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A Letter Still Wins Over Email in My Book

The first time I saw the Internet displayed was in 1995 at a Hamilton-Avnet open house for customers in the Boston area. Tom Thorsen, vice president of marketing and communications, showed me the ropes. He described an exciting method to communicate and sell products. And he was right.

Remembering that now, the Internet kind of looked like a simple PDF. It was not very interactive. I really remember the day because I could see the future as to how companies might use the system to market themselves. I sure could not imagine the explosion and impact it has had on the world… and it was really only a few years ago that the names Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn became ingrained in our vocabulary. Since the early to mid-1990s, I have probably sent and received 8 zillion emails.

One interesting question I have been asked a few times: How do I reach a busy executive like you? My answer: A letter. I get only a few direct mail pieces and probably one or two letters per week. I get 300+ emails a day, so old-school snail mail works, because it breaks through the noise. Send a third mailer, and you will really have me.

Avnet employees receive approximately 2 million emails per day, 87 percent of which are determined to be spam, which is filtered out by special software (thank goodness) by our IT folks. I feel like I get the 13 percent left. I sit at my computer way too long deleting emails when I should be out meeting with people or at least taking a nap. My guess is I spend 20 minutes a day deleting spam x 300 days = 100 hours… geez , two-plus weeks a year? How about you?

I shake my head when I see marketers placing too much emphasis on digital efforts. Yeah, I know it's free to send, and you can measure the analytics and ROI. What you can't measure is how many people are pissed off because you sent the damn email, or if your company name is put in the back of your potential clients' brain as a spammer. I will never understand why companies and people don't brand themselves with advertising, PR, or going to or sponsoring an event more. Maybe someone will email you or even call for more information or order something… hmm, that would be novel. In my opinion, branding does not happen sending emails.

Thoughts?

49 comments on “A Letter Still Wins Over Email in My Book

  1. sbovio
    June 29, 2012

    I'll send you an email with my response, Al.

  2. Al Maag
    June 29, 2012

    send a letter I will read it

  3. sbovio
    June 29, 2012

    Will do!

  4. bolaji ojo
    June 29, 2012

    Al, This is a quandary. I agree with what you wrote but I still have to promote this doggone digital thing, do social media (I am tweeting your article and putting it on my LinkedIn by the way), engage with the thousands of EBN readers and all that.

    What can a person do? I may have to write you a note with ink pen and tell the world what I wrote in digital ink, which is kind of a double job at a time I share my natural sleeping hours with my computer!

    The only advantage I see with e-mail is that I can write one single letter and copy it to the whole world. Some would call it spamming but, hey, so is direct mail at times!

  5. bolaji ojo
    June 29, 2012

    @sbovio, How is your spelling when writing under pressure? E-mail programs have spell checkers built into them but what do you do when you write a traditional letter as you just promised Al. Remember, he is a traditional kind of guy, which means he wants to see no grammatical errors, the right punctuations and, of course, your handwriting must be legible, another problem for some folks.

    Don't let this stop you, though. Knowing Al, if you failed at any of these, he would forgive you and give you some credit for trying. Of course, you could simply write the letter on a tablet PC with a stylus, spellcheck on the computer and print it out in longhand. Technology!

  6. sbovio
    June 29, 2012

    Laughing, because I was just typing a letter to Al and my co-worker said “No, you need to hand write it for him. Then he'll know why email is a much better form of communication for you.” My handwriting is truly illegible, and my spelling… atrocious.

  7. ahdand
    June 30, 2012

    Well so you preffer the manual old fashioned way ? What about the time which it will consume to get the job done ?

  8. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 30, 2012

    Emails save PAPER .

    Imagine the amount of paper used ( and the number of trees cut to produce that paper, if just 1% of today's worldwide emails were sent as letters.

    It will be disastrous to the environment

  9. Himanshugupta
    June 30, 2012

    after a long time, i sent a letter (by post). It took me close to 2 hours in compiling, printing, going to the post office, paying for the cost and finally posting the letter. And not the mention the monetary loss that i incurred and the time that the letter will take to reach the other party. Comparing this to the email, i would not like to post the letter until extremely necessary. 

