shelves. “Of course,” Shelly added, “most of it is junk.”
But hidden amongst all the trash were three hand-addressed envelopes. Coincidentally, I had also dropped three hand-addressed envelopes into the outbound mail that morning.
According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average American home received only one personal letter every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. If that’s the case, is it any wonder that a handwritten note gets such attention these days?
One note was from Ron, thanking me for some help I’d offered with a project he’s working on. One was from Brian, complimenting me on a presentation I’d given the week before. And one was from Michelle, introducing herself and letting me know that we would meet in July.
Here’s the best part. I opened those handwritten letters first and actually thought about the people who sent them, even putting the notes aside to make sure that I respond in a similar fashion. Because a recent study quoted in the Harvard Business Review showed that the average corporate email account sent or received more than 100 emails per day, and that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now send or receive nearly 100 texts per day, I took the time to count the number of electronic messages I received. At 7:00 PM, the count was 127 emails (not counting pure spam) and 42 SMS texts.
Included in those 127 emails were three notes from kids who are looking for internships and seven sales pitches from companies looking to do business with us — certainly requests that might have been worth the time it would take to send a handwritten note. Truth be told, when I receive those types of emails I often wonder if the sender could have possibly made less of an effort to get my attention.
Indeed, that investment of time and effort is part of what makes a hand-scribbled note so valuable. The person who wrote it had to dig up some stationery, find a pen, and actually scratch their thoughts onto paper. And without spell checker or the AutoCorrect option, they might have even had to write the note more than once. Then they had to put the note in an envelope, look up and copy down the correct address, affix a stamp, and even lick the flap. What could be more personal – and more intimate – than that?
But there’s another side of letter writing that’s important too – the pleasure the sender gets in indulging in such an anachronistic activity. Maybe it’s because I love to doodle and draw, but I really enjoy pulling out my stationery and my dad’s fountain pen. I notice the texture of the pen and the flow of the ink. I pay attention to the way I craft my letters and I even try to find stamps that make an aesthetic or social statement. And because I’m left-handed, I’m forced to write slowly so my hand doesn’t smear the drying ink.
Dropping the weighty envelopes in the mail feels like I’m actually putting a little bit of myself into every letter I send. And I feel the same sense of personal connection when I open and read someone else’s carefully crafted note.
By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the value of handwritten communication. In January 2012 I wrote a post about the GMCVB’s CEO, Bill Talbert, and his branding tips under $100. Tip number two was titled: No one sends personal notes anymore. Except Bill.
Bill is one of the most tech-savvy CEOs I know. But whenever you spend time with him, you can expect a personal handwritten note to show up in the mail a day or two later. Bill knows that as the world gets more and more high-tech, the way to break through the clutter and make a statement is with high-touch. Not a phone message. Not an email. A handwritten letter. With a signature. And a real stamp on the envelope.
And when the news is really important? Bill takes a tip from Michael Gehrisch, CEO of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), and sends it in a FedEx envelope. After all, what other correspondence gets brought to your desk the minute it enters your office? It’s a heck of a bargain for 15 bucks, I think.