I travel almost every week, but in fact I’m not traveling this week and it’s kind of shocking. Last week I was in New York for client meetings and to do a Fox Business correspondent gig in the studio instead of remotely. The week before I was in Massachusetts because my daughter is entering her third year of college. Next week I’m in Las Vegas speaking at a brand management camp. But this week I’m in Miami the whole week.
Figuring out how to hack my travel with tips and techniques has become more than a hobby, it’s almost an obsession. In our wedding vows I added to the traditional “better or worse, sickness or health, richer or poorer, only carry-on luggage.” I didn’t really—but I threatened to.
I was on a flight once and the woman in front of me kept slamming herself against the seat to get it to go back. The reason the seat wouldn’t go back is because my knees were there. I didn’t have any legroom. She finally called the flight attendant and said, “My seat won’t go back.” And I said, “The reason your seat won’t go back is because my legs are there.” The flight attendant said to me, “Sir, you have to move so she can put her seat back.” And I said, “OK, where would you like me to put my legs? We can consider the overhead compartment. Other than that I don’t really know where they’re going to go.” I promptly bought a knee defender. That was years ago, but I’ve never had the nerve to use it. I take it only for emotional support.
If you lean forward and say, “Look I’m almost 6’5”. Would you mind not leaning back quite so far?” Most people are pretty nice about it. I’ll offer to buy them a drink. But sometimes—especially on European airlines—when the people lean back, I could do dental work on them. I don’t put my seat back more than just a little inch, just to take the angle off, unless I turn around and there’s a sleeping child curled up in the seat, because I know how aggravating that can be.
I only wear three colors: gray, blue, and black. That way everything I take matches everything else. I always take knit silk ties and pocket squares with me, too. If you change your ties and the tone of your pocket square, it looks like you’re wearing a different outfit every day. That’s all anyone notices if you’re well dressed anyways.
I play the harmonica, so I also take a few harmonicas when I travel. I have found people to play with on the subways of Paris, on the streets on London, and in small towns in Provence. It always gets me invited to places and dinners. It’s great. Now if I played the cello, admittedly, it wouldn’t be quite as easy. But with the harmonica it’s quite easy.
My travel hero is Jack Reacher, a fictional detective in a series of 18 books by author Lee Child. He travels with just an ATM card and a folding toothbrush. When his clothes get dirty he throws them away and he buys new ones. I dig his travel routine. That’s my dream. But I would add a harmonica.
I have a collapsible down jacket that folds up into its own pocket. It’s essentially—when you smash it all down—the size of two pairs of socks. I take that no matter where I go because even if you’re going somewhere warm the airport is going to be freezing or the plane is going to be freezing. Even though I insist on traveling as light as possible, I even carry a down jacket if I’m going to the Caribbean or to Ibiza. It’s still jammed into my bag.
I always take button-down shirts because you can always wear them with a suit or you can wear them un-tucked with shorts. You can’t really do that with any other kind of shirt.
I am fastidious about packing. I use those little packing cubes and I organize everything. They love me at TSA when I get the random open bag inspection. They open it up and say, “Oh my god. I wish everybody packed like this.” Everything’s in a little pouch. Everything’s all nice and folded—all my cords and my cables. I’m a little psycho, as I said. But I’m OK with that! I accept myself for who I am. Travel is just so easy for me because I know exactly what I’m going to take at all times.
One of the things we’re responsible for is marketing Miami tourism. So all my suits have these little palm tree pins on them—every single one—so I’m never out of uniform. But I’ve noticed that TSA guys or hotel clerks, they always say, “Oh, I like your pin!” At which point I reach into my lapel, unhook it and give it to them. They love them. And I always get an upgrade. With hotels I get a nicer room or with rental cars I get a nicer car. Who knows what—you get something.
I really like Nooly, which is a weather app. It’s really cool because it tells you the weather in 5-minute increments. If I’m going for a run, for example, I don’t care what the weather is for the next eight hours. I care what the weather is now for the next 45 minutes. And it tells you. WeatherBug has a really cool feature called Spark that tells you if there’s lightning anywhere nearby.