  10. Anna Young
    June 30, 2012

     @Prabhakar, Yes sending an email is cost effective and saves time too. In addition it'll be stress less if there was a postal strike isn't?

  11. Cryptoman
    June 30, 2012

    Hi Al, I see what you are saying. Although writing a letter on a piece of paper is perceived as old fashioned by most people, it is an effective means of communication in my opinion too. The fact that “old is not necessarily bad” is often overlooked by most people. Having said that alternatives to email are long forgotten for a number of reasons. First of all email is free. You do not need a stamp or an envelope to send it. Although such costs are negligible, if you send 10 letters a day, they can easily add up. Also depending on how far your letters need to travel, your costs will increase relatively. Then there is the important element of 'convenience' that comes with email. After you write your message, you simply click a couple of buttons to send it instantaneously; no stamps, no envelopes, no walk to your nearest post office. You also don't need to be constantly aware of the opening times for the post office to be able to send your letters. Email is open for business 24/7. Email is fast. You can have an email based conversation that involves tens of messages with someone on the other side of the planet. Imagine trying to do that with conventional mail services! People tend to (and are often expected to) do things that are fashionable and popular. For example, if you send a job application to an employer via a letter, you run the risk of coming across as a technophobe and that is not good at all. These days you need to be a technology user to be welcomed anywhere. If you don't own a website under your name, some people look at you in a funny way. Of course, when something is popular and has a wide user base, it attracts spammers and hackers like honey attracts flies. Besides all the conveniences I mentioned above, getting hacked and spammed regularly is the price we have to pay it seems. I used to get a lot of printed spam through the door years ago. Today I don't receive any. Why? This is because the changing technology has created a very effective filter for printed spam which works like this: “If the printed stuff has arrived via post and looks colourful, just bin it!” Therefore, the spammers have changed their strategy as well. Now they bombard my inbox instead. Talking about filters, I recommend that you use spam filters to minimise how much time you spend per day deleting spam. These filters used to be almost useless in the past but these theys they have become smarter and more effective. You can rely on them to a large extent but be sure to move spam to a different folder than thrash. Sometimes 'ham' can be filtered with the 'spam' which you want to be aware of.

  12. Anna Young
    June 30, 2012

    Al, interesting you raised the issue of hand written letter over email. I posted a letter out recently to a company here in the UK, and received a quick response from the CEO. He replied me via my email address. I guess it's quicker and saves him precious time to send a reply electronically. So Al if you receive a posted mail, do you reply by posting a reply yourself in your busy schedule? Hmm, I suppose your secretary will do all of that for you?

  13. Eldredge
    June 30, 2012

    Al,

        I agree with you. Maybe it's obvious, or maybe it's irony, but I think the fact that digital communication has become so prevalent in our lives makes the 'snail-mail' medium that much more impactful.

     

  14. Al Maag
    June 30, 2012

    great question, in most cases I would email or call.

    I only mean letters should be sent of significance to get my attention…I must admit I send very few. But in all cases are to get someones attention

  15. Al Maag
    June 30, 2012

    My book is 99% complete…out in fall thanks for asking

  16. Al Maag
    June 30, 2012

    Thanks for response…

    fully agree on everything u said…I send 100 + emails a day, very few letters or notes a week…again only to someone I want their attention.

  17. ahdand
    June 30, 2012

    Well dont you think being old fashion might make you end up in the wrong placew at the wrong time ?

  18. itguyphil
    June 30, 2012

    I guess then email it is!

  19. FLYINGSCOT
    July 2, 2012

    I fear the age of anything handwritten, except for a wee thank you note to friend of relative, is now banished to the far reaches of history.

  20. Ariella
    July 2, 2012

    @Al according to strict etiquette thank you notes are still supposed to be hand-written and mailed on hard copy. Formal invitations are, as well. However, while RSVP card tend to be included, more and more invitations I've seen also include an email address for responses. 

    In business, though, whatever makes you stand out is consider a distinct branding advantage. Consequently, when everyone else is emailing, your envelope can set you apart. Of course, what you put in that envelope is also key in making that attention-getter effective.

