The Ultimate Sales Letter
Published in copy notes. Tags: copywriting.
Overall Takeaway: A fundamental look at learning to design and write a sales letter, from the customer research, the letter’s presentation, and the revising and refining process. There’s a lot of good information here, presented in a way that helps writers take a critical look at the work they’re putting together before releasing it into the world.
Notes from ‘The Ultimate Sales Letter’:
On reorganizing and recycling ideas:
I built up huge “idea files” — samples of ads, mailings, and sales letters. These are called “swipe files” by pros, and that is exactly what they are used for — to swipe ideas from. You do not need much creativity to write letters; you only need to be adept at recycling and reorganizing ideas, themes, words, and phrases.
On writing copy first, then editing copy later:
Just write blocks of copy and stack them up. A lot of great sales letters are eventually put together with scissors and tape (or by cutting and pasting on the computer). Write!
On learning about your customers:
A number of well-run companies require their top executives to take customer complaint calls periodically, open and read mail from customers, even get out into the stores and deal with customers face to face.
On questions to ask yourself about your customers:
- What keeps them awake at night, indigestion boiling up their esophagus, eyes open, staring at the ceiling?
- What are they afraid of?
- What are they angry about?
- Who are they angry at?
- What are their top three daily frustrations?
- What trends are occurring and will occur in their businesses or lives?
- What do they secretly, ardently desire most?
- Is there a built-in bias to the way they make decisions? (Example: engineers = exceptionally analytical)
- Do they have their own language?
- Who else is selling something similar to their product, and how?
- Who else has tried selling them something similar, and how has that effort failed?
On getting to know your customers:
When I first had to write a series of letters to real-estate agents, I knew nothing about their business. What did I do? I went to the public library and read several years’ back issues of the trade journals that real-estate agents subscribe to and read. I read every industry publication every month. I visit websites that host discussion forums for dentists. I subscribe to e-mail groups where only dentists communicate back and forth. I attend industry functions, conventions, seminars, and trade shows. I ‘play prospect’ with other product and service providers to dentists.
On how to approach your customer:
“What will your customers be thinking about and talking about the day they receive or see your sales copy? The same thing happens when you approach a man by mail. He is in discussion with himself. If you just butt in, will you be welcome? How would you do it if approaching him and his friend in person? You’d listen and get the trend of the conversation. Then, when you chimed in, it would be with a remark on a related subject. Then you could gradually bring the talk around logically to the point you wanted to discuss.
On writing about your flaws and disadvantages:
This gives you copywriting fodder from an unusual source — the flaws and disadvantages of your product, service, business, or proposition. Instead of looking at them as problems and obstacles to a sale, look at them as building blocks in a believable, interesting, and persuasive message.
On how often to repeat an idea in your letter:
In fact, I try to tell ’em seven times. I do this in my speeches and seminars. I do it in my sales letters, too. I call it “Internal Repetition.”In a straightforward statement In an example In a story, sometimes called a “slice of life” In testimonials In a quote from a customer, expert, or other spokesperson In a numbered summary A “manufactured example” that uses all these methods appears here as Exhibit #17.
On if you’ve put enough into your letter:
Did you answer all 10 Smart Questions about your prospect?
How many of the ten were you able to use?
Which of the ten did you decide to emphasize?
Are you writing to your reader about what is most important to him/her (not you)?
Did you build a list of every separate Feature of your product/offer?
Did you translate the Features to Benefits?
Did you identify a Hidden Benefit to use?
Did you identify the disadvantages of your offer and flaws in your product? Did you develop “damaging admission copy” about those flaws?
Did you make a list of reasons not to respond?
Did you raise and respond to the reasons not to respond?
Did you give careful thought to getting your letter delivered and/or through gatekeepers to its intended recipient?
Did you look at, compare, and consider different envelope faces?
Did you picture your piece in a stack of mail held by your recipient, sorting it over a wastebasket? … and take care to survive the sort and command attention and pique interest immediately upon being opened?
Did you craft the best possible headline for your letter?
Did you craft the best possible subheadlines to place throughout your letter?
Did you make careful choices about your presentation of price?
Were you able to sell money at a discount?
Were you able to incorporate intimidation into your call to action copy? Were you able to appeal to the ego of your buyer?
Did you develop and present a strong guarantee?
Overall, did you tell an interesting story?
Did you use an interesting story about yourself?
Did you write to the right length? (Not longer than need be due to poor or sloppy editing, but not shorter than necessary to deliver the best presentation?)
Did you use Double Readership Path?
Did you use Internal Repetition?
Did you keep the reader moving, with yes-momentum and end-of-page carryover?
Did you bust up paragraphs, keep one idea per paragraph, and make the letter easily readable?
Were you interesting and entertaining?
… Is the letter enjoyable to read?
Did you use five-senses word pictures?
Did you choose words carefully, consider options of one word versus another, and create high-impact phrases?
Did you make your copy personal and conversational (not institutional)? Did you go back through your copy and think of the possible questions or objections it might leave unanswered? … then find ways to ask them, raise them, and answer them? (Leave no unanswered questions!)
Did you choose and use devices to create urge…
On how to make your copy readable:
Whole books have been written about this enhancement alone. Here’s the simple rule for maximum readability: Use serif fonts (serifs are the short curls at the tops and bottoms of letters) — for example, Times Roman, Courier — for print marketing, and use sans-serif fonts — for example, Arial, Verdana — for online marketing. Consider using handwriting fonts for added personality.
On how to cool off after writing a letter:
The more you work with your sales letter, the more likely you are to fall in love with it — see its beauties but not its blemishes. Also, you’re going to get impatient with this admittedly lengthy — but effective — system. For these reasons, a three- to five-day cooling-off period is a good idea.
On the importance of even basic A/B testing:
There’s a difference between being unable to test and being unwilling to test. At the very least, you can run simple A or B, single variable split-tests almost every time you mail, and build up a bank of knowledge about what works best with your customers and prospects.