Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fan Mail

Not to me. From me. This may seem like an odd topic, but I'm going to cover it anyway. Particularly in this economy, it's worth considering what a few kind words can get you.

In the past, when I taught high school English, I often had the students write either a letter of complaint or a letter of praise to a company as their first effort at a business letter. Most often, they wrote complaints.

"My iPod stopped working!"

"You sent me the wrong size baggy pants!"

"I wanted the Baywatch poster, not the South Park poster!"

But personally, I write more fan mail than complaint letters, and often I reap significant benefits. For instance, a few years ago when I was suffering from a truly obnoxious back issue, I bought a "lumbar extender" from a catalog. The item was such an amazing tool that I felt entirely compelled to write to the maker. My letter so excited them that they asked permission to use it in their ads in exchange for which they sent me a free travel version of the extender. Another company, seeing my letter in the ads, contacted me about a product they were selling--an intriguing new type of back supporter--and asked if they could send me one for free in exchange for my writing a review of it. Yeah, that stuff really does happen.

This all came around again today when I ordered a pain-relief gel from an ad in an online horse magazine. I sent off for a small jar to try on my aching body with an eye toward using it on my aching horses. The site recommended it for all sorts of animals, horses in particular. I filled out the form, hit send, pulled on my big-girl breeches, and headed out to spend some quality time causing poor Dakota to sweat like a pig.

Imagine my delight when I returned to find a phone message from the maker of the gel. That is always the first step in a good relationship: Direct Contact. The maker wanted to know where I found the product (checking to see if advertising is working is key to sales success) and how I intended to use it. Within an hour I was talking on the phone to the guy who invented and is marketing this particular product (which shall remain nameless until I'm certain it works).

We had a lovely chat. He asked about my horses and our respective pain issues. I asked about his invention of the gel. He offered to send me free samples to distribute and some videos to show how to use the gel and how effective it is. By the time the call ended, he'd decided to put together a promo package for me both in hope of my continued use of the product and in the greater hope that I might use my personal platform (such as it is!) to support the product. Why not? Once again, I'm going to receive free stuff and the good will of a manufacturer in return for nothing but a small purchase and some kind words.

Do you have a favorite product? Would it hurt you to tell the maker that you love it? Friends have received entire cases of products in return for five minutes of effort. Coupons, special offers, opportunities to make extra money distributing a favored item....there are ample rewards for your kindness. Even if nothing material is forthcoming, you can rest easy knowing that whoever read your letter or email or got your phone call did the Happy Dance and had a better day because you reached out.

Give it a shot! I'll be curious to hear what comes of it. Meanwhile, I'll be trying this new product and will report back, post a Facebook link if it's a winner, and report equally quickly if it's the usual crock of manure.

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