in Management & Leadership

Resurrection Of The Handwritten Letter

Handwritten LetterPeople obsess over the latest flavors and innovations in digital communication and interactivity. I’m talking about everything from new email technologies to social networking tools, even new hybrid interaction platforms like Wave. Many of these innovations are exciting and have permanently earned a place in our lives. Their growing popularity drives volume and efficiency of one-to-one communications.

However, the growing volume of communications in digital form also drives attention deficit, dehumanization and diminishing returns. It’s a tragedy of the commons where digital innovations, celebrated for their improvement on our interpersonal communications, have the opposite effect.

That’s why recently I’ve been highly conscious of handwritten letters. Sure, they’ve been around forever, and have always been important. Indeed, handwriting was the only form of recorded text for the vast majority of human history. Yet the surge in digital communications has created a relative explosion in the impact a handwritten letter can have, especially if well-written.

Here are a few examples of recent handwritten letters in my life:

  1. An ambitious sales colleague at my company recently annoyed a prospective customer with one too many phone calls. The prospect requested to never be called again — good intentions perceived the wrong way. My colleague sent a hand-written apology letter and promised never to call again. A few days later, that prospect called my colleague back and said, “you’re a good guy and your product rocks, so please sign me up immediately.”
  2. A candidate for a senior business development role at our company had an extraordinary interview with me and my team. He sent a personal, passionate and detailed letter outlining key points of our private discussion. As a result, my view of him switched from highly favorable to “we have to get him.” I want him to impact potential customers the way he did me.
  3. I recently met with a famous media executive who wanted my feedback on a potential start-up investment. I think he offered more value in the meeting versus me. Regardless, he thanked me the next day via a handwritten letter which summarized the most valuable feedback. He also sent one of his favorite books on one of my favorite topics: business culture and leadership. He asked me to read it so we could meet again and discuss it. I didn’t expect any of that, yet it had a profound impact.

What is it about handwritten letters? Without even opening or reading, handwritten letters tend to embody 11 key attributes:

  • Tactile
  • Permanent
  • Convincing
  • Purposeful
  • Individualized
  • Handmade
  • Thoughtful
  • Emotional
  • Engaging
  • Reflective
  • Humble

Then mix in context, purpose, author and content. If well-written, a handwritten letter can deliver extraordinary impact.

The great thing about handwritten letters is they’re resource intensive and impossible to mass-produce. Therefore, an uncontrollable abundance will never become their demise.

I wonder what pre-Internet people would think of this resurrection.

  • http://twitter.com/fearlesscomp jeff ogden

    I agree 100%, Max. Hand-written letters have always had a big impact, but with the advent of electronic and mass communication like e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, the physical mailbox is essentially empty, except for junk mail. As a result, personalized direct mail works better than ever.

    The resource-intensive nature of hand-written notes means they are impossible to mass produce, but there are ways to get some of the benefits, without the incredible resource nature of hand-writing. Here are a few examples:

    1) A well-written business letter with a hand-written comment.
    2) A highly-personalized one to one email — carefully written and composed.
    3) A piece of content that the reader would find of interest, like an article.
    4) The use of creative media, such as a multi-media vignette in an email. (I use one in my email signature for jogden@findnewcustomers.net)

    The key here is that there are several ways to reach out to prospects without bombarding them. At Find New Customers, we use these approaches.

    My reseller in California spoke to a prospect that is becoming a new client of Find New Customers. I've never spoken to or met this company. But they told him that “Find New Customers walks on water.” Why? They consume my remarkable content!

    Jeff Ogden, President
    Find New Customers
    http://www.findnewcustomers.net
    Author: How to Find New Customers
    Co-Author: Prospect-Driven Marketing
    (516) 284-4930 office/mobile

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    Thanks, Jeff. Good points.

