Let’s Get Physical (Mail): How to Charm Customers and Improve Personal Relationships

What would you say if I told you that you could improve your interpersonal relationships and your marketing with three simple considerations?

I’ll bet it’s something along the lines of, “Heck yes!” and “tell me more.”

Well it’s true — all you have to do is strike a balance between the six paired elements that all human beings seek in a relationship — and it’s easier than it sounds. I guarantee that by the end of this article you will have a better understanding of human psychology, communication theory, and how to leverage both to your marketing advantage.

We all know that relationships can be a lot of work.

Whether it be with friends, a spouse, or even our customers, there is a delicate balance to making sure everyone gets what they want and need. So how can we ensure that we get it right every time? By taking a lesson from the psychologists working in communication theory.

consumers-sacrifice-moneyIt turns out that there is a name for that delicate balance; it’s called “dialectic tension,” and it describes the perfect balance we strike between seemingly contradictory desires. It’s like when part of you wants a second cupcake, but the other part of you knows that your pants are getting awfully tight lately, except it relates to your interpersonal relationships. Think of it this way in the business world: Brands such as The North Face, Starbucks, and Coach prove that consumers will sacrifice their desire to save money for their desire to be trendy.

The fact is, people love doing business with companies that make them feel special.

I was first exposed to this concept while studying psychology and interpersonal communication at Boise State University. I came across a study that found that all relationships demand a balance of contradictory desires (find the more science-y version of the research here).

Studies like this have HUGE implications for business owners. They show that direct mail marketing taps into our basic human needs and allows marketing strategies to reach consumers where it counts — right in the feels.

The cool part of this study is that it applies to just about any relationship you can think of. You can create lasting relationships with customers and friends by minding these three relationship dialectics.

Dialectic One: Autonomy (Independence) vs. Connection (Closeness)

Basically this dialectic boils down to “I want to do what I want to do, but I don’t really want to do it alone.”

In our personal relationships we want to have inside jokes, “our” song, and special time together (e.g. marathoning shows on Netflix). On the flip side, we also want to maintain our individuality outside of the relationship. Too much either way is never a good thing; too much independence usually leads to a breakdown in the relationship, and too much connection leads to unhealthy dependency. Just like in a relationship, marketing tactics can push customers away if they go too far in either direction.

Direct mail is a beautiful balance between a customer’s desire to be left alone and their desire to feel valued by the company. A study by the American Council on Consumer Interests showed that an incessant influx of emails actually contributes to a customer’s feelings of stress, and decreases the likelihood that those customers would make a purchase from the offending brand. So the key is to be in touch, but in the right way.

While the popularity of e-advertising steadily declines, direct mail is still gaining popularity. In a recent blog post, Dan Kennedy reviewed the 10 reasons that direct mail is on the rise. One of the key studies he listed came from the marketing gurus at Epsilon. Their research found that 73 percent of U.S. consumers prefer direct mail for brand communications because they can read the information at their convenience. The popularity of direct mail is no mystery — the science shows that physical mailers strike the perfect balance in the autonomy/connection dialectic. So if you’re interested in a lucrative relationship with your customers, print’s the way.

Wondering how can you capitalize on this first dialectic?

Make sure that your marketing campaign leaves customers wanting more. More of your product, more of your correspondence. You achieve this by mailing monthly so as not to overwhelm them, and using e-advertising as an optional supplementary service that they can opt in to.

Dialectic Two: Novelty (Need for Change) vs. Predictability (Comfort in Routine)


If novelty is truly the spice of life, predictability is the other ingredients that make the spice edible.

Without any predictability, we would all be careening through life just trying to make sense of it all, but without novelty life would be unbelievably boring. So in relationships and marketing, we strive to find a predictably exciting middle ground.

In interpersonal relationships, we expect to have a feeling of security in the relationship, and for our partners and friends to be relatively consistent from day to day. But we still want to try new things together and switch up the routine every once in a while. Striking a balance between these two things is the best way for your loved ones and customers to feel secure and excited by their relationship with you.

For example: When dating, it’s nice to get flowers and gifts every once in a while as a surprise. But if your partner gets them for you every day, you may want to consider a restraining order. Advertising is the same way; we can all appreciate a funny advertisement or witty email. Your customers do too, but by the time they have the joke memorized, they’re going to be searching for the option to “unsubscribe.”

Direct mail campaigns are different because they’re psychologically designed to appeal to a specific demographic. Newsletters and personalized mailers achieve a sense of security by reaching customers on familiar ground (check out our blog “From Pony Express to UPS” for more info on that). In fact, the previously mentioned Epsilon Study found that a full 25 percent of consumers report that they find direct mail advertisements to be more trustworthy than any other kind of advertising. With the growing threat of identity theft, viruses, and spam online, a majority of emails (up to 95 percent) are never even opened.


High deliverability and trust translate into a much more stable relationship with consumers than we see with any form of digital advertising.

Use this dialect to your advantage by…

…mixing up your content and maintaining a trustworthy format. By providing novel and interesting information, customers feel the excitement associated with seeing something new, combined with the security of a familiar inbox.

Dialectic Three: Openness (Need to Share) vs. Closedness (Need for Privacy)


One of the most nerve-wracking and heart-racing parts of meeting someone new is figuring out the level of information that you feel comfortable sharing with them.

Psychologists have explained this thrilling-yet-stressful interaction as social penetration theory, or the ebb and flow of relationships in which information is shared and withheld as people get to know each other.

This information sharing is what makes us feel special and connected to other people, while over-sharing can cause social discomfort and a negative response. This principle is exactly why we customize the cover of each of our newsletters to share select personal information and create a genuine relationship with readers.

Sharing small personal details allows customers to put a face to the business, and relate with the people behind the brand. The principle behind these short stories is a human connection. One anonymous copywriter even said, “[An] anecdote is an itsy-bitsy, true story that illustrates a point and touches the reader’s soul.” These semi-personal stories help businesses appeal to their readership and fulfill both dialectical desires of disclosure and privacy.

All together, these three considerations are the key to creating strong, balanced relationships.

And, as marketers, we know that there is nothing more valuable to retention than having a positive relationship with our customers. Increasingly, research in both marketing and psychology shows that direct mail is much more effective at starting and building that relationship than any other kind of advertising. As if we need further convincing, Epsilon also quotes a Consumer Channel Preference Study that proved 62 percent of people display an emotional connection to checking physical mail.

Other studies show that direct mail produces the best cost-per-lead and highest conversion rates of any kind of advertising.

So what are you waiting for?

Learn how to profit from this final dialectic, and increase your ROI, retention, and referral rates by visiting our website. For more information on the subject of newsletter marketing and direct mail, request a free copy of Shaun’s book and see what professional newsletters can do for you.

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