This month, I want to do something low-tech for you. Especially for my brow-beaten readers who feel that all this highly-connected
Twittering is just a bit, well, juvenile.
I want to remind you of the most powerful secret in marketing and I make no apologies for repeating a point I last made a year or two ago in this very column. Something that, as on-line media grows in strength, flourishes and grows itself, even though it is as far from the connected world as you can possibly be.
I want to introduce the wonderful Leila and her pen.
It’s not a very clever pen; in fact I think it’s just a standard ball-point (I’m going to wait a couple of seconds for that to sink in. Yes, dear reader, I am talking about a Biro!).
In this over-communicated, over-connected world, the simple things in life – like Leila and her Biro – are actually the most powerful things in the world. They generate loyalty, respect and, in this case, help to fill a plane.
Let me explain
Leila works for Continental Airlines, a company which offers direct services from Bristol to New York. This is extra-ordinarily good news for me, as I like to make that trip occasionally.
After returning from a recent trip to the US, I went through the usual pile of mail that had amassed on my desk: ‘Junk, junk, bill, junk, insurance mailing, bill, hmm…. what’s this….?’ A hand-written A6 envelope found its way into my hand. And without hesitation I thought, ‘I must open this now.’
The envelope contained a hand-written note from Leila, enclosing her business card with her mobile phone number and email address. It thanked me for my recent flight with Continental Airlines from Bristol, hoped I’d had a pleasant flight and stay in the US, asked me to let her know if there was anything she could help with in the future. And she said she looked forward to seeing me again.
A hand-written, thank-you letter.
From an airline.
Folks, when was it that you had a hand-written letter from anyone, for anything?
Probably not for a long time, like me – so long ago, in fact, that today’s computer spell-checkers don’t even recognise the word ‘notelet’!
This small notelet is, for me, the most powerful piece of mail that I have received in a longer period of time than I can possibly imagine.
What’s more, I still have it. And I am writing about it right now!
It’s so simple. And yet airlines are spending millions trying to sort themselves out on Facebook or Twitter. They are spending hundreds of millions on frequent flyer programmes that all pretty much do the same thing.
Admittedly, I was flying business class, so they had more reason to care, but I flew to New York with Virgin this year, where I am a gold cardholder and they couldn’t remember my name on board, let alone send me a letter. Or even an email! I flew to Canada with Air Canada and couldn’t even get a screen that worked, let alone a letter to say thank you.
In fact, the last time I received a note like this was when I was in New York and the hotel manager sent me a note saying, ‘Welcome back to your home in New York, great to have you back. James.’ I kept that one too; it was on James’ own letterhead stationery and was beautiful. But then, James is a friend and a classy guy, running a five star hotel chain.
Leila is the International concierge at Bristol Airport for Continental Airlines.
My point is this: I am a member of other airlines’ loyalty programmes; I have the Platinum cards and the Black cards and all that sort of stuff; my wallet is stuffed with plastic, but plastic doesn’t engender loyalty for me the way that pen and paper can.
And it’s the same for your customers and mine.
This lesson is a very personal lesson for me. My father is the king of the personal note. Ask people years later whether they remember getting a letter from him and they will say, ‘Yes, it was hand-written.’ Ask them if they still have it. Mostly, they say yes.
In a society that is so much about instant gratification, this is astonishing.
So put down your loyalty programme, rest your weary card-embossing machine, send your creative agency home for the night. Buy yourself a Biro and start writing some notes to people. It doesn’t have to be War and Peace. Just a quick thank-you would do it.
After all, your customers just helped you survive a financial tsunami; a thank-you note is the least you can do!