  • aarrttri

    Hello, every one! my name is Artt Ri from ITRI Taiwan, an elite group of electronic researcher/hackers building cool tech gadgets – including a thin-paper speaker which makes real music.
    We are adjacent to the world’s largest gadget labs/factories in Taiwan. We are developing cool technology to enable us enjoy better life in the 21st century. We are hardware hackers.
    The fleXpeaker is the name of the thin-paper spaker. The thickness of the “speaker” is merely 0.1 centimeters. Therefore, the paper can be integrated into buildings, electric vehicles, entertainment and medical application. Cool eh?
    For more information about fleXpeaker, Pleaese visit:
    http://bit.ly/fleXpeaker
    We have cool gadget released from time to time. We are releasing another ground-breaking product soon in 3 weeks. Welcome to join our Facebook group to receive the latest news.

    Go ITRI Taiwan now!!

    Artt Ri

  • http://www.susanroane.com/ Sursan RoAne

    Three cheers for you, Max! Thank you for revealing the truth: Nothing will replace the handwritten note because it's personal, shows effort and for some reason, says, “I care.” We teach our children to write them to their grandparents for birthday and holiday gifts and must remember to do so ourselves. When I taught school, I made sure the students knew how to write “business letters” and “friendly letters” (thank you notes). I included samples in my book The Secrets of Savvy Networking for the people that were absent the day their fifth grade teacher taught how to write them. Handwritten notes have a special place in our professional and personal lives. Disclaimer: I wrote Face to Face: How To Reclaim the PERSONAL TOUCH In a Digital Age. (Fireside Books). Thank you!

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    Thanks. Did you write anything useful on handwriting? That's my
    weakmess in executing handwritten notes.

  • RiverwoodWriter

    Fantastic post, Max. I feel so passionately about this topic that I started a Facebook Group (yes, the irony did not escape me) called Revive the art of personal note writing! http://bit.ly/rJq9h. I'd love to have you and your readers join us to simply see what others say or to join in the commentary.

  • http://craneinsider.blogspot.com/ Peter Hopkins

    Thank you Max; I have a certain bias along these lines and can honestly say: I couldn't have said it better!

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    Thanks Peter.

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    I'll check it out.

  • http://www.handwrittenletters.com/ letters

    Resurrection of The Handwritten Letter would be very welcome in the business world following its almost extinction by the many digital forms of communication. The new media once seen as all encompassing has sadly become somewhat devalued through its very popularity and its misuse albeit by a small minority of people/organizations. We have seen an increasing interest in the subject of handwritten letters and their uses in business life, so much so we are now considering including a business page on our website handwrittenletters.com

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    Thanks, I'll check it out.

  • glennbever

    I want to use handwritten letters and notes and invites for my financial adovate business. do you work with someone like me that wants to get thru the mass mail of everything looks the same and touch someone that really needs help with their retirement plan or who can help us with our taxes and wealth mess… do you? I love the hand written note, it says I took out time for this, will you give me some of your time to read…
    thankyouverymuch,
    glenn W. Bever

  • http://ayearofletters.wordpress.com/ Ang – A Year of Letters

    It's interesting, because people are writing letters less; I believe they are becoming more valuable. Thus, these days it's a great (and easy way I might add) way to make an impact on someone – whether business related and personal. I have a friend who shared how a coworker writes personal letters to business clients. I guess the clients still talk about the letters written by this coworker. It's quite amazing.

  • http://ayearofletters.wordpress.com/ Ang – A Year of Letters

    It's interesting, because people are writing letters less; I believe they are becoming more valuable. Thus, these days it's a great (and easy way I might add) way to make an impact on someone – whether business related and personal. I have a friend who shared how a coworker writes personal letters to business clients. I guess the clients still talk about the letters written by this coworker. It's quite amazing.

  • Pingback: Why Write It, When You Can Touch It? | Cast of Dads

  • Pingback: Is “Touching” Ok? Hey, I’m Talking about Writing! Cast of Dads Podcast #19 | Polk Audio

  • Pingback: Forget The iPad, Give Me A Nice Pen & Paper

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1621542572 Devin Marks

    I can't tell you how MUCH your essay resonated with me, Maxer.

