This article is an updated version of one originally published November 9, 2018.

I know the day I got on renown marketing consultant Mark Schaefer’s radar:  October 25, 2017.

My former client Dan Levine mentioned Mark to me earlier that year (thanks Dan!). I sent Mark a message on Twitter with a question on July 3, 2017. He was kind enough to respond, though he did not know me.

That kindness prompted me to look up his website, to sign up for his blog, and to buy his book Known.

I read the book in September. On October 6, 2017, I sent him a handwritten thank you note for writing the book, detailing what I got out of it.

On October 25, 2017, Mark messaged me on LinkedIn to thank me for my thank you note. He said it was a nice surprise. Now he knew who I was.

Over the next 16 months, I read two more of Mark’s books, The Tao of Twitter and Marketing Rebellion, and handwrote thank you notes for both.

When Mark created The Uprising, a retreat for marketing leaders limited to 30 people, he sent me an early invitation before opening it to the public.

When I arrived at The Uprising on September 30, 2019, he greeted me like an old friend and gave me a bear hug.

In August 2020, Mark hired me to be an editor on his book Cumulative Advantage.

In three years, I went from obscurity to having Mark as a client. Mark has since hired me to edit two other books for him.

Evelyn Starr and Mark Schaefer

Evelyn Starr and Mark Schaefer, Photo credit: Alex Ledesma

Handwritten Thank You Notes Set Your Brand Apart

I did not know all this would happen when I wrote that first thank you note to Mark. Authors put a ton of work and heart into their books. I like sending thank you notes to authors I enjoy. It lets them know someone appreciated their creation.

I handwrite thank you notes often. I don’t expect business to come from them and I never ask for anything. My focus is on expressing gratitude and building a relationship.

As you can see from my interaction with Mark, handwritten thank you notes are relationship-building power houses. They get you on someone’s radar fast and keep you there. I have seen them displayed in clients’ offices when I visit.

What makes handwritten thank you notes so powerful? And why are they better than thank you emails?

First, they stand out. According to technology research firm The Radicati Group, office workers receive an average of 97 emails per day. By contrast, the average American household receives just 10 pieces of personal mail per year, not counting holiday cards and invitations. While email inboxes overflow, a handwritten envelope in the mail grabs attention.

Second, they show you care. A handwritten thank you note represents thought and effort on the part of the sender.

Third, they elicit a positive emotional response from the recipient. Saeideh Heshmati, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Claremont Graduate University led a study on what makes people “feel loved.” Among the findings were “small gestures in everyday life” like people showing support without expecting anything back.

You’ve heard that the best brands establish an emotional connection in their marketing. Business owners often focus on the wording of their tagline or the storyline of their ads to do this, and that is important.

A handwritten thank you note can be even more effective.

Handwritten Thank You Notes Boost Your Business

About now you may be thinking “Well that’s all good but my time is limited. What’s the return on investment (ROI) on handwritten thank you notes? Do they scale beyond the single recipient?”

While exact results will vary by brand, handwritten notes’ ROI comes in the form of customer retention, repeat business, and word-of-mouth marketing.

Wufoo, an online form-building company, takes time every week to send handwritten thank you cards to customers. Customer Ops team leader Renee Morris reports that “out of the roughly 800 customers who received handwritten cards from us last year, 50% fewer folks left our product than those who did not receive cards.”

A 50 percent better retention rate means steadier revenue.

Online non-profit firm Donors Choose makes it easy for donors to help classrooms in need. Founder Charles Best conducted a study to measure the ROI of gratitude. He had his staff send handwritten thank you notes to half of their first-time donors. The other half received no thank you notes. The group who received the thank you notes were 38 percent more likely to donate again.

Handwritten thank you notes can increase the likelihood of repeat purchase or donation.

Beyond customer retention and repeat business benefits, handwritten thank you notes can generate positive word-of-mouth. Thanks to social media, that can scale to thousands of people.

I experienced this first hand when brand expert Denise Lee Yohn raved about a handwritten thank you note I sent her on Twitter. Denise has 17,100 followers.

My own experience supports the business case for handwritten notes. Thank-you-note-recipient referrals have led to six speaking engagements, twelve new clients, thirty-three research and consulting projects, one coaching engagement, four book editing gigs, and a three-year consulting stint on retainer.

I hope you can see now that handwriting thank you notes is a powerful marketing tool.

But the benefits don’t stop at your brand.

Handwritten Thank You Notes Are Good for Your Health

Handwriting thank you notes not only makes your recipient feel good, it can make you feel happier too.

Associate Professor of Human Development Steven Toepfer at Kent State University conducted a study where the participants were asked to write three “letters of gratitude” over the course of a month. Results showed that after each letter participants experienced higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depressive symptoms.

two purple and blue note cards with thank you in gold writing on the front, a purple mug of tea, a purple pen and a purple marker

Scene on my desk several times a month

There is no downside to handwriting thank you notes and the upside benefits you and your business. The trick is to work it into your routine.

To get started:

  1. Buy a supply of thank you cards. My favorite places to find great cards include:
  1. Buy stamps.
  2. Make a list of people to thank. If you don’t have ideas, consider your top 10 customers, your best suppliers, your referral sources, and your employees.
  3. Set a recurring appointment to write thank you cards and then honor it like you would an important meeting. My recommendation is to start with a goal of one thank you note per week. While that may feel low, it will add up to 52 at the end of the year.

I hope you enjoy writing thank you notes as much as I do!


Just for Fun

I was yesterday years old when I learned January 11 is International Thank You Note Day.

Also when I learned Jimmy Fallon writes thank you notes weekly on The Tonight Show.

Read some of his funniest ones. (2 minute read)

Watch one of his recent thank-you-note writing segments. (3 minutes, 21 seconds)

Read 6 famous thank you letters. Senders include Neil Armstrong, David Bowie, Roald Dahl, Johnny Depp, Ronald Reagan, and Rowan and Martin. (3 minute read)



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Alex and Ani: A Billion-Dollar Brand at 10, Barely Alive at 20