The app that I love more than any other app—I use it for travel, but it can be used for everything else—is Evernote combined with a system that I’ve learned online called thesecretweapon.org, a series of 11 videos that show how to combine David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD) with Evernote as a master “to do” list to manage your inbox and your assignments and your travel and everything else. It is phenomenal. It runs my whole life. It’s a real pain in the neck at first but if you fight your way through it and get it set up, it becomes second nature. Like my email box, I have no emails in my email box. As I open one I transfer it to Evernote and tag it.
My dad passed away a few years ago and I took his briefcase and had it refurbished. I only use that bag and my suitcase. That’s nice, that I always have his bag with me. It’s a Tumi leather briefcase of some sort. It’s old. Now they have their own custom zippers and everything. It doesn’t even have those. But I sent it back to Tumi and they redid it. In fact the woman called me and said, “You want to spend $300 to redo this bag? You can probably get a new one for a little more.” I said, “Nope, that’s the one I want.” So they fixed it up. They put it on a new handle and some new straps and cleaned it up and it’s great.
I take a couple merino wool T-shirts because, believe it or not, they do not itch. They work in all temperatures and they don’t stink, so you can wear them more than once. We all like to wear cotton T-shirts but when you sweat in them they get heavy and wet—especially when you run—and you can’t dry them after washing, so you’ve got to find a replacement. Merino wool is unbelievable. At first I was completely skeptical. First of all, I live in Miami—I’m not from a wool-wearing state. I thought it would be itchy and uncomfortable and it’s not at all. You can wash it in the sink and it dries quickly.
I always take two pairs of ExOfficio travel underwear and I wash them in the sink every night. They don’t absorb moisture because they’re made of synthetic materials. But here’s the trick: You wring them out as best as you can by hand, then you take a big bath towel and lay it out on the floor—or on the bed if you’re a germophobe—and then you lay the clothes on them and roll it up like a burrito. It’s a layer of clothing, a layer of towel, a layer of clothing, a layer of towel. Then you lay this big roll on the ground and you jump on it, which transfers a lot of the water that’s left from the fabric into the towel. Then you unroll it and you hang the stuff up. It works. My wife laughs at me. My friends laugh at me. You laugh at me. It’s ok. I get it. It’s stupid. Here you have a guy who runs a company who’s traveling around washing his underwear in the sink and then jumping on it. I get it. It’s funny. But you know what? I don’t care because I’m obsessed and it works.
You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice that the Catholic Church has gone through some cataclysmic shifts of late. From the horror of “pedophile priests” to Pope Francis’ refreshing reframe, the seemingly immovable institution has changed plenty. But surprisingly enough, a strong reaction to where the Church’s brand has been heading is not a new occurrence.
Historically, when there has been a threat to the Church (Gnosticism and the Protestant Reformation are two of many) there has always been a vigorous response — from the Synod of Rome in 382, through the Counter Reformation (beginning with the Council of Trent in 1545), to the changes of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. In fact, the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI (the first papal resignation in 598 years) and the election of Pope Francis could easily be interpreted as a modern day “brand revise,” created to rescue an ailing brand.
How is Pope Francis changing the public’s perception of the Catholic Church’s brand? How about the fact that he was named the TIME magazine’s 2013 Person of the Year? Not enough for you? The Pope was also named Person of the Year by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-interest magazine The Advocate. When was the last time THAT happened?
Then there’s the Church’s commitment to “New Evangelization.” Books such as The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet are required reading for those Catholic activists who want to make a difference.
And it’s not just lip service from the top, by the way. The new Pope even has a Twitter account with over 3.5 million followers around the world.
But the big difference is that thanks to today’s democratized media, new evangelization doesn’t just come from the leadership. Much like the Gutenberg Bible used a state-of-the-art invention to innovate the distribution of Church doctrine in the mid 15th century, today’s savvy believers are encouraging new evangelization with the same technology you might use to read this blog, find your way home, or even play Angry Birds — an app.
Through a 21st-century mashup of the centuries-old story of the Catholic Mass and today’s Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite (DPS), graphic designer Dan Gonzalez wrote, designed, coded, and deployed Mass Explained, a robust iPad app with sound, video, 360° panoramas, 3D objects, and all the other digital ‘bells and whistles’ we’ve come to expect from the most sophisticated apps.
