Should your sales letter be long or short? Is it true that the more you tell the more you sell? Or are people too busy to bother with long letters?
The answer may surprise you. It arises out of a significant shift in our reading habits, a shift that makes the appearance of a letter (or blog, article or brochure) a significant element.
I realised it myself this week, when I found myself reading a number of blogs in a hurry.
I read them because they were discussions on topics that interested me, and had attracted quite a few comments from well-informed people. However, I struggled with them.
The reason I found them hard going was this: the paragraphs were too long.
And there were too many paragraphs.
In Ecademy blogs, for example, the text is set in 10 point (I think), with a line length of about 110 characters. That’s hard to skim read, and you have to move your head as you read each line. Too much work.
Easy on the eye
In contrast, some online sales letters from the USA run to many pages, but the paragraphs usually consist of single sentences and are almost NEVER more than four lines long. The line length is short too.
Some paragraphs are one-liners like this.
They also have subheads like the one above, to segment the subject matter and break up the grey text.
Why that works
We all suffer from Attention Deficit. It may not be a Disorder (yet!) but it gets in the way when we are at work.
Every day, we are all assailed by huge numbers of messages and calls for our attention: radio, TV, emails, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, posters, tannoy announcements, traffic, phone calls, conversations, meetings …
We cannot cope with more than one thing at a time, so we have developed the ability to switch off. In fact, it’s a reflex that kicks in very quickly.
So what’s the answer?
The answer is to deliver your information in small bites. Like this blog. Make it attractive to the eye and it will be easy for the reader take in each new idea or piece of information. It will increase your chances of being read all the way down the page. And page after page.
In marketing by mail and email, there is an unfortunate tendency to use language to deceive, confusing manipulation with persuasion. Those who do so use weasel words (terms that imply or suggest more than the reality), and even lie outright. My email inbox regularly receives examples of verbal deceit.
There is one chap who sends me emails with things like “Facebook message” in the subject line. The email itself has nothing to do with Facebook. It’s just a crude device to get me to open the email.
To my mind it falls in the same ditch as the person who says, “Sex! Now that I have your attention …” Astonishingly, there are still some folks who use that cringingly awful “Hook”, either in writing or in speech.
I promised myself that the next time I heard a speaker open with that I would rise and leave the room in a marked manner. And I shall.
Another devious device is to offer something free, and then renege on it. Here’s one I received last week:
Im (sic) giving this away Totally FREE!
But when you click on the link, this is what you get:
Regular Price $197
Today only $37/mon
ADD TO CART
TODAY’S PAYMENT: $44.40
Includes the first month of service
It goes from FREE to $37 PER MONTH! and on to $44.40 (per month) without missing a beat.
Let me now turn to weasel words. They are terms we use to imply something more than the reality. The intention is to deceive.
One of the most common examples these days is “You have been approved”. It implies a selection that never took place, other than inclusion from the database. It even suggests that you have applied in the first place.
A close relation is the long-standing “Three Stage” copy approach favoured by Reader’s Digest, which states, “You have come through two stages of selection and are now in the final of the Prize Draw.”
The first two stages actually consist of selecting names from the database (known to be interested in the product being offered) and the allocation (automatically by computer) of six numbers in the Draw. There’s nothing illegal or even immoral about this approach, but I think you can see how the wording implies more than what actually takes place.
Another favourite involves a sealed envelope that you have to tear open to see if you are a lucky winner. The weasel words in this case will be, “Find a Lucky Six for a chance to Scoop the Jackpot”.
Once again the implication is that there is an element of chance, whereas every sealed envelope contains a six. The key word is “Find”. For a genuine element of chance there would be the word “If”, as in “See if you have a lucky six.”
A poor copywriter will either lie or come close to deceit. The skilled copywriter will raise hopes without being untruthful. Direct Marketing is salesmanship in print, so it must use the stratagems of a professional sales person, and (usually) follow the AIDA sequence (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) of persuasion.
Deceit is not the best basis for starting a customer relationship, so my advice is this: Always tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating!
The level of response to direct mail is one of the most shocking facts in advertising.Â A few years ago, the Direct Marketing Association surveyed 1,122 industry-specific campaigns and came up with an average response rate of 2.61 per cent. Thatâ€™s a failure rate of over 97 per cent!
The figures for 2010 are not much better, on either side of the Atlantic. The DMA in the US reported 3.42 per cent response from a house list and 1.38 per cent from a prospect list. Email to a house list got a 19.47 per cent open rate, 6.64 click through rate, and a conversion of just 1.73 per cent.
SMEâ€™s report a typical direct mail response rate of less than one per cent. Forgive me for throwing all these figures at you, but I think youâ€™ll agree that such results amount to a waste of time and money.
I once approached a blue chip company that was mailing its members to offer membership renewal by continuous credit card authority (direct debit by credit card). Their large ad agency had just achieved a 12% response, and everyone was celebrating.
