Creating A Powerful Sales Letter
businesses need to get in front of their customers, the
best value for money marketing tool available
is a simple sales letter. Email marketing may be quicker and
cheaper, but only if they are done badly. A well executed
letter will pull a better response and will grab the attention
of the potential customer in a way that email never can. Some
of the best marketing books written, are on the subject of
creating powerful sales letters, so there is only a limited
amount of justice that you can do to the topic in an article.
However, this is a short introduction to the planning and
execution of a simple direct marketing campaign.
to approach your direct marketing campaign letter on two
The first level is concerned with the planning of the format
and campaign management issues - the structure of the letter
and how you use it. The second level is concerned with how the
campaign grabs the attention of your prospective customer and
how you get your reader to respond in the way that benefits
Planning your letter structure
Firstly, keep your creative instincts under control.
Too many letters and direct marketing pieces are exclusively
about how good they look. The campaign succeeds or fails on
the ability of the letter to draw attention to itself.
They contain too many graphics and use fonts that are
decorative, but do not hold the readers attention. There are
two problems with this approach. Firstly, all people are not
attracted to the same things, so by definition a good portion
of your audience will be alienated immediately. Secondly, these
designs are the equivalent of pop-ups on a website; they
distract the reader from your content. You have a business
proposition that you want to make to your readers, and the
best campaigns will let the offer be the persuader. Any other
approach will mean the reader is confused by the compromises
that you are forced to make. In summary, a simple hard-working
letter will out-perform a pretty one any day!
Choosing your format
of the longest debates in the direct marketing industry has
been debate about how long a sales letter should be. This
requires a lot of thought, and the context of the campaign
drive the decision. That means that it is almost impossible to
generalise. However one key factor that needs to be taken into
account is the target customer group. In general, consumer
letters should be no more than four pages and
business-to-business letters no more than two. The most common
mistake that I see is that writers stick with the convention
of one page and they do not give themselves enough space to
get their message across. If you look at samples of great
sales letters, they will always use longer sales copy than
their shorter inferior counterparts.
letters, folded to meet sized-based postage pricing are
generally a good idea. If you are UK based, the bizarre
restrictions of the Royal Mail regarding postal charges.
Arrange the letter fold so that when the envelope is opened, the reader
can see your headline text immediately. Research indicates
that the Courier typeface is
the most readable and the one that best aids retention of your
message. Never justify the body text of of the letter. It makes the
body text look daunting and boring and it increases the
chances of your reader not finishing it to the end. Left align the copy like
this article. Never use paragraphs longer than 8 lines and try
to vary the paragraph lengths for the same reason. Your objective is to make the
letter body visually interesting. One word of warning - these
rules have been derived from research into readability and
response rates, however each case requires it's own judgement
of what is best. Do not follow these rules if
they break up the flow of the copy.
follow them. This is marketing, not an English class. Forget
what you have learnt about private correspondence, grammar,
and letter formats and conventions. If it sells or persuades,
direct marketing and a key feature of this discipline is that
you must test and measure everything if you are to
succeed. It is fundamental to how and whether these techniques
work. It is also gloriously transparent, because you can tell
precisely how profitable everything you do is. Your letter
will need to carry a call to action, usually a special offer.
specific offer code to this campaign and ask your readers to
quote the code to redeem the offer. If your systems will
accept offer codes then processing the data will be relatively
simple. If they do not, you need to set up a manual process to
capture how much demand is created by the letter. Use a new
code for every version of the letter and for any other similar
promotions that you run, so that your data is not corrupted by
demand created by other sources. This will allow you to
track orders and measure your response. If this is difficult,
assign a separate phone line to this campaign and only put
that phone number on your letter.
measures that you should look at using this data are your
response rate, the cost per response, and the profitability of
each order that you send. This profitability figure should
include any reduced margin associated with your special offer,
rather than using an average gross margin across your entire
business. Also do not mix data from new and from existing
customers as they will vary considerably.
have gathered this data, you can then look for ways to improve
the campaign if you run it again. The elements that you could
- The product offer you made. Would another product category
- The format of
the offer. Would a discount work better than a two for one
- The price
point used. Would a heavier discount produce more demand for
- The creative
style used. Would longer copy work/more images work better?
- The campaign
timing. Vary the day of the week, time of the month and check
This may seem like a tedious
and complex process, but it can be simplified if you talk to
your customers. Ask responders about your letter. What did
they link and dislike? Even better, phone some non-responders
and try to get the same data. If this seems impossible, find
some friends who match the profile of your customers and test
the mailing on them. Make sure to do it in every detail,
otherwise they will not be able to give you all the feedback
that could help.
It is worth remembering that
those who succeed in this business are just 5-10% better than
everyone else. That is why testing and measurement is
critical. None of us are lucky enough to guess what the market
will like every time. Instead we need to structure our
campaigns so that they improve each time we send them. This is
the source of the 5-10% edge that the best companies in each
market maintain year after year,
Personalise everything where possible
short when someone opens a direct mail letter. At best, you
have 20 seconds to persuade the reader that they should read
your letter to the end. The first way that you can do this is
to address them personally. It is a first step to showing that
your letter is relevant to them.
element of personalisation is to make the letter as relevant
to them as possible. If you are mailing customers that you met
at a trade show 6 months ago, why not mention this in the
letter and link it to your offer.
shows that it is vital to personalise a sales letter as much
as you can, as the impact on response rates is significant.
For prospects, spend as much as you can on getting their
details, and when selecting lists, prioritise sources which
can provide full information.
5 Focus you efforts on the critical elements
of your letter
volumes of research data on how a letter is read when it
is opened and this shows us the elements of the letter
that need most attention and that should always be included.
Normal eyeflow goes in the following sequence:
Headline and addressee
The signature block
The first paragraph
reasons for this are the reader is asking the following
- Is this letter really for me
or is it a poorly targeted circular?
- Who has sent me this letter - how much attention am I
obliged to give it?
- How can I find quick clues to see if the content is really
of interest to me (eg headlines)?
- I will test the first paragraph to see if will justify the
time that I give it.
Knowing how a reader will approach a sales letter means that powerful sales letters are
constructed differently from standard business and personal
letters. Sales letters are not correspondence. Think of a sales letter
as a sculpture with writing on it. To work well it has to be
visually attractive to draw and keep the customers attention
and to make the copy easy to read. You must have each element
of the format, you must stick to the rules of typefaces, copy
length, paragraph justification, just to stop readers
subconsciously giving up on your letter before the have read
your offer. Finally, you need to plan your campaign to gather
information on the effectiveness of your efforts and you need
to plan tests to improve the various elements of your direct
marketing over time.
Apart from these structural campaign efforts
you will need to write a letter that grabs the attention of
your reader. There are other articles in our library which
offers more details on this element of producing a winning
This article was written by Brian Wilson a Partner at
Markmedia, a B2B marketing consultancy. Brian has over 15
years experience in all aspects of marketing. If you have a
particularly challenging marketing assignment, Brian would
love to hear from you at
firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is copyright
and all rights are reserved.