Gonzalez used Adobe’s new technology to target a specific issue facing the Church that he believed he could change. According to Gonzalez’s research, Catholic college students and young Catholic adults are at a pivotal point in their lives where they either accept their parents’ faith or detach from the Church altogether. In her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell reports that of the Catholics who leave the Church, 80% do it by the time they turn 23. Gonzalez believed he could stem this tide through Mass education. And what better way to reach this generation of digital natives than through an engaging tablet app?
The Catholic Church has a vast inheritance of paintings, sculptures, vessels, and vestments, all of which help illustrate the evolution of the Mass. The Church also has a treasury of prayers in Greek and Latin, Gregorian chants, and liturgical music, many of which come alive on Gonzalez’s app. For example, Gonzalez says that hearing the Eucharistic Prayer along with the Hamotzi (the ancient Hebrew blessing over bread) dramatically reveals the source of the Catholic prayer, adding profound richness to the Mass experience. In the same vein, Gonzalez says it comes as a surprise to many to learn that Vivaldi’s familiar Gloria is actually sacred liturgical music. And while nothing can compare to actually seeing the art, visiting the architectural sites, hearing the music and prayers or holding sacred objects in your hand, modern technology allows for a more engaging user experience than static text on a printed page. Especially to a tech-savvy generation that has come to expect this type of interaction.
Many of today’s most successful technological innovations are nothing more than the combination of something old and something new. eBay, for example, is simply a flea market or bazaar (perhaps the world’s second oldest business) combined with the Internet. Gonzalez’s Mass Explained, too – combines centuries-old ritual and dogma with up-to-the-minute technology.
Who knew the Catholic Church could be so au courant?
I travel so often that it wasn’t until my daughter was 13 or 14 that she figured out that shampoo comes in large bottles too.
Because so much of that travel relates to building compelling tourism brands for destinations around the world, I often sit in the plane on the way home and think about how to construct the ultimate travel destination.
We’d start with a tropical island in the middle of the ocean but not too far from the coast of the United States. We’d enjoy wonderful views and the sound of the surf crashing against our beautiful beaches. Plus, our weather would be at its best just when our feeder markets were experiencing their coldest, dreariest conditions.
Inside our island we’d plant lush rainforests with soaring mountains and burbling waterfalls. We’d stock it with vegetables and trees, fruits and flowers, and all sorts of game and exotic creatures.
Because we’d want our destination to attract tourists from all over the world, we’d fill it with beautiful hotels—both large and small. We’d build in all sorts of activities so our visitors will never run out of things to do. And because nearly 80% of travelers say that shopping is one of their favorite activities, we’d establish a vibrant retail sector with shops and malls rivaling those in New York, Hong Kong, and London.
We’ll fill our island with culture—both indigenous and imported. We’ll have museums, symphonies, ballets, art festivals, folkloric dance, and theater. We’ll also have sports – spectator and participatory – so we’ll need to build golf courses, tennis courts, arenas, ball fields, hiking and running trails, BMX courses, swimming pools, and whatever other facilities our tourists are looking for.
While we’re at it, why not make our island as exotic as possible? Let’s speak a language other than English. Let’s offer our visitors food and art and an entire experience that’s nothing like they’d find at home. But in order to ensure their comfort and convenience, let’s make sure that our residents also speak fluent English and that our US visitors can spend their dollars, use their health plans, and depend on the full faith and credit of the United States. And since less than 20% of mainland Americans have passports, let’s make sure passports aren’t even necessary. Otherwise at $165 per application, a family of four would need to spend more than $660 before they even leave home.
What else? Some travelers like big cities while others prefer small towns, so let’s build both. And let’s connect the municipalities with a superhighway system that makes it easy to get around. Let’s also build state-of-the-art airports and seaports to make it as convenient as possible for our customers to visit.
Because so many travelers say they’re looking for an authentic experience, we’ll build historic regions complete with architecture combining the best of both local and European traditions. We’ll have an old town with cobblestone streets, restored churches and forts, and other charming amenities so our tourists linger and learn.