I offered an alternative approach, and got a 32% YES response.
The point is that it is not written in the stars that you should have a single-digit response rate. There are things you can do to deliver a better return on the money you spend. Here are a few:
- Provide an incentive to reply, even if itâ€™s to say No thanks. The more replies you get, in total, the higher will be the Yes response.
- Plan a series of mailings and other follow-ups, not just a single shot. Some people need seven contacts before they say Yes.
- Segment your list and make a specific offer/approach to each segment, rather than the same message to all.
One more piece of advice.Â Use a professional copywriter with experience of direct mail. Unless you are one yourself, do not write your own mailings. At the same time, do not expect a copywriter to wave a magic wand. Give him or her a chance to develop the right relationship with your prospects and customers.
It will be money well spent.
The advertising industryâ€™s magazine, Campaign, is running a series on the history of advertising in various objects.Â No. 18 is Strand cigarettes. By a sheer coincidence I was talking about it (and the ad campaign) only yesterday.
Written by a brilliant copywriter, John May of S H Benson, the commercial featured a Frank Sinatra lookalike, and rapidly became much talked about.
Campaign reveals that Strand was bought by only 0.3% of male smokers and 0.7% of female smokers. A resounding flop!
However, Campaign explains the failure like this: â€œ… great advertising canâ€™t sell a poor product. Strand was just a lousy smoke.â€
Spot the fallacy. If hardly anyone bought the product, how did anyone know it was a lousy smoke? Campaignâ€™s explanation is clearly an attempt to exonerate advertising and shift the blame away from the adâ€™s creator.
The real explanation may be more obvious: the commercialâ€™s plain purpose was to flaunt its creativity, both in the Big Idea and in its clever execution. A common failing in advertising. It did not relate to the motivation of smokers, nor did it reflect their preferred lifestyle.
Did the agency do any research or testing? Or was it just another example of self-serving advertising? The theme music was great and did well in the charts. The photography was moody and very well observed. And the actor accurately portrayed a singleton in need of care.
Just because the individual elements were well done, it was (wrongly) assumed that the ad would sell the product. Itâ€™s well known in Selling that when people notice and applaud your performance, you have failed.
Besides, would you have wanted to pull out a packet of fags that proclaimed you a lonely sad sack? Â â€˜Nuff said.
Small businesses don’t always have a Marketing Plan. And when someone suggests Database Marketing, hereâ€™s what they often ask: â€œIsn’t Database Marketing only for the big boys?â€
The answer is No. You do not need an expensive system to set up a Database. You can use a simple spreadsheet to record the essential information about your customers.
These are the details your system should record:
Recency: date of last purchase
Frequency: how many purchases made
Money: total spend with you so far
Average order: Money divided by Frequency
Trend: are the Frequency and Average rising or falling?
Your marketing should focus on Recency, Frequency and Money â€“ the RFM factors, as they are called in Direct Marketing.
Those who bought from you recently, and often, are the ones most likely to buy from you again, because they have accepted you as a preferred supplier, and do not need much reminding of the benefits of doing business with you.
And those who buy frequently could quite readily be persuaded to shorten the gap between purchases or to order something new between their regular purchases.
The total money spent with you will also determine how important they are to your business, and how profitable.
Obviously, Recency, Frequency and Money will have different values in different businesses.
For example, the gaps for buying computers will usually be much greater than for consumables like stationery.Â You should monitor all gaps and learn what is normal for each type of product, not only among your own customers, but in the industry.
It adds important information to your Database â€“ information that can guide your Marketing decisions.
The other factor to consider is creativity – copywriting and design.Â Start with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0845 165 9240.
Yesterday I gave you the first two of seven sales letter secrets.
Here are numbers 3 & 4.
3. Create an offer thatâ€™s hard to resist
â€¢ You must MAKE AN OFFER
â€¢ Address the question, Whatâ€™s in it for me?
â€¢ Make a â€˜soft offerâ€™, i.e. one that requires minimal commitment. If you require a â€˜Yes/Noâ€™ response itâ€™s a Hard Offer.
4. Aim to create ACTION
â€¢ Always have a response device
â€¢ Write the response device first
â€¢ Give a compelling reason to reply
People sometimes ask, “What’s a response device?” It’s simply the card or piece of paper that people use to reply to your offer. It could be the order form or just a way of saying Yes or No to your offer. Always make it easy to reply, and remember that the more replies you get (in cluding NOes) the more Yes replies you will get.
To increase your level of response, consider offering a benefit that costs nothing to accept, such as a prize draw or a free e-book, and offer some additional benefit for replying immediately, such as a seven-day discount.
Mind you, I expect you are thinking, “But I’m not a professional copywriter. Where can I find one?” The answer is here: 0845 165 9240.