Non-machinable surcharge | Seth’s Blog

I got a marketing letter from a colleague yesterday. Not a sales pitch, just an update on what they were up to.

I was delighted to discover that this mass mailing had a hand-lettered address on it, with little bits of water color for fun. It was slightly irregularly shaped, requiring an extra stamp because it wasn’t machinable. Inside, in addition to a personal (and personalized) note, there was a gift card for an ice cream cone. But the coolest part was that the card wasn’t from a national chain, it was from the local place down the street.

It obviously cost more in time to create than it was going to take me to read. It obviously didn’t go to a lot of people.

And that imbalance is now rare.

People eager to hustle are busy spamming lists of millions of people with an email that takes two minutes to write and poorly mail merge, giving the hustler a 2,000 to 1 advantage in time spent vs. time consumed. It’s a form of leverage that feels like theft to the recipient, because our time, the irreplaceable thing we all are given, was taken.

Of course, I don’t need an ice cream cone, and a small gift card isn’t a bribe. What it represents is care and respect. The opposite of hustle. It was done with sprezzatura, not with a transaction in mind.

None of it works unless you’ve already earned permission. It doesn’t work if it’s part of a clever hustle. It doesn’t work if it’s seen as spam or creates uncomfortable tension or a need for reciprocity. It simply works because it required a surcharge. Instead of using an asset, you can choose to build one.

[And yes, this is exactly the opposite of the way my bank answers the phone, the way most customer service is grudgingly offered, the way many publicists do their job, the way that organizations make foolish choices about attention and trust…] The question shouldn’t be, “does it scale?” Instead, it might be, “is it worth it?”

Interactions with the people who are enrolled and giving you the benefit of the doubt are a form of avocado time. They shouldn’t be optimized for efficiency or even leverage. Instead, it’s a chance to make a difference.

[Thanks Stephen]




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