    Don't know that we've talked in a while. But about a year ago, I returned to the family attic in Kentucky and pulled out some 1,700-odd letters from the 1880s, forward. All written to my great-grandfather and namesake, from his earliest days as a boarding school lad, prep'ster, through Princeton, down the aisle, and into his 40s. All from his mother and father.

    It made for a remarkable many-month ritual in the breakfast nook, reading. It was also a glimpse back into a time and era where our correspondence was saved and as such reflected who we were–and who we hoped to become. By that I mean, without phone and email–much less video blogs and more–counsel and intimate conversations either happened in person or on the page. Today? Largely, phone chats, text message, and unsaved emails. The advice, the guidance, the Bible verses or character-building poetry, the tightening of the reins, or the congratulations–it's so often lost these days.

    But back then. My, what emotions, hopes, expectations, and more were shared on those pages. How their personalities seeped into textured paper and were accented by “real” enclosures–whether photo, scripture, business contract, flowers, or more. Magic! Better than any novel or film….magical discovery.

    Really, that reading exercise introduced me to personalities and “voices” that brought to LIFE cracking black-and-white photos and hanging portraits of folks who previously were largely strangers. Even whispery scents of 19th century perfumes visited me, from time to time.

    THOSE letters, paired with journals, business records, travel postcards, and published life-accounts… How grand…and life-changing, in a way.

    Every Sunday was letter-writing day in that era, for most families of a certain social set. And that those mail posts and so many more were just sitting in the attic…? It's been the gift of a lifetime, really. A way to reconnect with the core of family cultures that until last year had only faintly made their way through the generations. I've never been more rooted in or aware of the importance of family. (And you know me, what with the whole nonprofit crusade down south, THAT is saying a lot!)

    It all brings to mind an observation by writer David McCullough, towards the end of the John Adams DVD (not the Netflix online version)–a behind-the-scenes interview added feature, worth tracking down. In that chat he observed that in reading the letters (and other keepsakes) of John and Abigail, he came to know them. He found he heard their voices as he read; breathed in sharply, as their intimacies of marriage, life, and career became familiar; he found he could anticipate their next decisions. He loved the feel of touching the very pages they touched, traced the indented path of their quills, sensed the passion of their words as reflected in deep underlines or unintended ink-pools. He realized in the end that he knew them in ways that even their contemporaries or children could not. For whom of them read the most private of their papers–how often did the social masks drop? They became his intimate friends.

    And so it has been for me–my relationship with my great-greats and their extended clan. They've been reborn in a way, largely through their letters.

    So yes…write. Write. WRITE. And I'm looking forward to my first “Thank You” note from your little ones, after I meet them and shower them with holiday gifts!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1621542572 Devin Marks

    (Ha, Max! Whoops…went OFF there, thinking it was a recent post on your part. Duuuahhh. Anyway, timeless stuff. Enjoyed the read. NOW clicking to find the Cast of Dads show that touched on the topic.)

  • http://www.nikemaxsale.com air max shoes

    Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in this forum!

  • http://www.nike-air-force-one.com air force one shoes

    Well , the view of the passage is totally correct ,your details is really reasonable and you guy give us valuable informative post, I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs. I often surfing on this forum when I m free and I find there are so much good information we can learn in this forum!

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    Wow. Great response. You make the case. Intimacy and intensity is something that seems to resonate through handwritten letters in a unique way. I wonder which more modern, digital communications will achieve the same. (Note I suggest “which” not “if”.)

  • http://www.discount-nike-dunk-shoes.com nike dunk

    I totally agree the standpoint of upstairs, and I believe this will be a trend. I often come this forum , rom here I learn much and know the newest tide! the content here constantly update shoe and I love it! Another I know some websites which often update their contents, you guys should browse if you are free. http://scarf8.net

  • Lindathomson901

    would like to signup with your handwritten list of penpals thanks lindathomson p.o. box 244 ocklawaha florida ,32183

  • Pingback: Connecting With Ancestors Through Letters

  • Pingback: Holiday Card Etiquette For Digital And Analog

  • Pingback: Letter Writing : Dear Such and So… | carnegietutoring

  • Susan Z.

