Trash The Holiday Cards; Start An Electronic Newsletter!

With December upon us, businesses everywhere are scrambling to get their customer holiday cards out the door. Although this tradition may at first glance seem to make sense, the fact is that sending holiday cards out once a year to a list of people with whom you have infrequent contact is expensive, and largely ineffective.

While doing a presentation recently to a group of small business owners, I asked the audience three questions:

Why do you send holiday cards?

How many do you send?

How much does it cost you?

The universal answer to question number one was, “to keep in touch with my customers.” Questions two and three had more variation, but on average, each member of this group was sending out about 500 holiday cards at a cost of about $1 each.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM: Although it feels like an accomplishment to drop off 500 cards at the post office, the perception that this effort builds relationships and helps us stay in touch with our customers is an illusion. It’s a good illusion, but it’s an illusion all the same.

Remember that we are not really mailing 500 holiday cards. Instead, we are sending out one card, 500 times. The recipients don’t know (or care) how many total cards we send, and because each individual gets only one, there is no cumulative impact related to the number of cards mailed.

From a relationship enhancing perspective, this tactic doesn’t have nearly enough frequency with any one customer to move the needle in a positive direction. Add to this the fact that our holiday card has no useful information, and is not requested or anticipated by our customers, and it’s likely that our efforts — although well intentioned — will largely go unnoticed.

Contrast this with the benefits of a regularly scheduled, email based newsletter:

• Because sending email is free, cost ceases to be a constraint, and achieving a sufficient amount of frequency is no longer a problem.

• By choosing topics that are valuable and of interest to our customers, and by putting this information in the form of an opt-in newsletter (like this one), we can be confident that the people on our mailing list want what we are sending them (further increasing the value of the communication).

• Because the medium is inherently two way, recipients often respond, creating a dialogue with customers that doesn’t occur with holiday cards.

• Finally, as the size of our mailing list expands and contracts over time (as people opt in and people opt out), we’ve got a real time barometer for gauging the effectiveness of our communication (if not the strength of the relationship we have with our customers)!

One final note and I’ll leave you alone. Isn’t it interesting how the Internet has transformed a fundamental business tradeoff? The primary consideration in deciding how frequently to initiate outbound customer communications used to be COST (i.e. pieces mailed multiplied by cost per piece). In the digital world, it’s TIME and CONTENT You can have an unlimited number of communications, as long as you have the time to write them and something to say.

Until next time, Happy Holidays! (I won’t be sending you a card).

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