The power of handwritten notes
By Ed Morrow
Intl. Assoc. of Registered Financial Consultants
I’ve never met a financial marketing person who is not a strong believer in handwritten notes and short letters. Here is why note cards are so effective.
Your grandmother always said, “When someone does something nice, you should always send them a personal, handwritten note.” Maybe for a while you practiced this courtesy, but you are likely to have discarded the practice long ago.
Big mistake! Many people coaching financial advisors strongly urge sending personal notes as a “quick and easy way to forge a closer bond with your clients.” One veteran media advocate who is a master at mass-produced commercial messages says, “Nothing has the power of the personal note. The impact far exceeds all other written communications because you reached out personally.”
The slogan of Hallmark Cards, “When you care enough to send the very best,” helps Hallmark sell very expensive, colorful greeting cards. They have built an image so strong that people receiving a commercial card are very likely to examine the back, looking for the Hallmark logo. This proves the impact of a card versus a letter.
Perception, Inc., a public relations firm specializing in communications for financial professionals, says, “Members of the media are like your clients and prospects. If you reach out and show them you appreciate and respect them, it can pay off in dividends. Sending a simple note card after an interview, or after an appearance, can go a long way to developing the rapport you need with the media.”
A Hallmark competitor, American Greeting Cards, has been so successful that they now produce a wide variety of specialty note and gift products, but their primary focus of greeting cards has always been to “create and distribute products that are designed to meet consumers’ needs to connect, express and celebrate.”
I’ve never met a financial marketing person who is not a strong believer in handwritten notes and short letters. Often, when they can’t find a card, top advisors use their personal stationery and write a very brief note. It’s not as classy as a formal note card, but the speed and personal touch are what counts.
Here is why note cards are so effective:
Technology resistance — In our technological society that enables you to receive tweets and posts from hundreds of your closest buddies, the personal note is going against the Web-stream. That creates additional attention and receptivity. According to The New York Times, “As technology races forward, people are increasingly starved for those high-touch extras, like homemade meals and personalized notes. It helps you to be unique. Small businesses often operate at a disadvantage but certainly have the opportunity to establish the perception of being more personable than larger competitors.” Giant firms find it harder to build a personal bond.
A personal note gets attention — Most mail comes to you and to your clients in a standard No. 10 envelope, whereas a note card envelope might be 4" x 5" and the card slightly smaller. It is different; a change of pace. The note card gets noticed. This notion is especially true if you have placed a large, colorful stamp on the corner, rather than a mechanical postage imprint. Handwritten notes are personal — When you handwrite a very short message, it is quite obvious that you have done so personally, not printed it from a computer or delegated it to a staff person. You are sending a powerful signal: “I care enough about you to write this personally.”
The message is short and simple — Your handwritten message need be no longer than a few words, “Thank You! I really enjoyed our lunch.” If you wanted to say more, then you might write, “I really appreciate the confidence you are showing by retaining our firm to help you achieve your important objectives.” Just 19 words say it all.
Writing more text — If you feel compelled to write more than 30 words, then consider using executive-sized stationery (about 6" X 9") with your abbreviated name imprint at the top and maybe your email and phone number at the bottom. Color-coordinate the imprint and use very high-quality watermarked paper. You’ll be amazed at how the quality impression carries over to your advice and service.
Don’t be afraid to be a bit emotional — That’s what cards are for. Everyone receiving a note with a touch of emotion in the content will be warmed and rewarded. Another message to a new customer might be: “We are honored by the confidence you bestow by retaining our firm to help you achieve your family’s most important goals.”
Notes strengthen your first name basis — In your note, you might start with the first name(s) of your recipient and close with yours: “Joyce and Tim – thank you for the opportunity to help with your retirement plan distribution. John.” It may only take 16 words, including their first names and yours, to strengthen your bond.
Try to be legible — This is very hard for some of us, but if you simply resolve to write more slowly, you can be certain your copy is readable and reasonably neat. Perfection isn’t necessary, but you do want them to be able to make out the words.
Use the proper instrument — Your grandmother would have used a true fountain pen that shows different widths when stroking vertically or horizontally. That look is very classy, but most people today don’t use those old-style instruments. However, do not use a standard ballpoint pen! They are too common. Use a wider instrument — a roller ball, gel ink or a felt-tip pen. If the tip gets mushy, discard it. You want your message to be strong, readable and crisp.
