The World’s Greatest Marketing Tool

I have a terrific office.

It’s just a few miles from my house.

It’s directly across the street from our town’s village green.

It’s so close to the starting line of the Boston Marathon, that if I mash my face against the side window (not recommended), I can see the painted start line in the road.

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It’s also reasonably priced, accessible 24/7, and has plenty of parking.

Office space in my town (Hopkinton, Massachusetts) isn’t that hard to come by these days. I see “space available” signs regularly in local buildings.

Back in 2002, though, when we moved here, there was nothing. I spent an entire day, walking up and down the streets, going into every commercial building and asking about availability.

The best offer I got was from an architect who had space in an extra cube (no, thank you).

So I did the next best thing: I went one town over and eventually found a spot. It wasn’t ideal for a lot of reasons, but good enough.

One day, about two years later, I got a phone call. It was from Jim, the owner of the building I now work in, telling me that something had opened up.

I rushed right over to take a look. Fifteen minutes later, I was writing him a check.


And then I asked: “I was here two years ago; how did you remember me?”

He smiled, reached into his top desk drawer and pulled out the thank you note I had written. Nothing fancy (I didn’t even remember writing it), just “thanks for your time, please let me know if things change, etc.”

For some reason, he had held onto it for two years.

The best marketing tool on earth is the handwritten thank you note.

Three reasons:

  1. It costs money. Not a lot, but enough that people know you didn’t send a thousand of them.
  1. It doesn’t scale. See #1 above. Plus, there is time and effort involved. Here as well, the recipients know they are part of a fairly select group.
  1. Snail mail itself has become an empty channel. See #1 and #2 above (sorry, is this getting too complicated?).
    Because it costs money, and because it takes effort, nobody does it anymore. Pretty much the only mail any of us receives are bills and junk. So handwritten notes have impact (I bet the “open rate” is close to 100%).
    I’ve had people call me up to thank me for my notes. I’ve visited clients and seen my note posted on the bulletin board. It’s the way I found my current office (oh wait, I already told you that).

Here’s the bottom line. I love technology and automation. There’s no way I’d be working as a solo if I couldn’t take advantage of all the tools that let me run my business efficiently, most of which didn’t even exist twenty years ago.

But I’m a big believer, precisely because of all the technology and automation we deal with every day, that customized, offline activities have more impact than ever before.

Particularly if you compete with larger companies, most of which are constrained by the need for scale, efficiency, and the cost-savings inherent in cookie-cutter rules and processes, you have a huge opportunity in front of you by doing what they cannot.

That’s why I send one handwritten note per week to someone (not the same someone, that would make no sense).

Most times I have no way to gauge the impact. But every once in a while, I know for sure that it opened a door (in this case, quite literally).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever mashed your face against a window? Explain.
  1. Would you like me to send you a thank you note? Send me cookies and I’ll consider it.
  1. What’s your favorite unconventional marketing tactic?

Share your comments below!

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16 thoughts on “The World’s Greatest Marketing Tool

  1. Bruce Horwitz

    1. No, do you think I’m that peculiar that I’d abuse myself that way?
    2. How good do the cookies have to be?
    3. Well, I’m pretty much out of marketing mode these days.

    Getting back to your message… my wife used to be the actuary handling “exceptions” for New England Life. From her experience do that she has always subscribed to the belief that if you have an issue with a company that isn’t immediately resolved on-line/by phone, move to a written, snail mail communication. It will get more focused attention compared to an issue buried in the usual non-paper customer service organization.

  2. Joyce Kaye

    Yes, real connection has gotten lost among all the technology and speediness. I’m with you, Michael. I send hand-written thank you notes, birthday cards, etc. This year I’m even taking the time to send a lot more holiday cards, always with a personalized message no matter how brief. As always enjoyed what you had to say 🙂 Happy Holidays! Blessings, Joyce

  3. Graeme Roberts

    I don’t want to answer a question, but I do want to say this, for the record, as a follower and sometime client.