And since we’ve built an island in the ocean, why don’t we surround our island with other smaller islands where visitors can find an even more natural and personal experience if that’s what they want?
Finally, let’s have our residents travel freely and frequently to the continental U.S. and evangelize our brand. Our residents should include sports stars, politicians, musicians, actors, chefs, and just plain folk to spread the word about what a rich, vibrant, worldly culture we offer.
All that’s left is to name our island. If you live in the US on the west coast, my guess is you’ll name it Hawaii. If you live on the east, maybe you’ll call it Puerto Rico. So why is it that Hawaii is one of the leading tourist destinations in the country while Puerto Rico is struggling to maintain its tourism industry? Especially odd when you consider that Puerto Rico is only two to three hours away from 36% of the U.S. population while Hawaii is more that six hours away from only 18%. Do the quick arithmetic and you’ll realize that Hawaii is twice as far away from half as many people as Puerto Rico.
Like the most popular tourism brands in the country – New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Miami – Hawaii’s brand essence is instantly recognizable and understandable. And therein lies its success. As soon as Puerto Rico figures out how to present a compelling, comprehensive, and consistent brand message to the rest of the United States, their fortunes will soar as well. If you’ve seen the economic news about Puerto Rico lately, you can only hope that it happens quickly.
My friend Phil Allen, brilliant lawyer and blazing lead guitar player for The Southbound Suspects, told me this story:
The defense attorney was questioning the prosecution’s star witness.
“So you say you actually saw my client bite off the victim’s ear in the bar fight?”
“Yes I did,” the witness answered nervously.
“But it’s a big bar, isn’t it? Exactly where were you standing?”
“In the front, over by the door.”
“And where did the fight take place?”
“In the far corner, near the back of the bar.”
“In the back, huh? So how far away do you estimate you were standing?”
“About 150 feet away.”
“And how many people were standing between you and the fight?”
“Oh, at least a 100 or so. The bar was packed.”
“Was there anything else in the way?”
“Yeah, there were a few pool tables too.”
“And the two of them were fighting on the floor, isn’t that right?”
“Yes. They were on the floor and surrounded by a big crowd.”
The defense attorney pulled his full bulk up and out of his chair, straightened his tie, and puffed out his chest:
“So let me make sure I’ve got this right,” he bellowed. “You were in a big bar, at least 150 feet away from my client. There were a few pool tables and 100 people standing between you and the fighters. And they were down on the floor surrounded by a big crowd. And yet you continue to insist that you’re absolutely sure my client bit off the other guy’s ear.
“Yes I am,” the witness answered quietly.
The defense attorney moved in for the coup de grace.
“And just how do you know that for sure?”
“I saw him spit out the ear when he stood up.”
Bam!! You just heard it — the question that should never be asked. The question that negates everything that came before. The question that gives it all away. The question that changes things forever.
Obviously the defense attorney never learned about the two most important words of sales: shut the @$#% up (How did I learn that? Read more HERE).
How many times have you snatched a wet and wiggly defeat from the jaws of victory and talked yourself right out of a sale?
The King James Version of the New Testament says, “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
Both Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln have been credited with: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
And Lao Tzu wrote simply, “Silence is a source of great strength.”
Of course it is hard to keep your mouth shut when you’re moving in for the kill. But if we can’t get a better answer than “yes” in the first place, why do we keep pushing for more, especially when we know better?
There’s lots of eloquent advice and stories like Phil’s about the over-eager attorney to remind us to stop before we reach the question you should never ask. But me, I’ll stick with “shut the @$#% up.”
A few weeks ago I wrote about our upcoming Elite Branding Intensive (you can read that post HERE). It’s an all-inclusive, hands-on, two-day branding workshop that we’re putting on at the end of September to teach entrepreneurs, small business owners, and large company professionals EXACTLY how to build their own profitable brands. Our very limited seats are filling up fast but if you’re interested there are still a few left. Just click HERE for all the details.
With summer finally showing its sweaty face, those of us who live in Florida are starting to hear about hurricanes again. Just this morning I heard about one of the first named storms of the year — Chantal — which is swirling its way out of Barbados and up towards the Greater Antilles.