  21. Wale Bakare
    July 2, 2012

     Which is more important or should be?

    1 – Handwritten ( Letter)

    2 – Electronic mail ( email)

    3 – Phone call

  22. Barbara Jorgensen
    July 2, 2012

    I can see how a letter, particularly a handwritten note, can stand out in a sea of e-mail. E-mail is so easy and I'll admit to taking the easy way most of the time. But I was struck during the PBS series the Civil War how the art of letter writing has been lost. And readers are right–there are some things that should absolutely be handwritten and are worth wating for.

  23. Susan Fourtané
    July 4, 2012

    Barbara, 

    What sort of handwritten letter would you write and send by snail mail? 

    -Susan 

  24. mfbertozzi
    July 4, 2012

    @WB: it is a good question, speaking for myself, not easy to arrange the right answer. Not to say I am right, even technology intregues a lot, I am fascinating by hardwritten letter…

  25. Susan Fourtané
    July 4, 2012

    Ariella / Al, 

    “Formal invitations are, as well. However, while RSVP card tend to be included, more and more invitations I've seen also include an email address for responses.” 

    I recently got an invitation from the U.S.Embassy to attend the opening of an art exhibition. It included an email address to RSVP. Other formal invitations I used to received by snail mail are now coming by email after a note saying they are not going to send invitations by post anymore, and that they will replace all the invitations by electronic invitations. They included an email address for signing up if I wanted to continue receiving the invitations. 

    I believe the strict ettiquete is already changing, and disappearing. 

    -Susan 

  26. Wale Bakare
    July 4, 2012

    @Susan, i cant agree less – disappearing . Those changes experiencing today impact positively on our social and economic activities.

  27. Susan Fourtané
    July 4, 2012

    Hi, Wale 

    What I said is all based in my personal experience. I have received these formal invitations every month for several years, so it's not just one isolated case I am talking about.

    It's a trend that has started some long time ago, and continues. It may be slower in some other places, but this is what I live here. I am not making it up. 

    -Susan 

     

  28. Wale Bakare
    July 4, 2012

    Hi Susan,  my generalization from particularising is also based on that. I tell you, i just concluded skype talk with an expert in Information Retreival ( Prof), and our discussion was digressed to email/handwritten letters cutural shift.

  29. Ariella
    July 4, 2012

    @Susan well, it is, undoubtedly, more efficient to send emails and RSVP via email. In fact, several months ago we received an emailed wedding invitation. The hosts included a note that they had mailed out invitations but many were damaged in transit and never reached their destinations. Consequently, they were emailing everyone. As I recall, we did receive the paper invitation, but I did think they could have saved a lot of expense by just emailing altogether.  Perhaps the next generation will do so with no apology.

  30. Susan Fourtané
    July 4, 2012

    Wale, 

    I know someone who quite recently told me he sends handwritten letters to his friends. I didn't ask what kinds of letters. I simply couldn't imagine what would I write to someone knowing the letter is going to reach destination after several days, or weeks if my friends happen to live abroad. 

    -Susan 

  31. Susan Fourtané
    July 4, 2012

    Ariella, 

    More efficient, easier, faster, more environmentally friendly, cheaper, you know they arrive, and when; emailing invitations only has advantages over many disadvantages that posting represents. 

    -Susan 

  32. Ariella
    July 4, 2012

    @Susan I agree. People have to break out of the mold of expectations for paper invitations arriving in the mail. 

  33. Susan Fourtané
    July 4, 2012

    Yes, Ariella. Also, paper invitations transform in more trash, the kind that stays around for a long time until one day you finally throw them away to make some room in your house. 

    -Susan 

  34. syedzunair
    July 4, 2012

    Susan, apart from being envoirnmentally friendly electronic mail has many distinct advantages. You can be certain it was delivered as soon as you sent it and you could also put read receipts to ensure that the message was actually read. On the contrary, my experience with printed letters and mail is pretty bad. They never end up at the intended place on the designated time.

