When I was a kid, I had as many as 10 pen-pals (at the same time). I remember the joy of writing page after page, putting them in an envelope, affixing stickers to the back and licking a stamp to send it on its way. Then, waiting in anticipation for a return message to come.
In middle school, I began my writing to “celebrities” to see if they’d send something back—an autographed photo, a postcard, something! Little did I know then, that it was an employee or volunteer on the other end fulfilling my request. Still, when I did get any kind of response, it gave me a thrill. Somewhere, someplace, I have a form letter (and the envelope) from President Ronald Reagan.
As I got older, in high school, handwritten letters were passed between class or stuffed through the air vents in your locker. Sometimes they were from your BFF (a term that hadn’t even been coined at that time in the 1980s), or sometimes—it was from someone that you had a crush on.
Even in my pre-internet and pre-cell phone college days, keeping in touch with friends around the state meant sending cards and postcards through the mail.
By the time I hit the professional workforce, e-mail was coming into fashion. No longer was I taking time to find the perfect card or paper, and a pen that wrote just right, to sit down and carefully think out a message to send. I was typing it out on an impersonal keyboard and sending it out through cyberspace, to be answered often within minutes or hours (instead of days, weeks or even months).
No wonder we’ve become impatient and thrive on instant gratification.
I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to the volume of messages sent out from my computer or phone, daily. It’s part of my job. News releases, blog entries, text messages, social media posts, emails and other mass communication make up my schedule. Thousands of keystrokes each and every day, without much of a thought. It’s how I’m now programmed—and I’m sure many of you are as well.
Yet, something within me yearns to grab a pen and put it to paper to add more personality to my messages. To make someone smile when they open their postal mailbox to see an envelope, with their name and address handwritten on it. Whether the envelope contains a purchased card, a personalized piece of letterhead or pages from a yellow legal pad doesn’t matter, it’s what those words say that are of importance. It’s the fact that you took the extra time and effort to say what you wanted to say. Sending handwritten messages through the mail is an art that has been lost over the years—one that needs to make a comeback.
Not only are handwritten notes a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, they also deliver a message when it comes to business practices. Want to place your name and company at top of mind? What do you think a client will remember most—yours as one of a hundred (or more) emails received during the course of the day or a handwritten note received within 48-72 hours after your meeting? This personal touch tells the client (or potential client) that you care enough about the relationship to spend the time to sit down to actually write a message. And, since there’s no delete or backspace when you’re working with pen and paper, I believe your message is more genuine and in the moment.
After I give presentations in a specific venue or community, I often receive a thank you email from the host with details about the public’s “review” of what I had to say. I file them away in folder in Outlook called “Speaker’s Bureau” – subfolder “Comments” and I rarely go through that file. Yet, every time I get a new card or letter in the mail, I anxiously run to my office to grab the large manila envelope full of other such cards and letters. Before I add the latest to the collection, I pull the others out and spend time re-reading them, remembering the venue and the group and smiling. Talk about instant gratification!
In reading various posts online, I’m finding I’m not alone in my thoughts that it’s time for a comeback for the handwritten note. Many well-established marketers, professional business leaders and authors are echoing this message.
Kristian Schwartz, founder/partner at The Montgomery Group wrote a piece for Huffington Post in January, 2014 called “Long Live the Art of Handwritten Notes (In the Business World),” in which he says “My motives are simple when I send a note – to honestly and sincerely thank someone for their time. People are busy; they don’t need to speak to me. Yet they choose to – which is why I send handwritten thank-you notes.”
In his 2013 post, “Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever” for Harvard Business Review, John Coleman writes “the beauty of a well-crafted handwritten note is that it can show deeper investment and appreciation than a simple thank-you can.” He goes on to say “It may seem nostalgic, but I still believe there’s room for the handwritten note in personal and professional communication. They cost something, mean something, and have permanence in a way emails and text messages don’t.”
“As an entrepreneur, I’ve always made it a habit at the end of my business week to drop a few ‘thank you’ notes in the mail, warranted or not. It’s amazing how much of an impact this can have on people,” says Ben Hanback, president of The Hanback Group, in his post “The Lost Art of Handwritten Notes.”
Forbes ran a piece by Jessica Kleiman in 2013 titled “Why E-Mail Will Never Replace the Handwritten Note,” which references how valued the handwritten note is in the business world. “A female magazine publisher I know said that if she interviews someone and they don’t send a real note as a follow-up, she will not hire them, no matter how impressive they were in person.”
One of my mentors, Tony Rubleski of Mind Capture Group, has preached the value of the handwritten note for as long as I’ve known him. Tony speaks to hundreds of groups (and thousands of people) each year sharing his insights into how to stand out in the age of digital overload – and one of his consistent messages is the value of handwritten notes and other “guerilla” marketing strategies that take advantage of the good ol’ US Postal Service. Earlier this month, I actually received a “Trailblazer” t-shirt and personal note from Tony, and one of the first things I did was take a picture of that and post it on my social media channels with a public thank you. Talk about cross-marketing across various platforms!
A couple years ago, I challenged myself to send at least 1 handwritten letter or card each month. While I could be better at this (some months I miss, but others I send several), it’s something I continue to work on. To me, there’s just something about writing thoughts out in longhand that allows me to pour more of my heart and soul onto the page—something I struggle with using a keyboard. My increased attention to journal writing, attempts at various books or “memoirs” and other random musings mean more to me when they’re scrawled across the pages of random notebooks, no matter who disorganized it may seem.
Whether it’s tied to remembering the birthday or anniversary of a client or friend, offering condolences should the situation warrant it, a thank you or just a kind word of encouragement, the practice of handwritten notes is a habit worth forming. So, go find yourself some nice paper, purchase some personalized notecards, find a pen that writes just right and get to it. Are you up for the challenge?