    Michael Katz is a remarkable man. He carves a living out of a hard, demanding world by working hard consistently, and always being kind and nice. He is funny, creative, and he really helps solo business people like us all over the world. I love his warmth and wisdom, and I hope he will always let me receive his newsletter. It’s time for Hanukkah and Christmas, freeing us to express all the gratitude and love we have floating around our hearts.

    Thank you, Michael!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’d like to comment, Graeme, but I don’t want to interrupt you.

      No, I mean thank you. I really appreciate your saying that; I’m glad to know I’m having an impact. All the best to you as well!

  4. Laura Foley

    I’ve never mashed my face against a window. However, my son licked a subway window on a trip to New York City when he was little. Up until that moment I had no idea that was even a possibility.

  5. Diane

    1. probably not
    2. I think I’ll just skip the cookies, since you might not write a note for store-bought, and send you a thank you note when I get my first paying client from following your advice.
    3. Lately I’ve been trying what I might call ‘by the way’ marketing. I’m talking to someone i know in a different context, and then at the end of the call I suddenly get the courage to tell them what I’m doing. Or I’m emailing back and forth with the tech support person for my new website, and in about the seventh or eight one I said something like, here’s a link if you want to see the kind of thing I write.

    Seems to be growing my online connections, and getting me used to talking about my business without really planning it or feeling pushy.

    Also, I have to say, I love your newsletters, love your analogies, and giraffes, but don’t love any of them as much as chocolate.

    Now may I ask you a question?
    If I send a thank you card to someone in a context outside my business, and they don’t know what i do or my business contact info, would it be appropriate to slip in my business card with my email and website on it? Or would that seem like too much of an agenda?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Diane!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment here. On your question, I think throwing your business card in “breaks the spell” and overshadows the note. Just try to focus on making friends, rather than finding prospects. Over time, those people learn what you do and it leads to clients.

  6. Terry

    1. Yes. We were on vacation in Florida, renting a condo. Shrieks: “DOLPHINS!” We all ran to the window and one by one slammed into it. Smudge marks are probably still there: at 4 ft, 5 ft, and 5′ 8″. The 6’1″ was smart enough to be last.

    2. Thanks for the offer but you wouldn’t be impressed with my baking skills.

    3. I hope to have one soon- that’s why I subscribe to your newsletter.

    4. Breaking your rules here but I have to share with your subscribers that I just finished your new book, “The Likeable Expert”, and loved every word, every page. I picked up ideas that I will implement but I honestly want to read it again and the last time I ever re-read a book was when I was 10 and read The Secret Garden about 5 times. Yes, that’s how good Michael’s book is.

  7. William Davenport

    1. Never.
    2. No cookies, sorry, even if I wanted to, what gets baked here stays here. Actually in our house cookies get eaten before they have time to cool — as long as there is an ice cold carton of milk in the fridge (of course!). Or if there is vanilla ice cream to mash them into.
    3. We’re an artisan coffee roaster. We buy French fry bags and insert a note into the bag inviting the reader to join our coffee club. The note in the French fry bag goes into the coffee bags we’re packing and gets sealed inside the bag. Because the bag is made out of wax paper or something like that, the oil from the coffee doesn’t penetrate the bag and yuck up the note and the note doesn’t absorb the oils that add to the flavour and aroma of the coffee. French fry bags are about $5/1,000 and the notes are printed on colored paper – 6 notes per page. Total cost for 1,000 coffee club invites, including sharpening the paper cutter, less than $10.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      2. “What gets baked here stays here.” I appreciate people with strong principles.
      3. I love every bit of that. A great example of how to turn a product into a connection. 1000 points to you!

  8. Stacey Shipman

    1. Probably.

    2. You sent me a thank you when I hired you for coaching. So $$ trumps cookies 🙂

    3. I love the hand written note. Sent one to someone I know who was recently promoted in her organization. Since I have custom cards printed with my name/website, it prompted her to visit my website and sign up for one of my upcoming workshops. They work!


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