    Here, here!!!

    I especially agree with your comment about the dehumanization of communication.

    I used to have several “pen pals”, and now have none. The last digital convert is an 88 year old friend who has learned to text on her cell phone.

    I treasure everyone of the letters I have received over the years, and take them out and re-read them now and then. If they had all been text messages or e-mails, they would have been deleted long ago.

    Several months ago a very hurtful exchange of words was passed between my sister, her daughter and I by cell text. After several weeks of silence from them, I wrote them each a four page letter explaining my feelings. A week after I mailed the letters I received phone calls from both of them apologizing. I am convinced that my thoughts and feelings put down on paper gave them something tangible to hold and consider.

    A handwritten letter is something to cherish and enjoy forever. I continue writing notes to the few friends I know will appreciate them, but I don’t see a day when I will have the opportunity to write the long, rambling, newsey letter as I did before.

    Thanks for writing this, Max. I happened upon it while looking for writing paper online. Can’t find any in the stores!

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    Thanks, let me know when you find it :-)

  • http://profiles.google.com/d.sharma.winter dianne sharma-winter

    Wow some interesting responses to this post! I came here by searching to see if anyone out there is offering hand written letters as a service, and came aross only one. In the meantime I have seen so many posts mourning the loss of the handwritten letter that I am encouraged to go ahead with my idea which is to offer subscriptions to hand written letters and postcards! My idea is to write a piece of poetic prose onto handmade paper and stuff it into a scented envelope before sending it snail mail across the world. Subscriptions could be for a single page, a series of letters, postcards carrying one brilliant line of inspirational verse….would welcome your feedback

  • Anonymous

    I hope that this example was helpful in your learning how to write a business letter.
    Again, I can’t recommend more strongly this business letter sample to help you in all your letter writing needs.

  • Pingback: “What Happened to Downtime?” or the Affordances of Woolgathering

  • Pingback: “What Happened to Downtime?” or the Affordances of Woolgathering « Cooperative Catalyst

  • Ryan Flynn

    I have recently been thinking about this subject very deeply as well. I think people realize the value of handwritten letters but are just too short on time, letter writing materials or postage, and the action falls to the bottom of the to-do list.

    As a fun side project, I put together this website that aims to connect those that have a letter to write, with artists that would hand-write the message for them and send it in the mail to the recipient. I am looking for letter-writers interested in being paid to create letters/postcards for others as well as judging interest in the service. It currently works, as far as letting users enter text and pay through Google Checkout, but I have not done any promotion yet. I’d love to hear what you all think, as you are all passionate about the subject. Crazy, stupid, interesting? Please check it out and let me know. Thanks!

    http://www.inktmessage.com/
    Paper@inktmessage.com
    @InktMessage:twitter

  • Pingback: Hand written, with love. « honestlyangela

  • Pingback: Handwritten, With Love « honestlyangela

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    cool site!

  • Nathanhargreaves1

    You can send a hand-written letter without leaving your own
    home or office. Our letters are suitable for personal or business use, and
    we’re able to write letters in bulk for successful mass mailings with that
    individual touch.  With us, your letters
    are worth attention.http://handwritten-letters.co.uk/ Hand-written cover letter,handwritten covering letter, hand written letter from Santa, hand-written letter service, hand-written love letters, handwritten letter

  • KLDY123k

    Are you dreaming of having a coast dress of your own?
    Do you want to wearing the coast wedding dresses when getting
    married? It’s your time, now. The coast dresses of the coast stores sale hot.
    The coast dresses coast dress sale on a discount. There are
    cost maxi dress, maxi dress, coast
    wedding dress, and so on. All of them of good quality and elegant style. You
    can dresses by coast. You can show your fashion attitude. So ,just go
    and be who you are. The coast uk
    will give you what you want. No sale tax and free shipping.

    http://www.coast-dress.org
     

  • Pingback: The Dilemma Of Perishable Content In Social