1. The essence of persuasion
The sales letter is the most selective of all forms of advertising. Unlike press and poster advertising it aims to sell particular kinds of goods or services to selected types of customers—office equipment to business houses; towel machines to hotels and factories, drugs to doctors and pharmacists. The purpose of the letter is to persuade the reader that he needs what you are trying to sell and to get him to buy it. You take something attractive and make it seem necessary, or your take something necessary and make it seem attractive.
2. Elements of the sales letter
A good sales letter consists of four essential elements; it must:
(a) arouse interest;
(b) create desire;
(c) carry conviction;
(d) induce action.
Each of these elements will now be considered further.
(a) Write an attractive opening
The opening paragraph must arouse interest and push the reader into taking notice of what you have to say, otherwise the letter may find its way into the waste-paper bin without being read. It must make an appeal to some particular buying motive and may begin with a question, an instruction or a quotation. It may even begin by suggesting the very opposite of what you want it to do.
Here are some examples:
(i) An appeal to self-esteem
Are you nervous when asked to propose a vote of thanks, to take the chair at a meeting or to make a speech? If so, you are one of the people for whom this letter has been specially written.
(ii) An appeal to economy
If you are looking for a means of cutting your domestic fuel costs by 20 per cent, you should read the following.
(iii) An appeal to health
“The common cold”, says Dr James Carter, “probably causes more lost time at work in a year than all other illnesses put together.”
(iv) An appeal to fear
More than 50 per cent of people have eye trouble and in the past year no fewer than 16,000 people in Britain have lost their sight. Are your eyes in danger?
(v) An appeal to future prospects
Don’t bother to read this letter—if you want to lose your chance of promotion. (From a letter sent by a Correspondence Course College.)
(vi) An appeal to caution
Don’t buy a hearing aid—until you have seen and tested our remarkable invention for good hearing.
(b) Explain the product
Having aroused interest you must now create a desire for the product or service you are selling and to do this it must appeal to the reader’s concern for himself or for matters that affect him. If the letter is sent to a person who knows nothing about the product, you must describe it and give a clear picture or what it is and what it can do. First study the product and then select those features that make it superior to others of its kind and stress them from the reader’s point of view. To claim that a particular tape recorder is “the best on the market” or “the latest in electronic recording” is of little use. Instead, stress such points as quality of the materials used and the special features that make the recorder more convenient or more efficient than its rivals.
Description is sometimes very effective when made by comparison. To claim that a certain invalid chair is “as finely finished as a Rolls-Royce” puts the product on a high level that is well known and recognized. It creates a picture of a reasonably priced yet superb product, and this is just what the manufacturer is trying to do.
(c) Make good your claims.
To inspire conviction you must support your claims by evidence—by facts, such as laboratory tests and sales statistics, and by the opinions of other users. You must somehow convince your reader that your product is what you claim it to be. You can do this in a number of ways: invite the reader to your factory or showroom, offer to send goods “on approval”, provide a firm guarantee and so on. Note how convincing is the following extract from the letter sent by a cotton-shirt manufacturer.
Remember, we sell these shirts on the clear understanding that if they are not satisfactory and completely to your liking, you can return them to us without any obligation whatever and at our expense, and we will refund to you the full amount of the price you paid. No manufacturer would dare to make such an offer if he did not himself firmly believe in what he claims. It supplies all the “proof” needed to give the reader complete confidence and to tempt him to buy.
When praising your product you must write with caution, first because it is against the law to make false or exaggerated claims, and secondly because the good name and standing of your business, and therefore its success, depend upon honest dealing.
(d) Write an effective close
The closing paragraph must persuade the person who receives your letter to take the action you want him to take—to visit your showrooms, to receive your representative, to send for a sample or place an order. You must make it easy for him to do these things, as by providing a tear-off (which may be either an order or a request for further information), or better still a prepaid postcard so worded that all he has to do is to fill in his name and address. You must also provide him with a sound reason why he should reply.
For examples: “If you will return the enclosed request card (Action) we will show you how you can have all the advantages of cold storage and at the same time save money (Reason)”.
Sometimes the closing paragraph will give special reasons to act at once.
“The special discount now offered can be allowed only on orders placed by 30th June. After that date full catalog prices will be charged”.
3. Give your letter an attractive look.
(i) Make your letter or circular as “personal” as you can. Address each letter to a particular person, by name if you know it. an example: Dear Mr Smith is better than Dear Reader, Dear Subscriber or Dear Customer, though these are more friendly than Dear Sir or Dear Madam. Use them whenever they are suitable. Letters become even more personal when correspondents’ names are written in and if letters are individually signed.
(ii) Where large numbers of the same letter are to be sent out, individual typing will not be possible. Your letters must then be printed. Make them as “personal” as you can by printing in imitation typewriter type, with the signature in facsimile. Never use the cheap-looking stencil-duplicated letter on semi-absorbent paper.
(iii) Use good quality paper and seal your letter in its envelope. The mere fact that the letter is sealed arouses curiosity and therefore interest.
(iv) Use an attractively printed letter-head; it has an important psychological effect and adds little to the over-all cost.