Get close up and personal- why snail mail is better than e-mail

We all know the story of the Hare and the Tortoise, it’s as old as …..well ….. Aesop’s fables. Our hero, the slow, boring but goal-focused Tortoise wins the race against the more glamorous but flighty Hare. It’s the same with our mail, and the evidence is mounting that, in the arena of gaining attention and engagement, good old-fashioned snail mail beats the faster, immediate, digital and glamorous e-mail hands down.
Why is that?
Well, for once, common sense tells us the answer. A personal letter invites us to give it our full attention; we’re curious and because we open them, slowly and one at a time, we read the content. This is especially true if it’s personal message shared just between us and the sender. Snail mails are usually read when we arrive home or at our desks, having a moment of privacy. We appreciate the time, effort (and cost) that has gone into the gesture by the sender and so we often feel compelled to respond positively.
Compare that to the poor old e-mail. In an age where we have instant access to e-mails – at our desks, during our commute to work, in meetings, even arriving when we are enjoying leisure time with family and friends – they become a nuisance, a distraction, an invasion of privacy which many of us would, secretly, prefer to be without. We may look briefly at the sender information, but we have all developed internal ‘screening’ processes, so we only open those from particular sources, immediately consigning the rest to the ignoble ‘delete’. And our attention can easily be distracted because we are constantly bombarded by e-mails, often interrupted mid-way through reading one by the ‘ping’ noise of the arrival of the next in the queue. As an e-mail moves down the page, its’ relevance diminishes. Many of us forget their message as they disappear off our screens and rapidly evolve into old news. When we do open an e-mail, we are further distracted by the presence of hyperlinks. Do we continue with what we are reading or do we choose to click and open a new window? There are just too many choices open to us. Sadly many businesses equate more e-mail activity with more success, but we’ve all learned how easy it is to consign these nuisance messages into the ‘junk’ and ‘block sender’ folders.
For those readers interested in developing better campaigns, here are some top tips
Response rates to direct mail letters are now 30 times better than e-mail campaigns at 3.4% for mail and 0.12% for e-mail in 2012. This difference can outweigh the disadvantage of the higher cost of using direct mail.
Grab your readers attention – we are all attuned to spotting mass mail, whether it’s the logo on the envelope, the automated, franked postage paid stamp or it just screams ‘OFFER’ at you. Up close and personal is best, preferably with a hand written address. An analysis of 677 campaigns in Germany showed that coloured envelopes and franking stamps signalled impersonal mail to most recipients, so these are likely to end up in the bin.
Once opened, a letter should be written in an easy to read font. Teachers everywhere love Arial for simplicity, and it works well with direct mail too. Use bold text to indicate key information. Another attention grabber is the use of blue and red text.
A photograph or a post it note with a personal message has an enormous effect on getting people to respond to you. A handwritten post it note inside an American survey that said “Please take a few minutes to compete this for us. Thank you!” almost doubled response rates from 36% to 76%.
In America an energy company successfully adds a ‘home energy report’ with your bill, which compares energy use by neighbourhood. Adding “ You used 32% more energy than you efficient neighbours” to the report makes householders reduce their energy consumption. Conversely, the addition of a smiley face to more responsible, lower energy consuming householders had the opposite effect becasue they assumed no –one else was trying to save energy hence, why should they bother?
Another example you may have encountered here in the UK is the use by HMRC of these social norms on your tax reminders. Telling people that “9 out of 10 people in your town had paid their tax” gets more of us to take action, increasing the response rate from 67.5% up to an 83% response rate.
So don’t neglect some of the more ‘traditional marketing’ in your mix. Snail mail has some advantages over e-mail, in that it is more likely to be noticed, opened, read and acted upon. Used wisely it will also make your customers and potential customers feel more valued and increase the chances of getting the response you want. The slow and steady Tortoise can beat a Hare if you plan and implement your campaign well.
Happy marketing