Some say reading is
a lost art.
It's not that reading
is out, not at all. It's the choices we have to make. We have so much
we could read, readers have become picky about what they choose to read.
Which means those
of us who write need to write better. Beginning with the marketing and
sales letter. The base in any successful direct mail marketing package.
Here are 13 Platinum
Ideas for Writing Letters that Sell:
1. Think. Plan. Organize.
Until you understand
who you are writing to, and why, you cannot write effectively.
You must understand
the marketplace, product and service, what the offer is, something about
the competition. When you are thoroughly indoctrinated with the subject,
you will write effectively.
- So, first take
time to Think what this is all about.
- Then Plan
... outline, "write" what you are going to do.
- Last, Organize
yourself for writing -- get ready to attack the topic.
Think how people read.
In languages that read left to right, people read left to right. Is this
a surprise? I hope not!
Most read from top
to bottom -- although in a "Z" fashion, vs. straight down the
page. Understand "eye-flow" as you plan to write.
And know letters
are the most effective communication tool. More so than brochures,
flyers, other inserts, response pieces -- more than any other element.
This means the writer has a responsibility to the reader to make the letter
Some get ready by
talking into a tape recorder. Some do it "scribbling" on butcher
paper or a note pad. Some walk around the block. Some pound a keyboard.
Some talk with a friend. Some talk with themselves.
It matters not HOW
you do it. It matters a lot you DO it.
2. Write It Like You
We talk in short sentences.
With short words.
We rarely talk in
"perfect" English. We talk to communicate. Your letter is a
communication tool -- it too must be with short words and short sentences.
And short paragraphs.
70% of your words
should be 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 letter words -- because they are easier to
Your sentences should
average 14 words or less. With no more than 25 syllables per sentence.
So they are easy to read, so they are understandable. Like conversation.
Your paragraphs should
be no more than 7 lines. With a mix of length ... some 1 line,
some 2-3-4-5-6 ... never more than 7.
be used sparingly. Enough to aid the reader -- not too much to slow them
Write so the 13 year
old junior high school kid on your block will comfortably read your words.
When you do that you will enjoy a high level of readership and communication.
The best way to write
is the simple way. Write it like you say it. Make your writing human.
3. Dear Aunt Minnie
Letters are "personal".
One person talking with another.
That's why they work
-- they are true 1:1 communication.
So it stands to reason
your best letters will be personal letters. Written from one person to
another. With a "personal" message. And then multiplied and
sent to all who should receive your letter.
The best thing about
personalization can also be the worst.
By being personal
your reader expects more of you. They expect you to know something about
them. So when you make a mistake -- like mis-spell their name -- you've
Make 100% certain
your data is accurate. And then write personal letters.
4. Octogenarians in
Doctors think and
respond differently than plumbers.
Teen-agers from grandparents.
Teachers from contractors. Women and men, old and young, highly educated
vs. a high school grad, small business from big, musicians from architects
-- they are all different.
Yes, we as people
are more alike than unalike. Yet we do respond to mail, to letters, each
in a different way. Because of our interests ... because we are
writing means knowing your audience. Knowing those "differences".
Who they are, what they are interested in, what turns them on ...
what does NOT. It means finding the common denominator. It means putting
yourself in your readers frame of mind.
If your marketplace
is octogenarians in Oshkosh, then you must think and write like
an octogenarian in Oshkosh. To do any less means you will have less then
Today we enjoy a marvelous
array of sources to find, reach and talk with our audience. To begin,
in-house computer systems are quick and easy to use. Which most often
means we can access our current customer base, with all its' data, with
ease. In the past this has not always been the case.
There are more "lists"
available to buy and rent than ever before. More magazines and trade shows
offering more selection. The old SIC system for business-to-business has
a new and updated system ... North American Industry Classification
System ( NAICS ).
So, we have choice.
Make the right choice -- and write personal mail.
5. Offer an Offer
Make an offer.
An offer is a reason
for your "suspect" to become a "prospect".
An offer says if you
do this now these good things will happen to you. "Respond in 30
days and you earn a _____".
The offer is a reason
for someone to consider you. To decide "Yes, I want to know more
about this product". To raise their hand and be willing to communicate
with you. To answer your letter.
When you write a business
letter without an offer it becomes a sales pitch ... or nothing.