Newspaper, radio, and TV stations are inviting us to stay tuned for all of the information we need in the event a storm makes landfall nearby. And the uproar about named storms seems perfectly positioned to get us all atwitter and lined up at the local retailers to stock up on hurricane supplies; grocery stores are enticing us to buy can goods and bottled water and hardware stores are reminding us to stock up on flashlight batteries, plywood, and shutter hardware.
But after a winter of freakish storms in other parts of the country, hurricanes no longer have an exclusive on all the “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE” press we see down here each summer. It seems like this year the Northeast and Midwest have also had their fill of sensationalist headlines. It’s gotten so bad that The Weather Channel has even started naming winter storms. According to them, this is to provide a better service for their viewers. Under the headline “Why The Weather Channel Is Naming Winter Storms,” they list their reasons:
Of all these reasons, the one they somehow manage to leave out is that naming storms is good for business. After all, think about how much easier it is to sell special media packages for a storm named Saturn or Triton then it is for an unidentifiable ice event. In fact, look at the following list of names The Weather Channel is using and tell me any other good reason for these names than drama and commerce: Athena, Brutus, Caesar, Draco, Euclid, Freyr, Gandolf, Helen, Iago, Jove, Khan, Luna, Magnus, Nemo, Orko, Plato, Q, Rocky, Saturn, Triton, Ukko, Virgil, Walda, Xerxes, Yogi, and Zeus.
Brutus, Magnus, Rocky, and Q? Really??!! Those sound more like the names of gladiators facing off against the lions at the Colosseum than a list of snowstorms.
The bottom line is that marketers like to name storms because it’s much easier to spread fear and panic with names than with unidentifiable titles. And when people are scared, they open their pocketbooks. Last year’s Snowmageddon was an excellent example of a terror-inducing label but how many times can we expect the creative people at The Weather Channel to come up with such a humdinger? You may not worry about pulling your kids out of school and buying new chains and shovels if eight inches of snow are predicted, but you’ll surely rush out and stock up on precautions to keep your family safe from Zeus or Khan!
Looking over the list, my only question is how they came up with innocuous names such as Euclid, Gandolf, Helen, Nemo, and Yogi. While Draco sounds blood curdling, Euclid sounds mathematical; Gandolf reminds me of that hairy-foot little troll from Tolkien’s trilogy, Helen was the beautiful woman who launched a thousand ships, and Yogi reminds me of a bearded holy man or Boo Boo’s best friend. And while Nemo might have been chosen because of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, it just reminds me of Disney’s hapless little clown fish from Finding Nemo.
The Weather Channel says, “naming winter storms will raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.” The cynical marketer in me says the only thing naming winter storms will raise are the little hairs on the backs of our necks and opportunities for the channel to make money.
This email exchange is almost all verbatim. I removed the names and identifiable facts.
Potential Client: “It was a pleasure visiting your website and speaking with you today, Bruce. I have attached our ad agency RFP (Request For Proposal).
We look forward to your proposal. If you have any questions please contact me.”
Agency: “Attached is our response. Because we specialize in your industry we feel confident we can exceed all of your requirements.”
Potential Client: “We can tell you put lots of hard work into this.
We will have a meeting room with projector. Let me know what else you need.
But please sharpen your pencil.
We will be looking for you to drill down on creative, suggested media, social media strategies and spend based on demographics.
Please confirm you are on board and we will proceed.”
Agency: “We are excited by the prospect of helping you build a great creative program and we are eager to undertake the next step.
See you next week. Thanks for the opportunity.”
Potential Client: “Just received note from my bosses. As soon as you have creative they want a preview before confirming presentation. I’m just the messenger here.”
Agency: “Do they want to see existing creative we’ve done for other clients or custom work for you?”
Potential Client: “Creative ideas for us. The other agencies did submit customized creative samples, teasers if you will.”
Agency: “We appreciate that ownership wants to see our ideas before the presentation.
We hope they understand our ideas are our most valuable assets and we take them very seriously.
As you can see by our insightful RFP response we have more knowledge, understanding, and successes in your segment than any agency anywhere.
