By Patrick Nycz
I never read Christmas form letters.
Besides the fact that a Christmas form letter is typically the only time I hear from the sender all year (if I have a relationship to the author, I should already know most of the stuff in the letter, right?), most of the reasons are summed up in this awesome and funny post, Every Christmas Letter Ever, by Tim Siedell (@badbanana).
Siedell's post nails Christmas form letters because they are all about the author and how much better their wonderful life is from ours. Do they think we have been desperately waiting to hear about the lives that they were too busy to tell us about all year? They do not take into consideration how the audience must feel having to slog through the thing desperately looking for some connection to their own lives. Guess what? Stop looking. There is none.
This happens in my world all the time. And because I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about marketing, I can't help where my brain goes. I see marketing messages all the time that don't seem to have their audiences in mind. They talk about their company (me) and their great products (my big idea)—just like those awful Christmas form letters. We wrote a blog about this illustrating how to use the IDC brand affinity scorecard to score your message connection to the target audience. It works for Christmas form letters, too. Let's see if we can use our scorecard to create a better Christmas form letter.
The typical Christmas form letter spot is reserved for the lowest ranking of "1". It is about "You and Your Idea." The audience is probably a distant second. A marketing message that fits this spot typically is about how old your company is and how all the bells and whistles your product has, like this Colgate ad:
Now the form letter (and the marketing message) can move up a few notches if it has the audience in mind. Maybe the reader somehow shares something the audience might want to know about...let's say an awesome and easy Christmas punch recipe from Paula Dean. The letter gets elevated to "Others and Things." Where "others" = Paula Dean and "things" = the punch. In the marketing world, this might look like "4 out of 5 dentists," which may mean something to the audience and the score can get to 25 or higher.
What if the Christmas form letter was about the audience (people) and what they cared about (their loved ones)? It could include highlights of all the get togethers the author had with friends and loved ones over the year. It might also contain lots of pictures and mention everyone the author cared about. Then the score jumps very high—it can get up to 100 if it is really about what people and the audience truly cares about. A great example of this is an ad like this Apple FaceTime ad (I can see me in this ad...on a business trip seeing and talking to my beautiful wife and our kids back home):
So the question we need to ask is this: Is your marketing message like a typical Christmas form letter, or is your marketing message making a connection with the audience? I know one thing....if more Christmas form letters made me feel connected to the author, I would be reading them.