Your reader may think "there is no reason, incentive, purpose or
motivation to respond, so why should I"?
Don't even think about
a letter without an offer. An offer will always improve your message,
will always increase your response.
6. WII-FM ... the
Worlds Most Listened to "station"
Know what's in it
for the reader.
WII-FM = What's
In It For Me. i.e., what does the reader gain
by responding to your letter? What do they earn, make, save? How do they
feel or look -- what do they gain?
Is your offer quick
and fast? Is it convenient? Does it offer protection? Does it help them
avoid criticism? To be recognized? To be appreciated? To be attractive?
To be popular? To be important? To be healthier?
Do your benefits help
them grow in their field? To gain control?
To support a cause
they believe in? To satisfy curiosity? Does it fulfill their need?
Your product or service
is the feature. What your buyer / user gets from doing business
with you is a benefit. People do NOT buy red buttons. They buy what happens
when you push red buttons.
Make certain your
message is what happens when they push the button. Make certain your benefits
7. Headline Your Message
Headlines and sub-heads
in print ads get attention. Ditto for letters.
A running headline
at the top of your letter ( usually typeset vs. "typewriter"
style type ) is the most read part of a letter. Which makes it
the most important part of your letter.
Why? Because if this
grabber does not grab, your read goes elsewhere. You've lost before you've
What does this say?
It says you had better pay careful attention to the opening, the beginning,
the start of your letter. The running headline, or Johnson Box (
similar to the running head, set in a box like layout ) is the
first thing most of your readers will see. It either pulls them into your
body copy -- or chases them away.
When you use a generic
salutation ( Dear Golf Lover, or Dear Business Friend, or Dear
Purchasing Agent ) it is more important to have a strong opening
When you personalize
your salutation ( Dear Mrs. Moore, Dear Dr. Player, Dear Mr. Howard,
Dear Rev. McCalley, Dear Sally, ) your running head is less important.
Not unimportant -- just less.
Know your opening
is vital. When you begin with a strong message, maybe a "tease",
maybe a benefit, maybe a call to action, maybe a testimonial, maybe with
a story, you "hook" your reader to stay with you.
Start strong. Use
a powerful headline.
8. It's NOT long.
It's NOT short. It IS interesting!
A few days ago I received
a 16 page letter.
About 30 days ago
a 24 page letter came to me.
Long, long letters.
This week I received
a number of 1 page letters.
What's the difference?
Well, there is NO
difference between a short letter and a long letter. Save one thing;
A letter is either interesting, or it is not. Period. Period!
When you are selling
a product or service, i.e., you're in the mail-order business, long most
often out sells short. Business and consumer.
When you're looking
for traffic to your store, shop, exhibit or special event short usually
works best. And when you're seeking leads for your sales team, short is
most often the winner.
A letter needs to
be long enough to gain the sale ... short enough to get a response.
Letters are not long,
they are not short -- they are interesting.
9. "Just the
Humans have many characteristics.
One is we're attracted
to water. Another is facts and figures and numbers get our attention.
So, use numbers in
your letter. Specifics give your reader a reason to believe you. Facts
make you credible.
And numbers make it
easy to keep your reader with you. A list of 3 or 5 or 7
things, numbered 1, 2, 3, ++ is very likely to keep your reader
The reader is seeking
proof what you say is so. They are looking for all the reasons to respond
to your offer -- to do business with you. Numbers and facts help.
And, have something
to say. This may seem "funny" to say, yet many letters don't
say very much. They are boring to the point of being uninteresting. Even
to the right audience.
Don't beat around
the bush. Have a message and say it. And use facts and figures to "prove"
your message is true.
10. Talk "with"
Never, but NEVER talk
down to your reader.
Selling is done with
dialogue -- not a monologue approach. That can only be successful
when you look your reader in the eye, aim at them directly and talk straight.
The best sales reps
listen 2/3rds of the time -- and only speak 1/3. Although that
is not possible with the written word, what is possible is encouraging
dialogue. Back and forth. Give and take.
Response. Comments. Questions and answers.
tell a lie. Share a story, be entertaining, weave a theme, be interesting,
make your point -- and do it straight and honest. Be upfront. Be true.
your reader rarely works. Talking "with" the reader almost
11. Write to be Read
Writing is technique.
Here are a few.
Your opening paragraph
should have no more than 11 words.
