The importance of a letter


The way we communicate with each other has undergone a sea change in the past couple of decades. Whether it’s work or personal, emails are far and above most peoples preferred medium of communication. So much so, that it’s hard to believe that email didn’t really exist before the 1990s.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that emails are great. I love the way you can communicate one message efficiently to multiple recipients. I find it extremely helpful that I can review and correct what I communicate before actually committing to send it. I love the fact that my message will instantly ping into someone’s inbox without delay (when they get around to reading it and replying to it is another matter!). But are we losing something by replacing more traditional methods of communication with this ‘fast food’ version? Or are we underestimating the importance of a simple, traditional letter?

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Finding the right balance

We’ve all been marketeers at some point in our lives. Whether it’s marketing ourselves on our CVs, our second hand cars on Autotrader, or even trying to give something away on Freecycle, we’ve all had that moment staring at a blank page wondering where to start. We want to appeal to our audience, but we’re also very conscious (or at least we should be!) that we don’t want to mislead them either. And striking the right balance is no mean feat.

It appears that, despite years of marketing experience, I can sometimes get that balance wrong. Having eventually had enough of an old printer taking up valuable space in my shoe box of an office, I decided to turn to Freecycle and let one of the good people of Wandsworth take it off my hands. For free. With a brand new set of ink cartridges. You’d think they’d bite my hand off at the chance. However my overly honest description (a slightly wonky yet perfectly usable paper loading tray) must have sent alarm bells ringing, as two weeks later, it’s still sitting here smiling up at me like an old friend.

To me, marketing has always been about more than selling a product or service. It’s about providing information. Having worked in financial services for my entire career, I’m conscious of the regulator’s call to be ‘clear, fair and not misleading’ on a daily basis and this guides each and every piece of work I do. Sometimes investors will decide to buy an investment product based on my marketing brochure alone, so I feel it’s important that they understand how it works, warts and all.

However, it seems not everyone operates on the same guidelines. I recently came across a rather shocking video on my Facebook feed, highlighting some of the tricks employed by the food industry to get us to buy certain produce. Apparently ‘farm fresh’ doesn’t mean my chicken has been plucked straight from a sunny meadow in Dorset after a happy life of roaming free. At best, it means there was a window in his hen house in which he lived beak-to-beak with thousands upon thousands of other poor fated chickens.

But this does highlight a challenge that us marketers face on a daily basis: the need to appeal to our audience whilst not misleading them. Most marketers worth their salt will have the strong sales and communication skills to help the audience feel a product is something they want. But the best among us will also have that little cautious voice in our heads, asking if we’ve been clear enough for the audience to know for sure that a product is what they want. And it’s this ability to strike the right balance that distinguishes the best marketers from the rest.