I am famous for being phone-phobic – I answer it, but rarely pick it up to make calls. Consequently, the idea of telemarketing is something that sends me running for something else to do – anything else! However, the same doesn’t apply to writing sales letters; somehow I seem to have developed a talent for them. Maybe it’s my freaky systems mind-set that likes the idea of a nice structured process that takes the reader from ‘hello’ to ‘here’s how you get your hands on this’.

A good direct mail campaign has to get the reader’s attention right from the beginning and it’s one of the few promotional devices that doesn’t really have a headline. I know that some people put a headline in right under ‘Dear Joe,’ but my experience of that is that people immediately write the letter off as a sales letter. Whilst none of us are stupid and we know that a letter from someone we don’t know is probably going to try and sell us something, if you can find a way to draw people into the letter you’ve got a better chance of them reading on. Curiosity is a powerful driver!

This means that the first paragraph or – if you absolutely have to have a headline – the headline has to have something in it that reaches your reader strongly. This means that you need to know your audience very well indeed. It’s no good sending the same letter to a young married reader with two small kids as to an elderly widow. In the same way it’s no good sending the same letter to an accountant as to an electrical contractor – they have different needs, different issues and different points of pain.

So paragraph one has to draw the reader in – talk about their problems and how much pain they cause – and then tell them that there’s a solution.

If you use a conversational tone and put yourself in their shoes you’ll be talking with them, not at them. Explain why the solution is there and what it will do for them. Benefit rich copy is compelling, this means that you need to know what their challenges, needs and wants are so your solution can be presented to address all of these. In fact, if you have really powerful benefits that address their worries you can use these as bold statements in the text. This means that, even if they only read the bold bits, they’ll get your message.

Finish up with a reminder of their problem and the solution and then ask them to take action – give them a number to call, reassure them how easy the process is, create an image of a pleasant experience and sign off.

You need to do this in ONE PAGE. Yes, there are 16 page sales letters, just as there are very, very long sales pages on the web – but for most people one page is enough. Most will read page one, but only glance at page two – unless page two is a different document. This means if you have information to include don’t put it in the letter, but provide it as a professionally presented attachment. The sales letter must be good enough to get them to look at it, but at least you won’t have a long complicated letter for them to get their heads around.

Just one final thought – coloured envelopes have been proven to get opened more than plain white ones – something to consider when you’re planning your direct mail campaign!
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