Your 2nd paragraph
no more than 50.
Why? To pullll your
reader in. To slip them into your copy easily. Short opening paragraphs
allow the reader to get started. Quickly. When you get someone to read
your first 50 words you will get them to read 500.
Lines of copy 40 --
57 characters long are easiest to read. Our eyes find longer difficult.
For most readers a
copy point size of 11 or 12 is best. Never less than 9. The reason most
of us wear glasses or contacts is we cannot see. Larger helps seeing.
Indent the first line
of every paragraph -- it gives the reader a place to begin. It pulls the
eye to a point of reference. It allows the reader to know where to start
A P.S. in your letter
is mandatory. Why? Because 4 of 5 readers will read the P.S. first,
before they read the body of the letter. So, have a strong P.S. that repeats
your call to action, repeats a key benefit. Tells the reader what and
where and when to respond.
There are more. Follow
these and others briefed in this collection and you'll be well on your
way to high readership, understanding and response.
12. A.F.T.O. -- and
Make it Easy to Say "Yes"
There are 2
parts to getting a response;
1). asking for
a response, and
2). offering several ways to respond.
For The Order! Be specific -- ask your reader
to raise their hand. To come to your store. To accept a trial. To take
a demo. To visit your exhibit. To write you a check or send a purchase
order. To call you for an appointment. To request a sample. To see your
To do something
... that is the A.F.T.O. part.
To get the most response
you need to be absolutely clear, very specific. "Tell" your
reader what you want them to do -- and the benefit they get by doing so.
There is no "formula"
for doing this. No set number of times or places. The only for
certain is you must do it.
Part 2. is options
you give your reader to respond.
The more ways you
offer your audience to respond the more likely you are to get the response
you are looking for. Choice increases response.
Mail, telephone and
fax are obvious. For some a walk through your front door is appealing.
And today you need
to add to the response list options E-mail and your WWW site.
You may prefer a phone
call. Fine -- list that first. Yet, always include more than a single
way to do business with you. The more options you give your readers the
more response you can expect.
13. Write Today --
Think, Plan, Organize
is how I began.
Think, Plan, Organize
AND revise, Revise REVISE! is how I close.
No matter how good
a writer you are, you will be better tomorrow. Write today. Speed through
it. Think of anything -- everything. Pour all you have into it. Dump it
And tomorrow look
at it. Is this the best -- the very best! -- you can do? Unlikely! Rarely,
so rare I might say never, is the 1st draft, or 2nd or 3rd for
that matter, as good as it needs to be. You will make it better.
( There have been 13 versions of this paper before you see it!
When you think you've
got it, read it out loud. When you "hear" the bump in the road
-- and you will -- fix it.
Sometimes you'll toss
it out and begin all over again. Why waste your or the readers time with
anything that is not persuasive? That's not interesting communication?
Revise, revise, revise.
That's it. The
Baker's Dozen Collection --
13 Platinum Ideas
for Writing Letters that Sell.
Plan. Organize. FIRST!
As with anything,
thinking about it first, vs. just doing, increases your likelihood of
It Like You Say It
Unless your audience
are language experts, most readers do not care about "correct"
writing. They all care about communication and understanding.
Learn the best way
to be personal with your audience, and do it over and over again and again.
Learn the language
of your audience. Talk with them the way they are most comfortable.
Any offer is better
than no offer. An offer gives your readers a reason to respond.
... the Worlds Most Listened to "station"
People respond to
benefits. Tell you reader what they will gain by doing business with you.
The marketplace is
an overload of advertising, PR, sales promotion and marketing messages.
You need to compete -- headlines will help you get attention.
NOT long. It's NOT short. It IS interesting!
When you send the
right message to the right audience, there is no such thing as short or
long. Only interesting.
the facts, Ma'am"
Readers want to believe
your news. Facts and figures offer proof.
Talk "with" Your Reader
A letter is personal.
A communication step. Make it dialogue in nature.
Write to be Read
Learn and use the
techniques to keep readers reading.
A.F.T.O. -- Make it Easy to Say "Yes"
When you ask for a
response, and offer a multitude of ways to respond, you enjoy more response.
Write Today -- Edit Tomorrow
Write to be read.
Be fun, enjoyable, entertaining and more. Still, "work" your
copy for your readers benefit.