How To Write the World’s Greatest Sales Letter.
By Jeffrey Dobkin
The World’s GREATEST Sales Letter only has one goal: it makes the reader call.
But a letter in direct mail isn’t really a letter.
A letter is a personal correspondence you send to one or two people.
In direct mail, a letter is a highly stylized ad designed to look like a letter.
Now you know: What you are writing is really an ad.
So… The World’d Greatest Sales Letter is really an ad written to make people to call you.
Like any tightly written advertising copy, your direct mail letter isn’t something you can dash off in a few minutes. You wouldn’t write an ad in twenty minutes, would you? Your direct mail letter is going to take longer to write, too.
It takes me about 8 hours to write a crisp, one-page direct mail letter. Sometimes longer. Sober, straight and no, no TV on even if it’s just ‘in the background.’ If you think you can do it in less time, please send me the secret formula.
If your letter is going to many recipients, it’s worth the extra time and effort you’re going to spend making it tight. Writing and editing take time. More writing and more editing take more time.
Allow yourself more time… and take it.
Even if you spend a week on a single one-page letter, that’s OK. No one will know you took a week to write the letter — they’ll just see a perfect letter… and call you. I still have tough assignments that require a week or more to write and design a single page. Some letters are more difficult than others.
To get readers to call you, the letter in a direct mail package is a compelling set of benefits
that directs the reader to fulfill the letter objective: to call.
I don’t believe most sales letters sell products or services.
What do the best sales letters sell? They sell the phone call. They simply make people call.
In every letter I write I believe every sale, every client starts with one word: Hello.
Where to Start: The Objective
Every direct mail piece starts the same way: Write the objective in the upper right-hand corner of a blank sheet of paper.
The “Objective” is what you want the reader to do. If your letter works perfectly, this happens!
Your objective is to get the reader To Call.
Seeing the objective frequently reminds you the reason you are writing every word in the letter is to fulfill this objective: To Call.
Next, draw a line down the center of your paper and write the FEATURES of your product (or service) on the left. Write down ALL the features – anything and everything that makes your products or services special. Everything.
400 Watt Stereo
Lightweight Tennis Racquet
Teacup has handle
20 Lb Fishing line
Rear window defroster
Crystal clear sound
Play it loud with no distortion
Faster swing, less tiring, hits harder
Won’t burn hands
Catch bigger fish
Wife won’t have to get out and scrap back window
People look at the features, but they act on the benefits. Benefits are “what’s in it for them!”
For example, a 400- watt receiver in a stereo system is a feature. So watt? (Get it, so watt? You see th… oh, never mind.) The benefit to the purchaser is no matter how loud he turns it up, the music always sounds crystal clear. And that’s why people buy it.
One of the best ways to write benefit-oriented copy is to ask, “What is the biggest benefit of using this product?” What happens to the reader if everything works perfectly? In our stereo example, the reader gets crystal clear sound.
In the answer of your biggest benefits lies your ad headline (Now get Crystal Clear Stereo Sound right in your living room!); and also your envelope teaser copy (New: Get Crystal Clear Sound in your Living Room by Tonight!), the first sentence of your letter (How would you like movie house crystal clear sound right in your living room?), and this can evolve into the lead paragraph of your letter.
Once you have all the benefits written down, rank them in order of importance.
Now you’re going to show your BIGGEST benefits first!
EDITING TIP: When you begin writing copy, write everything down that pops into your head. Write down even the silly stuff. Even the far-out ideas. Don’t leave anything out. You never know what’s going to look good later, or work well in print, or provide great sound bites or look great in context. writing time isn’t the time to edit. When you edit, you stop the flow of words and ideas. Editing comes later—you can’t do both – write and edit – at one time. After your writing session, take a break. Let your writing sit. Come back from a fresh angle. After two or three good writing sessions, then begin editing. Edit severely to keep the writing focused and tight. Reduce three pages down to one.
Crystalize your best offer!
What is your best offer? Write down every offer you can think of.
- Make your offer so irresistible only a fool would past it up.
- If it’s a complex or two step sale, offer a FREE Booklet or FREE Catalog and make that booklet TITLE irresistible.
