The Power of a Handwritten Note

I was just speaking with a very savvy VP of Marketing (Gregg Mazzola) for one of the more innovative higher education institutions I’ve come across (SNHU). He shared a poignant observation which, now, I want to share with you.

Of all of their marketing efforts:

  • College Fair
  • On campus
  • Collateral
  • Events
  • Online
  • Etc.

The one thing that has the most impact is a handwritten note. He acknowledges that all of the different media are important in their own right. But it’s worth remembering that we are humans after all. We respond to the personal touch.


Low Hanging Fruit Can Be a Distractor

Let’s tackle the low hanging fruit first. We’ve all heard that expression. It sounds great — doing the easiest, fastest work to cross out the most items on our list. Feels gratifying, right?

But, it can be a distractor.

In a recent talk I attended on website usability, Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, cautioned the audience about being tempted to go after the deliciousness of the low hanging fruit, whilst ignoring that one big, glaring hard problem. Instead, he advises, “Do the least amount of work possible to make your biggest problem, no longer be your biggest problem.”

At first when you hear, “Do the least amount of work possible,” that might ring of being lazy. But read that again. It’s actually smart time and resource management. Once your biggest problem is no longer your biggest problem, you can repeat that approach. You can do the least amount of work (again) and make your new biggest problem no longer your biggest problem.

Low hanging fruit feels good to power through. But it can be a distractor from your priorities.

Pure Design from a 6-Year-Old

Graphic design is about getting someone to do something and feel something that the designer intends. There are lots tools and tricks for creating great designs that deliver on their intentions. When I craft a design for a client there’s thought, there’s research, there’s pointed questions, and revealing answers. There’s connection, discovery and great “a-ha” moments.

But there’s also inspiration: This way of moving and feeling and flowing and “NOT-thinking.”

That’s powerful stuff.

And then there are the moments when I’m awed by the ideas and pure design that comes out of my kids. They sit. They get an idea. The create. It’s usually quite a fast process. It’s never what I’d do. It’s often so “raw” but that’s what makes it powerful.

The other day my 6-year-old sat down, he stapled some pages together and he whipped up this book. I’d say the ideas just popped of the top of his head, but actually I think they came right from his heart.

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Website Example of a “Human” User Experience


Several months ago, at about the time my Eating Lean: Step by Step article went live on Easthampton’s Fitness Fusion website, I came across several articles on fat (what is fat, what are good fats, etc.)? I saved a link to one I wanted to come back to.

Just last night, I actually DID go back to that article. This is what I saw when I got there (screenshot above). There’s a few reasons why as a web designer and a user I love that Precision Nutrition handled the link this way:

  1. The first thing that caught me is the playful tone they use to “say what they gotta say.” Nice human touch… I’m listening.
  2. Now on to the message in terms of the “facts.” These are a.) The article I’m going to is not the most up to date and b.) Precision Nutrition has newer information published on their site. These things are helpful for users to know.
  3. Lastly, let’s look at the message conveyed in terms of the “impression.” These are the impressions I get: a.) Here’s an outfit who’s on top of their game. Why? When someone heads deep into their site, directly to an article, they don’t let it be a dead link (page not found), they don’t just hijack the user and take them some place else (that newer information), instead they own up to it and make it easy for me to decide what I want to do. b.) This also gives the impression of an honest, organization run by people who care, and who have a degree of humility (to ADMIT that information is not the most current).

Well done.

Every Client Interaction can be Relationship Building

This is my “a-ha!” moment of the day. Every client interaction (be it phone, email, or in person) can be relationship building. Sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in big ways.

Also, the small ways can matter more than the big ways, and are easier to do.

To put paint to this idea, here’s an example:

In my work as CEO of a web design, branding and marketing agency, my role is NOT to lead projects. We have kick-ass project managers who are very good at that. But I DO reach out to our clients on a frequent basis for various reasons. Sometimes it’s to ask them how we’re doing for them and whether they are getting everything they need. Always these conversations are characterized with my listening, and my sharing some perspective or advice that will help them in some way (big or small).

Yesterday, I had one of these conversations with a one of our higher education clients. The call went very well and concluded with the client thanking me and saying, “If you guys ever need a client reference, you can always use my name.” That was a decent-sized relationship build.

Today, I had an opportunity to do a small-sized relationship build, that’s no less significant.

Now I know, from yesterday’s conversation that timing is key right now. I’m confident about my team being able to get things done in time. But I know the client is brimming with questions and thoughts about the project every day. Our project manager was out with fever and flu yesterday.

When I learned that the PM was going to be out again today (understandably so), I sent the client an email heads up to let her know. I reassured her that we are still planning on a “blitz” (internally at Gravity Switch) for her project this week (meaning we’ll have a dedicated team focused just on her project for 2 back to back days so we can make a lot of progress in a short period of time)… This is one of the unique ways we tackle projects.

Lastly, I said that if there’s things on her list that can wait until the project manager’s return tomorrow, that’s great. BUT, if there’s anything that can’t wait, let me know!

I made myself, the CEO, available to her in case she needed it.

She didn’t.

But she knows I’m there for her. She knows we’re there for her.

That builds relationship.

It’s Really True… Marketers DO Wreck Marketing

Below is a great talk about how to approach storytelling in today’s landscape of social media, short attention spans, and the “control” we have over our time.

One side point the talk makes is resonating with me today. Gary talks about the problem with great marketing ideas is that marketers WRECK them by doing them over and over. He talked about his first email campaigns and his open ratio compared to today. He gave the example of places like Groupon and how they kill you with a ceaseless list of offers that you just don’t care about. The point is: By sending you so much that’s irrelevant to you, marketers wreck the opportunity for when something IS relevant.

I’m living proof of the Groupon story right now.

I signed up for my first Groupon deal a few weeks ago and I get an email from Groupon (feels like daily, but it’s probably not that frequent). And I’m ANNOYED every time. And yet, I’m too lazy to go through minor-pain-in-the-assery of unsubscribing. Sometimes these unsubscribes are easy. Sometimes they are clunky and convoluted and just make me madder. For that reason, I tend to hit delete on things like this until I reach a tipping point where I’m willing to sally forth into the unknown land of how they’ve set up their unsubscribe.

In terms of Groupon, no more excuses, I’ll unsubscribe now. Will I use a Groupon deal again? Maybe. But only if a relevant deal is pointed out to me by a friend or a trusted source as was true in this case. However, they’ve left a bad taste in my mouth, so no promises.