  35. Susan Fourtané
    July 4, 2012

    syedzunair, 

    Yes. It's obvious to me that an old letter sent by post doesn't have any advantages, other than being an interesting experiment, or too many supporters. 

    -Susan 

  36. syedzunair
    July 12, 2012

    Susan, 

    Yet, it continues to exist as one of the widely used communication medium in certain parts of the world. 

  37. Ariella
    July 12, 2012

    @syedzunair Do you attribute that to culture or convenience in parts of the world where people do not have access to computers and mobile devices?

  38. syedzunair
    July 12, 2012

    @Ariella: It has to do with both I think. Where I live people in the rural areas are not literate enough to use email neither do they have access to computers and internet. So, for them it is part of their culture to use letters like their forefathers did and it is also a convenient way to get in touch with their friends/relatives. 

  39. Adeniji Kayode
    July 12, 2012

    Another advantage of Email is that its take less time to be delivered and you can even predict if it get there or not

  40. Adeniji Kayode
    July 12, 2012

    @susan, You may not believe this but some companies here still requires applicants to submit their application in handwritten mail, and this is not as a result of setback in technology, they just demand for it for a reason best known to them.

     

  41. Susan Fourtané
    July 15, 2012

    Hi, syedzunair 

    Yes, I know. But I also know there are still parts of the world where they don't have electricity in all the homes, or a member of the family -usually a kid- has to walk long distances to bring drinkable water to the house. And other things. 

    Snail mail will probably continue to exist in many parts of the world, and yet, we are discussing about the convenience of e-mail, and its advantages over snail mail.

    Last week, I received another invitation in my mail with a note saying that if I wish to continue receiving the invitations I have to add/update my contact information online because as from now on they will send out invitations by email only.

    That is the trend I guess we are discussing here. 

    -Susan  

  42. syedzunair
    July 15, 2012

    Hi, Susan, 

    In a nutshell, I think that email will continue to be an extensively used medium for communication (whereever the facility is available). However, in areas where there is no electricity nor internet, unfortunately the snail mail will persist for the time being. 

  43. Susan Fourtané
    July 16, 2012

    Hi, syedzunair

    Yes, we can agree on that.

    In a perfect world governments would be taking care of all those things, especially the basics, to make people's lives easier. As we see, everything is interconnected. If there is no eletricity there can't be technology. There are some NGOs doing good work in some parts of the world -I know they do in Africa-. Maybe one day the whole world will be able to enjoy the same benefits of technological and scientifical advancement. 

    -Susan 

  44. Susan Fourtané
    July 16, 2012

    Hi, Adeniji 

    Yes, I believe you. I also know why they ask for a handwritten application.

    Some universities require the same from students, to send a handwritten application of certain length, in addition to the online application. 

    The reason why some complanies require a handwritten application is to do a graphological study of the potential employee. Graphology is the study and analysis of the handwriting, and is extremely accurate. Through a graphological study they can learn about aspects of the candidate's character and personality that otherwise would be difficult to know.

    During an interview, a candidate can trick the interviewer. Through a graphological study the candidate can be seen through a crystal clear glass. This is especially useful for some top rank positions where certain specific type of character and personality are required. 

    -Susan 

  45. Adeniji Kayode
    July 22, 2012

    @Susan,

    Hm, thanks for that.

  46. Adeniji Kayode
    July 22, 2012

    @syedzunair,

    I agree with you on that,the level of technology in a place will definitely determine the way things are done and the ease at which they are done.

  47. syedzunair
    July 25, 2012

    Hi, Susan, 

    You are correct. In a perfect world the Governments would be responsible for such things. Unfortunately, that is not the case therefore NGO's and private sector organizations will have to do the work.

  48. syedzunair
    July 25, 2012

    Adenji, technology helps us in automating things around us and makes life easier for us. However, with technology the worst fear that people have is that it will make their existence in an enterprise or a working envoirnment doubtful. 

  49. Susan Fourtané
    July 26, 2012

    Hi, syedzunair 

    Unfortunately, not all what is right is the reality we have, which leads to other thoughts. But that would also be another topic. 🙂

    -Susan  

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