Match the ink color — If your note card is dark blue, use dark blue ink. Try to stay away from black, which is boring. Maybe you have a signature color, such as forest green or dark red, on your marketing materials, stationery, brochures or website. If so, use a matching pen color. Visit BuyOnlineNow.com and search for “pens.” There are many varieties, even gold and silver ink. The BIC velocity Gel .07 or a uni-ball Gelstick 0.7 tip both work very well and cost less than a dollar each. Use a professional note card — For example, the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants has a very handsome formal note card for use by members. The cover of the 4" x 5" card is dark blue, which goes well with dark blue ink. On the outside is the gold RFC Key logo — a clear reminder of the sender’s professional designation.
Emphasize your status — On the back is the IARFC note card is their Code of Ethics, reassuring the recipient that the sender is ethical. The inclusion of the Association’s website permits the recipient to verify the sender’s qualifications.
Be guided by the best — Crane & Co., the leading manufacturer of superior quality bond paper (note cards, stationery invitations and even U.S. currency), states, “Thank you notes and cards give you the competitive edge. Keep your notes short, sincere and prompt. Easily composed business correspondence, including thank you notes, has four easy ingredients: the greeting, an appreciation for the occasion or favor, mention of enjoyment or value and sign-off with a suggestion for future meeting.” This organization strongly suggests that you send a thank you note within 24 hours of a social event or business meeting.
Imprint your note card — Most cards can be fed into a laser printer for printing in the desired location (the top flap of a “fold up” card or the back panel of a “fold over” card). Use a small, crisp type font.
Imprint your envelope — You do not need to buy custom-imprinted envelopes. Most laser or ink jet printers will permit you to feed in the envelope and imprint your name and address on the back flap. You may have to reverse the type 180 degrees and feed your envelope upside down. Resist the temptation to use an address label.
Have a custom note card printed — This can be effective, but it can also be pretty costly because you’ll be purchasing a small run and color printing is only less expensive when you approach higher quantities. You would have a lot of your money tied up in card inventory. Remember, you want to use high-quality card stock and envelopes.
Always insert your business card — Of course the recipient already has your contact information — but is it at hand? If you really want a return call, handwrite or mark your cell phone number on your card. However, the ideal use for your business card is for the recipient to hand it to a friend, who then calls you for an appointment. If the recipient doesn’t have your card handy, then he can’t hand one off, can he? Always include your card.
Should you insert an advertisement? No! Not even a prepaid business reply card. Your message is personal and private. Your business card is not considered to be an advertisement; it is a convenience, or at least it will be perceived as such.
Use real postage stamps — Of course this means just a bit more handling, but if the recipient opens the card personally (which is highly likely for a card versus a standard envelope), then he will notice the stamp. There are always some very attractive commemorative stamps available at the Post Office. Do not use business meter mail — it destroys the personal touch. Gold foil seals — Rather than lick the envelopes, some advisors use a one-inch gold foil seal. If your company doesn't have a seal, you can also go to the Stephen Fossler Company and have one designed with your name, firm name or logo. You would be able to use the seals on all types of envelopes packages, invitations and proposals.
When should you send it? Immediately is best, but even if you are delayed several days, the effort will be appreciated. You can have one box of note cards, envelopes and stamps in your office and one at home, so you can write and send a few cards each evening, based on the activities of the day — perhaps while watching the evening news.
Where should you send it from? A recent attendee of one of our sea cruise conferences took 150 cards with her. During the CE session, she hand-addressed the envelopes and made an entry inside the note cards that read, “I’m soaking up some rays and Continuing Education…see you soon.” She stopped at a post office at one of the cruise stops, purchased colorful commemorative stamps and mailed them from outside the United States.
Don’t ask, “Did you get my card?” Of course they did, but asking this question converts a courteous, personal gesture into a commercial communication. Don’t do it; let your note speak for itself.
A strong bond with your clients and prospects is good business. By writing notes during gaps in your schedule or in the evening, you will be accomplishing your objective with very little cost or time spent. You can implement this personal note card practice without delay and with little expense. Get some cards, stamps and a colored felt-tip pen and prove that your grandmother was right!