ExactTarget http://blog.exacttarget.com/blog/chip-house/0/0/leveraging-the-new-handwritten-letter-the-email

by Chip House

This just in: 18-24 year olds think of email as a “formal” medium of communication. This is ironic, maybe even laughable or disturbing to some. I remember when email was first coming into broader adoption in the mid-90’s I read editorials discussing the demise of manners due to the loss of the personal, handwritten letter.

College students just think differently than us older (ahem, established career) folks. We recently hosted a panel of students from Ball State’s Center for Media Design (CMD) who hit this point home. For them, social media and SMS round out the top forms of personal messaging, and email is the realm of the formal, the land of the adults, parents, professors, and even grandmas. One student on the panel even said: “An email is like getting a letter. It’s just above a Facebook wall post of “sweet things.” Awesome.

This perception of greater importance, gravity, and formality of email could actually serve marketers well. For businesses that know how to respect the rights of their subscribers, and send relevant, permission-based and personalized content there is simply no evidence to support the pundits predicting the demise of the email. Email is still incredibly viable for all age audiences for messaging and permission-based marketing.

The 18-24 demographic is very savvy with technology, however. Growing up with email, they are masters of “making it work” for themselves so it fits with their lives and preferences. At our panel discussion the students commonly reported having multiple email addresses – each address with a distinct purpose. For example, one student said, “I have my college email address for emails from my administration and professors, then a Gmail account for the signing up for ‘stuff I want,’ to get about products, etc…and I have a Yahoo address for spam, which I use when I’m on a gamer site and I just want to play, not get their crap. It’s kind of a throwaway address.”

Everyone likes a handwritten letter. Why? I think there are two main reasons. First, letters are a symbol of caring due to the time investment required to create one. Second, the personal nature of seeing a friend or relative’s handwriting is simply compelling, flattering, and human. Letters are formal and show that the sender “cared” enough to take the time to write, etc. Direct Marketers figured this out in the 80’s and companies like Intelligent Ink sprouted up to add a new type of personal, human touch to direct mail. They employed an army of minimum wage workers with good penmanship to personalize envelopes. Though this technique may seem trite today, when these first hit mailboxes a few decades back the concept was new and differentiated, and the response increase was through the roof!

Think how you can improve your program by adding personalization and a bit of care to your next campaign. Start by thinking of your subscribers as individuals and you’re on the right track.

The future for email, however, is much brighter than it is for direct mail. Even in this down economy, a new study from eConsultancy says that 59% of companies plan to increase their spend on email marketing in the coming 12 months. Now if I could only get a fancy wax seal on my email…

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Insight and Research at the Center for Media Design (CMD) has begun to receive quite a bit of attention from industry publications and mainstream media outlets in the last several years as a groundbreaking and reputable media research organization. This archive is only for educational purpose, if the content involved any copyright issue, please contact: Michelle Prieb: meprieb@bsu.edu
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