- If you offer a FREE booklet your response will entirely depend on the title. Make it a G-R-E-A-T one.
- Always write the “FREE” in capital letters. Would you rather have a free booklet or a FREE Booklet?
- Offer a FREE Quote, or FREE appointment, FREE Seminar or a FREE Lunch with clients you’d like to meet in person.
- Whatever your offer, make it sound incredible!
- Write down your Top Ten best offers. See if you can combine several to make an irresistible call to action.
Now take a break. Go out for a beer. Get away from it for a short while. A break is an essential part of writing.
- Keep coming back to your work area. Keep all your reference material in sight and look it over several times an hour.
- Viewing your work then getting away from it allows your subconscious to work on it. Do this enough and new ideas will pop into your head. When that happens write them down.
- Then come back and continue to add ideas you originally missed.
I always work from a copywriting idea sheet — a blank sheet of paper that fills up over several hours of creative thought and research.
As I research client material, competitor websites and similar direct mail packages I write down phrases I like, appropriate wording, and thoughts I may use in my own writing. I might not have all the phrasing or sentences worked out at this point, but I don’t want the raw ideas, thoughts, or the best words or phrases to get away. So I write them all down on an idea sheet, and leave it in front of me as I draft the initial copy.
OK, time to pick up your pencil and begin writing your letter.
Start with a rough draft; everyone does.
You are going to write several drafts of your sales letter and make several revisions as well — to get the final copy, crisp, concise and electric. It takes time. Sales letters from me take 8 to 10 hours to write, edit and design.
So just start writing anywhere.
Here’s the best trick I’ve ever learned in writing copy:
After you’ve written a few paragraphs, go back and delete your first sentence.
This brings your copy into a fast start, and 99% of the time it works GREAT. Simple, isn’t it?
If you’re having trouble starting, just start writing anything. Start anywhere. Start writing a letter to your grandma about how great your product is and how she should call you. Doesn’t matter – just start writing. Then go back and strike out your first two or three sentences. Another nice trick.
If you are really having a bad day, strike out your first paragraph.
You’re already over the hardest part of copywriting, which is – as in all jobs – to start.
How to write a letter that gets results:
Smooth writing transitions, editing, and more editing make the copy tight.
Keep the words fresh, exciting, and stimulating while continually pointing the reader toward the phone.
Use every square inch of your paper to fulfill your objective. Don’t forget to design with white space as well.
Start at the top of the page:
Directly under your letterhead use a single selling line, phrase or slogan to let readers know what you’re about. You can incorporate this into your letterhead or logo. Here at the Danielle Adams Publishing Company our logo contains our own trademarked phrase: “Books, they’re everything you’ve ever imagined – and more!” Kinda’ nice.
Top of page, right
In the area directly under the letterhead (before the salutation and body of the letter) on the right side of the sheet write an additional short sales message:
Words above the salutation do not appear to the reader as part of the body copy of the letter. Feel free to insert a couple of selling lines dedicated to your most important selling features, a strong enticement for the reader to call, your biggest benefits, or 2 or 3 lines to arouse additional interest and drive the reader into the rest of the letter.
This is some of the most highly visible real estate in your letter!
Some mailers leave off the letterhead in favor of an early heavier block of explosive selling copy in the top right.
Use this high-visibility space to take your letter from a “good” sales letter to a “GREAT” sales letter.
If you are writing the world’s best sales letter, use this dedicated space to your advantage.
Don’t overdue it: Information presented here should be brief and in shortened form. Just arouse additional interest by showing:
· A few major benefits set off with bullets. No need for full sentences!
· “Get this benefit” · “This one, too.”
The Letter Salutation:
Personalization is always best – hand’s down. Always. But… it’s not always possible.
“Dear Reader” can always be used. It’s safe, but it sucks.
It’s usually my last choice because it’s boring and impersonal, and direct mail is a personal medium – take advantage of this fact.
The closer you can get to the heart, occupation, or the passion of the reader – the better your letter readership, and response.
If you’re writing to physicians, open with “Dear Doctor” or “Dear Physician.”
Writing your sales letter to veterinarians? “Dear Animal Lover.” “Dear Pet Lover!”
