It has been a busy holiday season.

  • Total number of cards we received this year: 412.
  • Number of those that were impersonal (a standard message and company name pre-printed inside with a name printed on an address label): 337.
  • Cards received from people we don’t know: 146.
  • Duplicate cards from the same person/company: 8.
  • Cards that included life dissertations about second cousins, twice removed: 10.
  • Last minute e-cards sent by those who just didn’t quite make it to the mailbox (or who claimed they were being “green” by not sending cards this year): 52.
  • Value of the effort from many companies? Totally useless. Again.

Last January, I wrote an article about the self-imposed pressure to clog the U.S. mail system with what many believe is simply a nice gesture. Yet as you look around our office, as stacks of cards pile up on various desks, you have to wonder about their effectiveness.

Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for friends and colleagues and their thoughtfulness over the holiday season. But if you have heard any of my keynote speeches, I am passionate about Return on Impact – particularly for the intent of investing and nurturing a relationship. So I ask you, what return did you realize from your holiday card crunch?

How did you individually personalize, creatively customize, insightfully verbalize, or appropriately sanitize the boredom that has become the chore of sending out corporate holiday cards? Were your cards memorable? Practical? Will they be remembered or repeated? Do you really need a holiday to convey to your most valuable relationships that you are thinking of them? One of my favorite phrases is “a signal to noise ratio.” In a market that is cluttered with noise, what are you doing? What is your team doing? What is your company doing to be remarkable?

Here are some great examples: Phil Davis, CIO of Porsche Cars North America, Inc. again this year sent us an oversized, high quality, high gloss 2008 calendar with amazing images of their cars in breathtaking environments. It is more reminiscent of art displayed in a gallery than a calendar. It exudes understated elegance and discriminating taste – clearly a high-priced item that you wouldn’t send to all of your 6,843 contacts in Outlook. This is the kind of gesture that delivers its intended emotional impact upon receipt.

Ted Katchmar of Cobher Press sent us probably the most customized image and subsequent message I have ever seen in a holiday card. Similar to how people enjoy hearing their names, using our name, integrated into a beautiful image correctly and appropriately customized for us, delivered a high touch, high care message – and they personally signed it as well, which added a nice touch.

B.A. Boit, a partner with KPMG Forensic Technology; Christina Parker, vice president of operations at Brusters Ice Cream; and David Kelley of DirectTV each sent highly personalized cards with pictures of their respective families. I greatly appreciated getting personal pictures (though more the norm from our personal holiday cards) from professional colleagues as it clearly illustrates their passion for loved ones.

Countless others were kind enough to send autographed first editions of sought-after books and other thoughtful gifts that showed their ability to listen throughout the year and leverage insights from various interactions to send a highly personalized and often very unique gift. One of my favorite greetings this season was a personal call from Dr. Gene Griessman to simply wish me and my family the best this holiday season.

Impactful holiday greetings don’t have to be expensive. This year, our company printed blank cards, which I used to send personalized, handwritten greetings to most of our clients and friends. The moral of the story is this: The 80/20 principal also applies to your most valuable relationships. Throughout 2008, make it a point to be more intentional with a few vs. painting everyone with the same broad brushstroke.

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