Getting Your Sales Letter Off To A Good Start
Used in advertising since the 1800s, sales letters have proven to be among the most enduring forms of marketing. Not only that, they’ve remained highly effective after all that time and continue to be play an important role to this day.
Formats Change, The Core Remains
While I doubt any of us receive as many sales letters in the mail as people did 30 to 40 years ago, the sales letter format remains ever-present. Sure, they rarely show up printed on an A4 sheet that’s neatly folded inside an envelope anymore, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get them.
Check your email, for instance. I’m sure you’ll find a few (or a lot, if your email address has been sold to one of those marketing firms). Those Google ads you click on or those links on that marketing email you received? Many of them end up leading you to an online landing page (one of the many types of material web copywriters produce) where a sales letter, appropriated for display on a web page, is the central text. Same with some pages you end up on when clicking on regular search results.
The reality is, sales letters work. And that’s why people continue to embrace them, despite so many changes in how we communicate through the written word.
Starting The Sales Letter
A sales letter can be started the traditional way (with a salutation) or with a headline at the top. In most cases, the latter is now more acceptable, especially when using sales letters on websites and landing pages, where the headline can help gain additional attention.
The first paragraph, though, will be just as important to your opening salvo, as it will set the tone for the actual letter. A lot of the times, it’s also the only part of the letter the reader will willingly read — bore them with your opener and they’ll leave; hook them and they’ll finish the whole thing.
Here are a few ways to start sales letters effectively:
- State the offer outright. Basically, this involves dangling the carrot right at the onset, letting the reader know the details of your offer immediately. This technique works well for particularly attractive offers, such as free deals, huge markdowns and bonus giveaways. Example: “Get 70% off on laptop purchases if you buy this weekend.”
- Announce an event. Openings, debuts, closings and similar events make for good announcement introductions, especially if they tie into your sales pitch for the product or service. Example: “We’re opening our newest store, our 20th, in Pencil Avenue. In celebration of that, all…”
- Solve a problem that your prospects face. Tell the reader that you have the solution to problem they are likely facing. If it’s an issue that affects them enough, it’s almost certain that they will want to read on. Example: “Everyone is looking for ways to save more money out of their paycheck and we have just the solution — 5 of them, in fact.”
- Highlight a benefit. Pick your most compelling benefit and use it to hook the reader in. If it’s valuable enough, they’re likely to read through the entirety of the letter. Make sure to talk about a real benefit (how the product will improve their lives), rather than a feature. Example: “Everyone deserves to be financially secure by the time they’re 35. And if you’re 25 and under, we know exactly what you need to do to have steady streams of income that will let you enjoy life fully before you’re too old.”
- Cite an interesting fact. Facts and statistics that create a strong reaction — whether due to controversy, curiosity, fascination, surprise, or some other emotional response — make for good opening statements on sales letters. They build-up enough interest to make the reader commit to reading the rest of your pitch. Example: “A total 5% of homeowners are expected to lose their homes in the next twelve months. Are your finances secure enough that you won’t be one of them?”
- Throw flattery the reader’s way. State something that paints your prospect in a positive light. Make it something that’s actually believable, rather than arbitrary, based on your target demographic. Example: “If you’re reading this, then you’re already better off than the 99% of people who aren’t interested in living a healthier lifestyle. It shows you’re smart enough to care about what you’re putting into your body.”
- Put yourself in their shoes. Make the letter sound like you understand how it is to be in the same boat, regardless of what the situation is. That way, the reader is assured you’re operating from the same starting point — allowing them to feel comfortable around your pitch. Example: “Getting approved for a business loan is far from the easiest thing. I went through the same ordeal when I started my first business twenty years ago.”
- Ask a question. A question is a natural hook simply because it quickly involves the reader into the discussion. When we’re asked a question, our natural inclination is to answer. If we don’t have an answer, then we try to find one. And what better place to start than the rest of the sales letter in front of you? Example: “Do you hear noises at night, creaking sounds from the attic or an eerily chill air when midnight rolls around?”
- Establish commonality. Here, you start the letter by addressing the reader as a peer — using a common interest or characteristic to present yourselves on equal footing. Example: “If you’re like me, you just can’t find enough time in the day to do everything you want. You have money and you have health, but you don’t seem to have the time.”
- Write from the point of view of an authority figure. Know those sales letters labeled with “From the desk of the president” or “A message from the CEO.” Usually, they’re not really from those people. But writing from that position creates an air of authority and prestige that a good chunk of readers will likely find attractive.
- Make an invitation. Here, you frame the beginning of a letter like an invitation, welcoming the reader. Example: “We invite you to join the growing number of inventors, makers and designers investing in a low-cost desktop 3D printer.”