Up until I turned 40, I never earned a cent that didn’t come in the form of a paycheck. But when I finally left my last job, I realized something: I prefer working alone.
Before that, working in restaurants through college and in companies later on, I was always involved in some sort of group effort.
It was fine. But for me, I now realize, doing my own thing is a better fit:
I make my own hours (10 – 6); I decorate my own office (postmodern college dorm); I choose my own clients (smart, friendly, disarmingly good looking).
I don’t have partners, employees, or subcontractors. I just sit in my office all week, occasionally talking on the phone, happily working by myself.
There is one place, though, where my preference for solitude is problematic: volunteering.
Whether it’s a community clean-up event, a clothing drive, or a public demonstration of some kind, I’ll go (with my wife Linda’s prodding), but the entire time, I’m pretty much waiting for whatever it is to end.
That’s why I am happy to have discovered letter writing as a volunteer activity. It’s a way for me to contribute something without having to talk to anyone or leave my office.
The approach is fairly consistent: Here is a list of names and addresses; here is what we would like you to say; here is the deadline to send it off.
This week, I have been sending postcards to registered voters in Pennsylvania, letting them know that they can vote by mail.
Along the way, as I handwrite the same paragraph over and over on one side of the card and add the name, address, and stamp* on the other, I’ve realized that this activity contains a number of important marketing lessons.
[*Note to Gen Zers, a “stamp” is a little sticky piece of paper that you buy at an old building called a “post office” and then… never mind.]
Important Marketing Lesson #1: Personal Connections Matter
Among the very specific postcard-writing guidelines were instructions to write “Dear NAME” at the top of the paragraph and to sign it with my first name at the bottom: “Michael, Volunteer.”
A good message is good (feel free to Insta-tweet-tock-tick that). But a personalized message from one human to another has more impact.
Which is why every newsletter I send, for myself and for my clients, is signed with an actual human’s first name. It’s like a little sticky note to say hello, in addition to the meat of the message itself.
[BTW, I don’t recommend personalizing the “Dear NAME” in a newsletter, since in addition to being subject to error, it’s an obvious bit of automation that does little to move the human connection needle.]
Important Marketing Lesson #2: People Take Their Cues from Other People
The first sentence of the postcard paragraph is “Join your neighbors in voting by mail.” The “join your neighbors” part is very deliberate.
That’s because if we believe that other people are taking a particular action – especially people that we perceive to be “like us” – we are more likely to do the same.
The corollary (SAT word!) in your marketing is testimonials. Whether it’s clients saying nice things about your work, or newsletter readers gushing about your words, showing potential clients and readers other people who have already taken the step that they are now considering is very effective in convincing them to do the same.
[BTW, don’t rewrite testimonials for clients, even if they invite you to. If the words are too polished, they don’t sound genuine.]
Important Marketing Lesson #3: It’s Not a Numbers Game
Think about how much effort goes into a postcard-writing program.
Not only do you need to identify and track people like me who are willing to pay for and obtain postcards and postage, but you have to also convince us to spend time writing these things.
Why not just take your mailing list, print the cards in bulk, and automate everything?
It would be a lot more efficient and you wouldn’t have to worry about volunteers accidentally spilling beer on some of the cards (in my defense, it was early in the morning).
Because it’s about impact, not volume. The objective is not to mail postcards … it’s to change behavior.
That’s why, when it comes to marketing for a small professional service firm or independent, I’m such a big fan of doing things that can’t be automated: phone calls, coffee and lunch dates, one-off emails, snail mail.
In addition to being things that your larger competitors will never do, you make a stronger connection than if you rely exclusively on impersonal, one-size-fits-all tactics.
[BTW, I don’t have anything else to say here, but since I used this BTW construct in the previous two suggestions, it felt like I should write something.]
Here’s the bottom line.
When it comes to 21st century marketing, there is a near-endless supply of things you can do and ways you can do them.
So, before you follow the latest trend or fixate on numbers that may or may not matter, STOP.
Think about who you are talking to, what you would like them to do, and which tactics are most likely to help you get closer to that goal. It need not be fancy, provided it’s effective.
P.S. If you live in Pennsylvania and happen to get one of my postcards, sorry about the beer.
- When was the last time you handwrote a card or letter?
- Have you ever moved the human connection needle? Explain.
- Do you prefer to work alone or with others?
Share your answers below…