5 Things You Should Never Do When Writing a Sales Letter

by Travis Heermann on September 11, 2009

Even in the Age of the Internet, the workhorse of direct marketing is still the sales letter. It’s a tried and true formula, and it still works quite well. Entrepreneurs and small businesses often try their hands at writing sales letters because they don’t have the budget to hire a direct marketing firm or even a high-quality freelance copywriter, some of whom demand thousands of dollars for a single letter. The problem with amateurs writing their own sales collateral is that they tend to make mistakes that torpedo their efforts before they even get under way.

Here are a few tips for what to avoid.

  1. Don’t be too formal or too informal. Sales letters need to appeal directly to the reader. So imagine who your ideal target audience is, imagine how they act, how they speak, what level of language they typically use in their own communications. Then duplicate that level of language. If you’re writing to Fortune 500 CEOs, for example, don’t use slang, clichés, or contractions; be more formal. If you’re writing direct to the average consumer, that audience will likely respond better to informal, conversational copy. It boils down to this: Know Thy Audience.
  2. Don’t forget the passion. Your job in a sales letter is to convey why your prospects should be excited enough to buy your product. To do that, you have to be excited about your product. You have to convey that buying your product or service is the single smartest thing they could do, and you do that by being passionate about it. Not drooling, or bouncing around like a superball, but earnest, insightful, and enthusiastic.
  3. Don’t forget to appeal to multiple emotions. Not everyone buys thing based on the same emotion. The two most common emotions exploited by direct marketing copywriters are fear and greed—fear that something will happen if they don’t buy, and greed for something great that will happen if they do buy. There plenty of others, however, and if your letter appeals to those, you have a better chance of catching and holding your prospect’s attention until they reach the final sales pitch. Examples include: curiosity, loneliness, insecurity, anger, pride, confidence, just to name a few.
  4. Don’t forget to use headlines and subheadings. They are a powerful way to get your prospect’s attention. They create white space and make your letter easier to read, and they shift gears from section to section. They can stir curiosity, make promises, introduce compelling ideas, challenge the prospect, etc. Your headline should never use standard or conversational language. This is your chance to shout. Don’t whimper.
  5. Never attempt to trick or mislead your prospect. Such tactics are ridiculously easy to spot and leave a sour taste in the mouth of anyone who’s had her time wasted this way. If you make promises, either in headlines or body copy, you have to follow through with those promises, even if it’s only the promise of more information. Violate this at your peril; it is the quickest way to lose the trust that you’re trying so hard to build.

What direct-marketing missteps have we missed when it comes to sales letters? We’d love to hear them.

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