Every Thanksgiving weekend my wrists start to hurt. By December 2, the pain subsides. That's when we mail several thousand Boxtree holiday cards with handwritten messages to each client, prospect, and "friend of Boxtree."

Never underestimate the power of a strong and authentic personal connection, especially in the context of business. Why is a one-to-one relationship so gripping and powerful? It is precisely because it is unexpected that it is so welcome.

Think about your own reality: Each day you are bombarded with piles of snail mail, e-mail, faxes, and FedEx packages. When was the last time you received a handwritten note or card? How did it make you feel about that colleague or business associate who took the trouble to write?

There are many ways to forge a one-to-one relationship. Over the years, we've been extremely effective with our quarterly newsletter, The Boxtree Vision. Many companies do newsletters - few do them well. People gush about ours, and here are the five secrets to our success:

  • A quick, punchy, fun read
  • An attractive design, with lots of pictures and graphics
  • Tangible marketing news and information that people can actually use in their businesses
  • A warm and approachable tone
  • A handwritten salutation or greeting

Direct mail is another fantastic way to jump-start a one-to-one dialogue. For The Forgotten Woman, a pioneer in large-size women's apparel, Boxtree designed a three-part direct mail campaign that spoke to customers in a sensual and positive tone. "Be prepared to be touched" was the headline for the cashmere direct mail. We left plenty of room on the back of each mailer for the sales representative's personal handwritten message, such as "Liz, we have lots of Dana Buchmans in beautiful jewel tones..." Other personal messages invited the customer to come and spend a couple of hours (and a couple of thousand dollars!) having fun and shopping with her personal salesperson. And it worked! The targeted one-to-one mailers were sent simultaneously whenever newspaper advertising ran in the top 10 markets. Sales rose 30% to 50% compared with the previous year.

For HEAT USA, the leading home fuel oil cooperative in the Northeast, Boxtree designed several bold mailers to pique customers' interest and encourage them to refer friends. It worked like a dream, and 70% of those referred actually joined HEAT when they called to learn more specifics.

Getting back to handwritten notes in the age of the electronic pen, we have several high-impact mailers and "goodies" that we send to keep Boxtree on our clients' and prospective clients' radar screens.

The first is a three-part direct mail campaign designed to motivate an in-person meeting. We hold internal contests to see how many mailers it takes to get a client to phone. Another effective one-to-one marketing tool is a heartfelt thank you in the form of a Boxtree Brilliance award.

That award recognizes and rewards someone who made a new client introduction or helped champion a project or simply did an outstanding job. Many clients and friends of Boxtree are proud to hang their certificates in their offices. This is a great way to keep Boxtree on their minds and to stimulate conversations with their colleagues. "Who sent you that?" can ultimately lead to additional phone calls to us.

The best way to capture a greater share of clients is to engage their minds with tangible, substantial results and impressive, effective deliverables (i.e. the nuts and bolts of what your company does) that also capture their heart, imagination, spirit, and trust.

We've been very successful and have had a great deal of fun hosting events throughout the year. These events focus on learning, enjoying, and relaxing with our clients and prospects. Some of the events include workshops on "harnessing creativity" or "breakthrough branding." I lead a one-hour workshop that is filled with fun exercises, loads of audience participation, and mini-breakout team activities. Following that, everyone retires to our conference room, which is filled to overflowing with framed work, to enjoy a delicious dinner, conversation, and great music. An event like this takes three hours from start to finish, and it accomplishes so much:

  • We are strengthening personal one-to-one relationships.
  • We get to see our clients and prospects when they are relaxed, having a good time, and interacting with other professionals, and that gives us a stronger sense of their priorities, goals, thought processes, and stylistic preferences.
  • They have a positive experience, where they learn something new, stretch their minds a bit, and have a lovely meal. (I'm a Jewish mother, I love to feed people.)
  • Their impression of our company and us is positively reinforced, and that means they are more likely to think of us when they have a project that requires our services.

When marketing gets personal, good things happen. Customers of all kinds have more choices than ever in today's marketplace, and the marketers who can reach out to their customers in a personal way will grow their relationships more fruitfully and will see better results for their efforts.

Lisa H. Buksbaum is president and founder of Boxtree Communications Inc. Founded in 1991, Boxtree's steady growth has been driven by advertising, direct response, corporate identity, public relations, and new-media programs.

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