The world could do with a little less technology.
I'm not trying to be a curmudgeon like Dr. Conrad Gessner. It's just that every now and then (hopefully more now than then), it's helpful to put down the device and talk to a real human being.
And yes, I recognize the irony of me saying this to you over the Internet.
We've gotten to such a point when people are pleasantly surprised when they're referred to by name or when they receive a handwritten letter. It's counter-intuitive, since we live and breathe text messages, PMs, DMs, emails, and more.
But to me, the spirit of personalization and the power of analog are alive and well. It's why I keep a collection of fountain pens and stationery on my desk. And I make a habit out of sending real physical notes to people every week.
That level of effort and personal touch speaks volumes to those who receive it. It's not only out of the ordinary, but it tells them that they matter to you.
The photo above is one of my favorites. It's from nine years ago, and it represents a gesture that I didn't think much of, but that meant a great deal to the recipient.
I met Robbin Phillips at an event in Minneapolis, and she noticed my Ford lapel pin. During our conversation, she said she'd like one too, so I took her card, slipped it into my pocket, and continued the conversation.
When I arrived back in Detroit, I wrote Robbin a short note, including a pin in the envelope, and sent it to her. That's pretty much where I thought the story would end.
Well, it turns out that the interaction and simple gesture meant a great deal to Robbin — so much so that she took a photo and wrote up her impressions on her site.
"Love is not to be purchased, and affection has no price."
— St. Jerome (click to tweet)
While it's possible to give customers deep discounts, or to put contracts in place with expensive influencers, these tactical marketing efforts are tenuous and temporary. Why? Because you've purchased a behavior.
But what is affection?
Typically, it's the way a parent feels toward a child, or perhaps the way an owner feels toward a pet. It signifies security, protection, and comfort for the receiver of the affection. It also allows the recipient to learn and grow.
What's behind the absence of affection, then? Since affection is unilateral—that is, there's no expectation that the affection is returned—the absence of it can be viewed as selfish. When brands are simply seeking a transaction, it can feel as if they're withholding affection as a condition of a customer's action.
"Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives."
— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (click to tweet)
When customers, employees, friends and colleagues don't expect to hear from you is when a simple gesture matters. While databases, algorithms, and other systems can help you remember when someone's birthday or anniversary is, or when they've achieved a life events, it's still up to you, the human, to place a call or write a note.
We can teach machines how to learn, how to respond to questions, how to perform mail merges, and how to anticipate our needs, but we can't teach them to do what it takes to be truly human: that is, to feel and express emotions.
That's entirely on you.