We are excited to share that knowledge with you to create powerful work. We are not willing to share our ideas before we have planned a strategy with your input nor are we willing to do that for free.”
Potential Client: “I will share your comments and get back to you.”
Did we get the meeting? Have we won the business? What do you think?
When a potential client asks for free ideas, a short turnaround time, AND lower prices before we’ve even met, what’s the chance that it could possibly turn out well? This is a presentation we won’t be making.
After all, to win business we will do everything. But we won’t do anything.
Have you read about Carnival Cruise Line’s latest woes? Of course you saw the bloated corpse of the Costa Concordia floundering like a beached whale off the coast of Italy, you saw the 2,758 stranded cruisers on the Carnival Triumph eating onion sandwiches and using the Lido deck for a latrine, and you saw 4,300 passengers from the Carnival Dream being ferried back to Florida after that ship’s generator failed. But those are the sexy things the news media loves to splash across its pages and screens. Have you seen the numbers?
All of this bad news has eroded the company’s profits. Carnival says it expects to post a 2013 profit of $1.45 to $1.65 per share, down from its previous projection of $1.80 to $2.10.
Last Tuesday USA Today reported that Carnival Corp “…lowered its 2013 earnings forecast yesterday afternoon, acknowledging that bad publicity and reduced ticket prices have taken a toll on its bottom line. Several analysts immediately lowered the company’s stock ratings, and share prices dropped overnight.”
And a recent Harris poll of more than 2,000 U.S. travelers showed a 17% drop in their trust in Carnival Cruise Lines. Worse, the trouble isn’t just limited to Carnival’s core brand. Harris found that trust in rival lines including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival-owned Holland America also dropped.
So what can Carnival do? Needless to say, the first thing is to stop the bleeding. To fix their problems the company has announced a full operational review and says they will spend close to $700 million to upgrade back-up systems across their entire 101-ship fleet. Cruisers, investors, and rival lines can only hope that that expenditure will stop Carnival’s continued problems. If evenly applied, that enormous expenditure only adds up to about seven million dollars per ship, not very much when you consider the cost and complexity of each vessel.
But even if almost three quarters of a billion dollars fixes the ships, Carnival’s still got a boatload of work to do before the ship hits the fan again. Here are just five of a long list of things I believe the worlds largest cruise line should do immediately to get their image — and their profits — on the road to recovery.
1. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part I).
The next time there’s a mishap, Carnival’s president line should immediately take a helicopter out to the stranded ship. He should stand with the captain and announce that he’s there for the duration and will be doing everything he can to see to the cruisers’ safety and comfort. His presence will help show Carnival’s passengers that he’s got skin in the game — his own.
2. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part II).
When the Concordia went down in Italy, Carnival chairman Mickey Arison should have been on the first flight to Civitavecchia and set up Carnival Central Command right there. After all, nothing says you care like being there.
3. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part III).
While the Triumph was floundering, an iPhone picture of Miami Heat owner Arison sitting court side at that evening’s game went viral. Even though we all know there’s nothing Arison could have done to improve the stranded ship’s situation, someone still should have said, “Yo Mick, why don’t you catch the game at home tonight?”
4. Enhance Connectivity.
In today’s hyper-connected world, being disconnected makes people very nervous. Carnival should install 100 Iridium satellite phones on every ship so that stranded guests could at least let their friends and family know they’re okay. A quick, “Yeah, we’re stuck but we’re fine” conversation would relieve a lot of stress and pressure.
5. Finally, Carnival should change their corporate name.
In addition to the Carnival-branded ships Carnival Cruise Lines owns ten different cruise brands, including Seabourn, Holland America, Cunard, and Princess. But each time a Carnival ship is stricken, consumers have no way of knowing whether the bad news is about a Carnival-flagged vessel or one of the other brands the parent company owns. Carnival should separate the brands so they’re not always painted with the same brush.
Sure, the entire industry will still suffer when there’s an accident. But as we’ve seen, other brands didn’t suffer the loss in consumer confidence that the Carnival-owned ships did.
My suggestion for a new corporate name for the holding company, by the way? Change Carnival to Tarison in honor and memory of Carnival’s late visionary founder Ted Arison.
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.
What do you think? Write back and let me know.