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Typically during the months of November, December, and January, online business owners feel the urge to say "thank you" -- to their blog/ezine readers, to their clients and customers, and to their business colleagues. In recent years, this often means sending a mass email card to an email mailing list, which, if you're on the receiving end of such a missive, feels about as personal as junk mail addressed to "Occupant." Snail mail cards are not much better because the majority of those cards contain an imprinted greeting along with a business name and nothing else.
Using this strategy to recognize and thank your contacts can completely backfire, if you're not careful. Rather than feeling recognized, your recipient may simply become jaded and wonder why you bothered, especially if they haven't heard from you in awhile, or if you didn't take the time to jot a personal note.

What should your rule of thumb be when saying thanks or giving recognition to your customers and contacts? If you don't know someone well enough to pick up the phone and call them or to drop a letter in the mail to her, don't bother sending a thank you at all. I realize that this flies in the face of common marketing strategy, which encourages small businesses owners to use the holiday season as an excuse to "reach out and touch" their contact database. However, you must realize that if your business is doing this, so are 10 other businesses also used by your contact.

How can you make your business "thank you" stand out in the crowd? Make it personal -- and unique.

I recently received a very unique postcard and enclosure from newsletter coach and designer Jessica Albon of TheWriteExposure.com. What made this holiday greeting noteworthy? It...
1. was addressed to me in a unique, eye-catching font.
2. had a rubber stamp image on the back of the envelope.
3. made references to her dog, Izzy.
4. provided me with a doggie treat recipe and a people recipe, as well.
5. had a doggie treat enclosure in a hand-made envelope.
6. contained a personal, handwritten message from Jessica that contained my name.

Amazingly enough, there was no mention of her business. Why? Because I know Jessica well enough that no reminder of what she does is necessary. This was a brilliant marketing strategy on Jessica's part (even if she didn't plan it that way) because I felt noticed and special as the recipient of this mailing. I never thought about whether she sent this to 20 people or 120 people -- it was unique and personalized enough that I felt I was the only recipient.

It's amazing the effect you can have when you personalize your appreciation. When I was living in Adams, MA, I was a regular subscriber to the local daily newspaper. The delivery service had always been iffy, at best, sometimes arriving early, sometimes late, sometimes not at all, and sometimes in places where I didn't find the paper until several days later. However, that all changed one month, and the service became impeccable. The paper was always placed on the arms of my mailbox where I could find it, was bagged if it were inclement weather so it wouldn't get wet, and was always promptly delivered.

I know that most of the time the paper hired junior high students to do the route, as the job was a good first job for them to have to give them a little income. Sometimes people who were a little down and out would take the job to help them make ends meet until they again found gainful employment. I really didn't know who was delivering my paper, but I decided that I wanted to thank the person for doing such a great job.

I called the newspaper office and asked for my carrier's name and contact info and then proceeded to call my carrier. When he picked up the phone, I told him who I was. He immediately wanted to know what problem there had been with my paper delivery. I told him that I didn't have a problem, but was simply calling him to thank him for doing such an awesome job and that my delivery was the best it had ever been in the entire time I'd subscribed to this newspaper.

There was a very long pause, as though he were at a loss for words. "Oh," he said, "I thought you were calling about a problem with me. That's why people usually call." Then he uttered a "thank you" and we ended the call.

Now, I don't know if I made his day or put him into shock. I hope I did a little of both. My newspaper service continued to be outstanding until he left the position to do something else. I felt really wonderful the rest of that day, because I chose to think I'd made a small difference in his life that day by just telling him "thanks for doing such a great job."

Never underestimate the power of a personal "thank you." Spending your time to convey your personal thanks and appreciation in a personal fashion will pay off for you more in the long run than spending the same amount of time in conveying your thanks with some impersonal, automated gesture.

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