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Going For The Sales Letter Gold
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In the 1998 Winter Olympics downhill skier Picabo Street won a gold medal by the slimmest possible margin -- one 1/100th of a second. Anything less than the flawless technique she displayed and the total effort she put forth and she would have finished at best, second, at worst, completely shut out of the medal ceremony. She would have lost the chance to realize a lifelong dream, and, most likely, hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income.
Street's story is an inspiring one. One that can serve as an example of how important it is...that we consistently practice good copywriting techniques and make an all-out effort on every word of every sales letter we write.
With regard to technique consider, for example, the tone of your letter. Are you selling on price? Does the president of your company star in television commercials...that have him clutching a fist full of dollars while jumping up in the air and shouting, "We really will save you money!" If so, the tone of your sales letter will be very different than if you were selling the most prestigious and expensive product in the industry.
Of course, as a writer -- and if you're writing a sales letter you are a Writer -- the amount of thought and effort you put into choosing your words...will have a powerful impact on your response. To show you what I mean, here's an example where one phrasing has substantially more impact than the other:
"Our new, all-purpose widget allows you to wash your car, mow the lawn and paint your house -- all in the same day."
(More impact) "Our new, all-purpose widget makes it possible for you to wash your car, mow the lawn and paint your house -- all in the same day."
(Reasoning) Allows you is "permission granting" phrasing. Makes it possible for is the language of empowerment. In fact, in sales copy, in just about every instance you can replace allows with either makes it possible for or enables and make your copy stronger. And if that extra bit of muscle pulls in just one more response, it was well worth the effort.
No, one word or turn of a phrase won't necessarily make or break your sales letter. But better technique, a stronger word here, a more impactful phrase there -- little by little it all adds up. And the cumulative effect is that when you're finished you've given your letter that extra "oomph"...that makes the difference between a mediocre response...and one that produces a substantial number of leads, appointments and sales.
That said, let's see what we can do to give the following letter some added "oomph."
KEY: Standard text = Original letter
(Parentheses) = Ernest's critique and commentary
[Brackets] = Ernest's suggested text
NOTE: All personal and corporate names have been changed to preserve privacy.
Mr. John Reid
1327 Morris Ave.
Denville, NJ 07834
Dear Mr. Reid,
Selecting the correct printer can strengthen your image! (If you're a high quality printer going after image-conscious, high prestige accounts, playing the image card can be a good move. So this writer is thinking along the right lines. But the execution is lacking. While the writer is smart to open up talking directly to the prospect, his opening is not very involving or attention-grabbing.)
(Plus, it's obvious from the start that it's a sales pitch. Now the purpose of a sales letter is to sell, no question about that. But before you launch into your sales pitch first make sure you have the prospect's attention. Here's another, more attention-grabbing way to open this letter while taking the same approach:) [As you know, it's critically important that your company project the right image to your buying public.] (This isn't a great opening...but it's more likely to keep the prospect reading because: (a) it's not a blatant sales pitch (b) the person who is responsible for ordering printing knows all too well how important image is; and is more likely to give a "listen" to someone who feels the same way.)
Quality printing (What specifically does the writer mean by "quality printing?" Important note: the term quality anything is an overused, meaningless term unless you define it in such a way that makes it meaningful and relevant to the prospect.) is the natural extension of your creative investment...because you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. (I think I know what the writer is trying to say in this sentence and I like this cliche. What he fails to convey though, is why the prospect should care about any of this. Simply put, what are the benefits?)
Your marketing effort depends upon a high quality image and we at Alexander Johnson will reinforce that image in your printed material. (The writer continues to talk to and about the prospect -- your marketing effort, your printed material -- and I applaud that. But there are a couple of problems with this paragraph: (1) As with the previous paragraph, no benefits are articulated. (2) The transition from the previous paragraph to this one is jarring.)
(We go from "quality printing," "creative investment" and "great first impression," directly to "marketing effort" without any transition or logic. A sales letter should have a natural and easy flow with each idea and each paragraph transitioning smoothly and logically to the next. This improves its readability and boosts its "sell-ability." Suggested rewrite:) [So I'm sure you'll agree that a successful marketing effort depends in large part on flawless, beautiful-looking printed materials. Materials that attract and hold the attention of your customers and prospects and motivate them to take action. ]
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