If you’re writing to business people, “Dear Colleague” is one of my favorites and has a wide application.
Common sense prevails.
Other favorites are
Dear Neighbor (for local mailings)
Dear Valued Customer
Dear Fellow Shopper
Dear Fellow Shopper—actually, Dear Fellow Anything—is also a friendly greeting.
My very favorite idea to enhance all of the general headings: place “and Friend” after the salutation. An example of this is “Dear Customer and Friend,” or “Dear Neighbor and Friend.” Sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it?
The down side: Don’t take a chance with something too cute — it may turn people off or appear insincere. You’ll have plenty of time to do that later.
Remember — in the beginning of the letter readers have no investment of time in reading it. One wrong move here and they’ll toss your letter faster than you can get parking ticket in downtown Philadelphia. Which is pretty about 10 seconds after your meter expires, I believe. Don’t do anything to drive people away at this early point.
Create an interest-arousing opening first sentence. This one line will be your whole first paragraph.
This is the most important line of your whole letter. It’s a make or break sentence. Make it G-R-E-A-T!
Use the Jeff Dobkin “100 to 1” Rule: Write 100 opening lines, go back and pick out your best one.
The purpose of the first line is to drive the reader into reading the rest of letter, nothing more. It’s not the place to start selling anything.
This single line introduces the letter. If you need to, use two lines at most.
A single line can be most electric. Like this.
It’s oh-so-easy to read a short line, and most people will.
Now’s your chance to hook them into reading the rest of the letter. Catch their attention at their first glance.
Your letter’s opening line needs to be great. Follow the rule: Write 100, pick out your best one.
The opening line of your letter is like the headline of an ad. It’s teaser copy at its highest level. It’s got to be the biggest, the best, the greatest single line in your whole package. If it isn’t, keep writing and editing.
In fact, if this line isn’t great great… and yes I mean double great (not just a lousy single great) don’t use it.
Here’s the bottom line: Good opening line = good readership and good response.
Great opening line = great readership and great response. Which would you rather have?
Writing the World’s Greatest Sales Letter: The Body Copy
With the first line of your letter compelling readers to continue reading, now show them early-on how they can get their biggest benefits. Why risk anything less. Retain them here with your biggest benefits!
Benefits are what the reader gets for himself when he buys your products. Benefits are the reason people buy.
Benefits are also the reason people continue to read your letter – to see what they get. They want to see “what’s in it for me.” Show them early in your letter.
Writing tip: If you can’t decide if a block of copy should stay or go, strike it out.
Your readers won’t be so kind: when they get to that wishy-washy block, they’ll simply toss everything out.
Does this sentence help fulfill the objective (make people call) or push people away?
Does every line of the letter body hold the reader’s intense interest? The letter copy must keep the reader on the path to finish reading the letter. As soon as readership falls off so does your response.
Use an exciting and provocative opening sentence for the second paragraph.
It’s a great place to lead with your biggest benefit. Then expand on that benefit.
For the highest readership, the third paragraph should be a list of bulleted benefits or information.
· The secret of success in direct mail:
· Show the features in the brochure.
· Flaunt the benefits in the letter.
· Sell the response hard. Make people call.
· That is the secret of successful direct mail.
Write your letter – and all direct mail – in a conversational tone — like this article.
The text should read as though you’re speaking to someone one to one.
When you’re close to finishing, read your letter out loud. Then make corrections and changes where it isn’t smooth. Remember, your reader won’t be so kind – when they get to a rough spot or something they can’t figure out, they’ll stop reading.
For the best response, use short words and short sentences.
I seldom recommend larger words. Scientists and technical people are just folks with different sets of skills who protect their pockets with plastic pocket pen protectors! Wow, talk about alliteration!
In every English class I’ve ever taken, the instructor has always told me to increase my vocabulary. It’s a good thing I never let my education get in the way of effective writing.
Short words work best. Short sentences, too. Like this. And questions?
The body of the letter should be a compelling set of benefits leading the reader to the logical conclusion to pick up the phone and call you right now.
If you’re a catalog shop or a direct mail merchant your objective make be to have the customer order, inquire, or send in the reply card. (You do have a reply card, don’t you?)
