Digital Thought Leaders Rediscover Handwritten Notes To Drive Results

Digital Thought Leaders Rediscover Handwritten Notes To Drive Results

Only few areas have experienced changes induced by digitalization similar to those in communication and marketing. Emails, social media and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Snapchat directly influence customer relations: a recent study by Adobe stated that

“Marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the past 50” Source: Adobe

Especially challenging is the need for personalization. This is where Pensaki (Japanese for fountain pen) enters the playing field. Since 2014, Pensaki provides a way to write and send personalized, handwritten notes directly online – also at scale. Sending e.g. 50.000 authentic handwritten postcards has never been easier.

The goal: to surprise and delight the recipients. Antonio Brissa, founder and CEO of Pensaki, tells us how digital pioneers can successfully implement direct marketing campaigns, and why offline communication will remain influential despite the online hype.

The interview was originally published as Digitale Vordenker setzen auf Handschrift 2.0 in the context of the C-Suite 2017 conference in Berlin.


Q1: How does one arrive at the idea to revive handwriting?

By sitting one day at your desk, noticing a handwritten postcard which has been lying there for months already and realising that every time you look at it, the thought of the effort that went into writing this card just makes you happy all over again. Even in the digital age, handwriting conveys esteem and courtesy. Apps come and go; work-related emails have become a nuisance without any emotional depth. However, a sentence written with a fountain pen on paper stays. Psychological studies have impressively shown the effectiveness of such documents. In the end, it is all about the results. That is why we tried to combine both worlds of online and offline to write premium, and most of all authentic, documents in a scalable way including an API interface to immediately connect to CRMs or helpdesks. This idea ultimately led to the incorporation of Pensaki in 2014.

Q2: So, Pensaki replaces humans with machines so that humans can communicate in a better way with other humans? Isn’t that a bit of a paradox?

Well, not really. At Pensaki machines do not replace humans. They allow humans to do something which they just would not be able to do without machines. This can be either because they do not have a “beautiful” handwriting which they can show off, because handwritten communication to a large audience is simply not feasible, or both. An alternative would be to send an email or a printed document. But that would defeat the purpose of our customers. It is no secret that those who want extraordinary results, must go the extra mile. Practically then, Pensaki resembles a personal secretary for everyone. In fact, for some customers we even write love letters! However, to ensure that these premium documents astonish and delight, we need people in the production process.

“At Pensaki humans and machines work together to ensure that our customers are successful. For the user, of course, everything remains digital, and for the recipients it’s an outstanding offline experience.”

Q3: Wouldn’t it be easier and faster to just grab a fountain pen and write the texts yourself?

To use a fountain pen yourself will always be the best alternative. However, this often does not work out because you are either missing the necessary materials or because your handwriting is not very legible. Though still expressive, our handwriting has become illegible after writing emails for over 30 years now. We come in when companies want many “handwritten” documents in consistent quality. This could be 500 copies, 10,000 or even more. Moreover, content errors are ruled out as we convert the customers’ binary data directly into the desired documents.

Q4: Handwriting in the digital age, this sounds mostly romantic at first glance. Are Pensaki’s customers primarily romantics with a certain inclination toward nostalgia, caring about the continuation of handwriting as a cultural heritage?

Our business customers are predominantly digital pioneers who continually analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing activities across all channels. And that as exact as to the second decimal place. Therefore, there is little space for romance or even nostalgia. It is all about what return rates are achieved and how the growth of sales and revenues is affected. Our customers know that successful communication along the customer journey always takes place on several levels, especially in the digital era.

The recipient also assesses creativity and the costs invested by the sender. For a message to be perceived as meaningful, it must convey a corresponding quality or value; and what could be possibly more valuable than a personal “handwritten” message?

Q5: What results do these digital pioneers achieve with such “handwritten” direct marketing campaigns?

This depends on a variety of success factors. Naturally, handwriting is not a sufficient condition for successful offline marketing campaigns, nor is it the holy grail of marketing. In the B2B environment our customers achieve, for example, return rates of 10 to 40 per cent or opening rates of over 90 per cent. In addition, recipients usually recall this kind of personal writing even two months later. Of course, these are outstanding results. However, we do not need to be surprised by these effects, especially if we consider that 80 per cent of all Germans look forward to something handwritten in the mailbox. What is surprising though, is that this is also the case for digital natives for which such an “offline” experience has a special vibe to it.

Q6: What about wear-out effects? Isn’t there a risk that after repeatedly receiving such letters their effect may decline?

Such a wearout effect only arises when the key success factors of handwritten direct mail campaigns haven’t been considered.

Authentic “handwritten” communication will always remain authentic “handwritten” communication and as such always standout out from all the other messages. In the end though, it is the context and the content of the message that are critical. “Handwritten” messages are not a substitute but a valuable addition to the special events in the customer life cycle. Perhaps the cry of delight will be absent when recipients receive their second message.

Nonetheless, they will always perceive “handwritten” messages as an expression of appreciation and pay more attention than to an email or a printed text. And it does not matter whether it has been written by a friendly robot with a fountain pen or by the sender personally.