In the bulleted list in the center of every letter I like to mention every important benefit I can think of listed in a brief bulleted statement of one or two lines. You never know which one will make a reader call. You just need one benefit the reader really wants – and he’ll call.
Don’t be afraid to ask the reader to call several times in the letter, and again in the PS.
Mention the phone number several times directly in the letter copy. Say “Call now for your FREE Booklet: 800-876-5432!” or “Call for additional information: 800-987-6543.” This reinforces the phone number as an action and further encourages customers to call.
I usually don’t repeat myself but asking for the response in the letter is the exception.
If you don’t get a response, all has failed and your whole world’s greatest sales letter has no value other than to look pretty.
Around here we evaluate our direct mail letters by different criteria. They need to bring in phone calls. And money.
I round out my letter by signing off with “Kindest regards.” Sounds warm and friendly, and it is…
Even if your real signature is a squiggle, lways sign your letter legibly. Your signature in a letter is a visual hook the reader should be able to relate to.
The PS —
The PS is a crucially important part of a direct mail letter, and most every letter should have one.
It’s a great location to summarize your best offer and ask again for the reader to call you.
This is the best place to restate your most powerful benefit, and most certainly your call to action.
Give your phone number again. Remind readers what they get and how great it will be if they call now.
It’s your last chance to convince readers to give you a brief phone call — make it sound irresistible!.
Keep your letters as short as you can; otherwise you risk an early death.
If it looks like it’s going to be too much to read, the whole thing gets tossed out in the first round, at first glance.
If it’s excessively long, the benefits get lost in the clutter instead of being presented first in the logical sequence of best first. And the whole direct mail package winds up doing a death spiral into the trashcan.
All that being said, I’m a long copy guy. Some people see my letters and say who would read all that. But the fact is I write my letters for the 3, 10 or 20 people in 100 who are thinking of buying and I can convince them to call. I don’t care about the 80 or so other people who have no interest in what I’m selling in the first place.
The danger: When writing long copy there is what I call the “Two Paragraph Rule of Reader Survival.” Put together two paragraphs back to back that are too long or too boring and your letter gets trashed.
But if your copywriting style is brilliant, your premise interesting and your offer great – go ahead, write it down. There are no “too long” direct mail letters, only “too boring” direct mail letters.
If your package is tight and your writing relevant and insightful, the reader who is considering placing an order will call after reading the entire enchilada!
People who are considering placing an order are hungry for more information. They are also looking for verification they have indeed made the decision to order the correct decision.
For long packages your writing must be totally addictive.
Even then a good portion of your readers will fall off way before the order form.
So keep it’s safer to keep it short.
Editorial Tips: Writing the World’s Greatest Sales Letter
All writing should be based on “you will receive” as opposed to “We will send you!”
Avoid starting any paragraph with the first-person singular “I.”
Write in terms of reader benefits and speak in terms of “you.”
Use “you” throughout the letter. Write in terms of ‘you.’
Customers care less about what you will send them, they care more about what they will receive.
Follow that trend, instead of writing “I will send you,” write “You will receive.”
Think in terms of what the readers will get, then let them know. Tell them. Then tell them again. Then ask for the response at least three times in the course of the letter. This is the copywriting rule of three.
To rate your letter copy with a numerical grade, give yourself 10 points for every time you use the word “you” or “your,” 20 points for each benefit you mention, and 30 points for mentioning the best benefit.
Add 5 points for each action word and 10 points for each action or command word directed at your objective (SEND in the postage-paid card, CALL for a…). Add 25 points for each time you use the word “Free.”
Deduct 25 points each time you use the word “I,” and deduct 100 points if you use “I” to start a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph.
I wish I had these tips when I started out. Oops. Minus 150.
Jeffrey Dobkin is a professional writer specializing in direct mail, sales and prospecting letters, and full tilt direct mail packages. He is the author of 5 books on marketing and two on humor. You should buy is books – he needs the money. Just kidding, you don’t have to buy his books. Just send the money. He can be reached at 610-642-1000, and enjoys speaking with customers, clients and friends.
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The Lost Art of a Direct Mail Letter
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